St. Francis Xavier Mission
177th Years old in 2015
St. Francis Xavier Mission was the first mission in the archdiocese, established in December 1838 on Cowlitz Prairie, north of Toledo, Oregon Territory (51 years before Washington became a state). Many famous and beloved priests and bishops helped establish St. Francis Xavier's roots, including but not limited to: Fr. Francois Norbert Blanchet, Bishop O'Dea, Fr. Modeste Demers, and Fr. Van Holderbeke.
Following the instructions of his superiors, Fr Blanchet departed Fort Vancouver on December 12th for the purpose of establishing a permanent mission along the Cowlitz River. He and his guide, Augustin Rochon, left in a conaoe apddled by four Indians , arriving at the Cowlitz settlement at approximately 10:00 am on Sunday, On December 16, 1838. Fr. Blanchet celebrated Mass that day in the home of Simon Bonaparte Plomondon, who retired from the Hudson's Bay Company, in a room that had been set aside for this occasion.
Fr. Blanchet laid out 640 acres for the mission, approximately 1/2 mile wide and 2l miles long, not far from the Plamondon farm. A log church was soon erected under the direction of Fr. Demers. He brought a 50-pound bell with him on October 13, 1839, and had it placed in a 40-foot tower. Fr. Demers also laid out the original mission cemetery.
Upon hearing word of a "blackrobe" at the Cowlitz, many surrounding Indian tribes arrived, some from as far away as Whidbey Island, to hear about the "Great Spirit". In seeking a plain and simple method of teaching the Indians, Fr Blanchet devised a system that was notched on a stick of wood, which became known as the "Catholic Ladder". This display of lines and dots was leter transferred to paarchment and became widely used by other missionaries.
Fr Demers spent this first summer of 1839 returning to the forts along the upper Columbia to minister to the Indians and the handful of Hudson's Bay Co employees assigned there. Fr Blanchet returned to Cowlitz on Jyly 20th and found that a ctufr Chapel, 20' x 30', had been erected there. Later it would become the missionaries' residence. Also a barn was built. The next day, July 21st, Fr Blanchet said mass in the Chapel and dedicated it to St Francis Xaviar. Ten days later on July 31st he performed the first recorded burial on mission land.
Legend has it that during the first fire which consumed St. Francis Xavier mission (1901), Fr. Holderbeke ran into the church (which had been vacated of people) to save the Blessed Sacrament. He died of his burns two days later.
More history to come!