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Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at 1715 Main Street, Oroville, WA 98844 US - Home

The Immaculate Conception Church
of Oroville, Washington
(by Joanne Whiteaker)

The history of the community of Roman Catholics in Oroville, as in many small towns in the Northwest, was centered on the presence of the "Black Robes," Missionaries of the Society of Jesus, or more commonly called, Jesuit Priests.  Earliest records in the parish register of the Immaculate Conception Church in Oroville contain names of people who were baptized, married, or buried, by Father A. Pardodi, S.J. as early as 1889.  Some of these people resided at Molson, Sidley, Loomis, and surrounding areas.  During the next 29 years four other Jesuit priests cared for the people in this area with mission churches in some towns such as Molson, Chesaw, and Ellisforde.
In 1938, the first Catholic church building in Oroville was started by Father Alphonse Crouffant, S.J., blessed and dedicated in honor of the Immaculate Conception of mary by Bishop Augustine Schinner on October 4, 1910, and finished by Fr. Edward Griva, S.J. in 1913.
Early pioneer families of the area who were parishoners of the Immaculate Conception church were as follows:  Driscoll, Steele, Horrigan, Briley, Bottomley, Moorehouse, Kammers, Miller, Malloy, King, Herschberger, Riley, Ryan, LaRose, Lynch, Haney, Cassidy, Stanton, Jackson, Schuman, DeVon, McMillan, and Connelly, to name a few.
June 15, 1915, the Sisters of St. Benedict opened St. Joseph's Hospital.  It was located on the ground floor of the Old Peerless after the DeGrubb Hotel was built.  Fr. Griva, S.J. offered the first mass in the hospital chapel.  The hospital operated only one year, and when the hospital closed, the Sisters left Oroville.
Fr. Griva was replaced in 1915 by Fr. Sanderfield (1915-22).  He and Fathers L.A. Noldin (1922-23), P.L. Taufen (1923 - 27), Cronin (1927 - 30), Donovan (1930-32), Farrelly (1932 - 34), and J.L. Leclerc (1934 - 37), served the Oroville parish.  By that time churches at Molson and Chesaw were closing and the Oroville parish was the hub of Catholicism in the North County area.
The parish felt a burst of energy during the eleven years that Fr. Joseph Brunner served his flock from 1937 - 1946.  St. Mary's School was built during this time by the Oroville parishioners under the guidance of Father Brunner, who was a man, it was told, with the uncanny ability to stretch the very scarce post World War II dollar.  In fulfilling their dreeam of a parochial school, Fr. Brunner and several men of the parish scounged lumber from the old abandoned church in Molson to build the school.
St. Mary's school  operated from 1943 - 1956 at the location of the 16th and Main Streets (the site of the present church).  It usually had an enrollment of 60 students from grades 1-6.  A 7th and 8th grade class was added when it became  necessary to provide for those older students.
The Dominican Sisters managed the school.  Sister Antonia Stare was principal of the school during its entire operation.  Sr. Antonia, originally from Wilbur, WA, was the only American nun teaching at the school.  The other sisters, along with the sisters at St. Martins Hospital in tonasket, were a group of German dominican nuns who came to the northwest and centered at the "Mother House" in Kettle Falls, WA, and Conrad, MT.  There were usually three sisters teaching at the school.  Each taught three grades in one classroom.
Father Raymond Klemmer was parish priest during most of the time the school as open, and was transferred to Uniontown, WA, in 1955.  That same year St. Mary's school closed due to a shortage of nuns to teach at the school; they were needed to teach at other schools in larger cities.  A large representation of parents from Oroville drove to the "Mother House" at Kettle Falls, to petition that the sisters be able to stay in Oroville, but to no avail.
Faced with an empty school building, which beckoned vandalism, a leaky roof in the old church, and a temperamental furnace, the parishoners of the Immaculate Conception Church began talking of building a new church.  At first, land around the old church was considered, but it was finally decided to build the new church at the site on Main Street where the school stood.  An architect was hired to draw plans to build the church over the old school, making use of the existing basement and classrooms.  Father Nicola Morin, the new pastor, was deeply involved with all the headaches of such an undertaking.  Money was raised by pledges of the families of the parish, donations of the Catholic Extension Service, fundraisers such as dinners, bazaars, etc., and loans from the bank and the Catholic Diocese of Spokane.  Bishop Topel dedicated the "new" Immaculate Conception church December 8, 1957, on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception.
It may seem the history of the Catholic Church in Oroville is made of buildings, priests, deacons, and nuns, yet it's the people of the parish living here who are the Church and benefited by the service of their dedicated pastors.
Parish priests, pastors, and administrators of Immaculate Conception Parish are as follows: Fr. De Rouge, S.J., 1885-86, Fr. A. Parodi, S.J., 1889-92, Fr. Punghorst, S.J., 1893, Fr. I.A. Bedard, S.J., 1902-06, Fr. G.T. Hartmann, S.J., 1905, Fr. Van der Velden, 1908, Fr. Alphonse Couffrant, 1907-13, Fr. Edward Griva, 1913-15, Fr. M.J. Kasper, O.M.I., 1915-17, Rev. F. Coccola, 1917-19, Fr. Laurence a. Noldin, 1921-23, Fr. Taufen, 1923-27, Fr. Denis A. Cronin, 1928-30, Fr. D.J. Ddonovan, 1930-31, Fr. Anthony Farrelly, 1932-37, Fr. Jo M. Leclerc, 1933-37, Fr. Joseph W. Brunner, 1937-48, Fr. Raymond A. Klemmer, 1948-56, Fr. Nicola Morin, 1956-58, Fr. Adrian Vander Heyden (a boistrous Dutchman), 1958-61, Fr. James E. Grant (a methodical man who held the big job of implementing transitions after Vatican II), 1961-67, Fr. George Morbeck (an outdoorsman who liked hiking in the high country), 1967-71, Fr. Frederick Bromham OFM (a quiet Franciscan Priest who sent to Oroville because of shortage of priests in the Spokane Diocese), 1971-72, Fr. William Hanley (a likable, grandfatherly Irishman), 1972-76, Fr. James Mangan (a large, quiet, bearded young man), 1976-77, Fr. Gerald O. McDonald, S.J. (an elderly gentleman sent from the Jesuits of Gonzaga University to help the shortage of priests in the Spokane Diocese), 1977-79, Fr. Garry Boulden (a young priest who related well to young and old alike), 1980-83, Deacon Charles Wilson (a man who saw the need for a soup kitchen to feed the many hungry transients during harvest time), 1983-86 & 1993-4, Sr. Mary Ellen Robinson, SNJM (a vivacious and energetic woman who served the English- and Spanish-speaking people of the parish), 1986-92, Sr. Helen Garvey, SNJM, 1992-93, Fr. Pedro Cortes, 1994-1995, Fr. Kevin Codd, 1997-99, Fr. Steve Werner, 1999-2002, Fr. Richard Semple, 2002-03, Fr. Fernando Maldonando, 2003-2006, Fr. Rory Pitstick, 2006-08, Fr. Alex Zepeda, 2009, Fr. David Kuttner, 2010 – present.

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