Parish History

 What we all know is that the beginning of any new parish stems from the command of Christ, “Go teach all nations’ With these words, Father Lawrence Willenborg began his history of St. Vincent de Paul Parish at the time of its dedication in May of 1965. Even though it was canonically established by Archbishop Thomas A. Connolly on November 24, 1961, its genesis was really with the hearts of the people of faith (approximately 300 families) who were its first parishioners.

It was their faith in Christ that formed the foundation upon which our parish would be built. It would again be the faith of the parishioners over the years that would eventually give form and direction to this unique community of faith. It was their faith in Christ that formed the foundation upon which our parish would be built. It would again be the faith of the parishioners over the years that would eventually give form and direction to this unique community of faith.

It is not always easy to recognize the “spirit” that has to go into the brick on mortar phase of a parish’s growth, but there is no other way to explain the industrious effort undertaken by so very many at the beginning. Initially, the plans only called for a church, a hall, and a CCD center. That was in 1963. But when the word came from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur that their community might be able to staff a parish school, permission was given to expand the fundraising project to include a school and a convent. In those hopeful and optimistic days immediately following the close of the Second Vatican Council, Sr. Clair Marie’s offer could not be refused.

Our vision as a parish was already expanding. Green and Growing While the influence of Vatican II was just beginning to filter down to local parishes, Father Willenborg wasted no time in drawing people around himself to be about doing his part to “teach all nations.” Everything was new, even the tried and true parish organizations like the Altar Society and the Holy Names Society. We were green and growing. Guilds flourished, and it wasn’t long ‘til Boy Scouts were a familiar part of parish life, perhaps the first youth activities group in the parish. All had tasks to do, from fundraising to taking a house-to-house census of the parish to landscaping the parish grounds.

One of Father Willenborg’s great loves was children. CCD classes began early under the volunteer guidance and support of such people as Jon Pinney. When Mary Lou Murphy took over, Bess Ruppert was her volunteer secretary. Even the school grew in stages, and it wasn’t until 1968, when Sr. Patricia was principal, that all eight grades were in place. Father trained the altar boys, who were among the first in the Archdiocese to experience the altar facing the people.

It seems St. Vincent’s developed its progressive character early on, again reflecting the faith community itself. Parish Council The first Parish Council began in 1970, with its charter reflecting an openness, characteristic of the freshening breeze of ecumenism, that allowed membership to include persons who may not be of the Catholic Faith. But, by this time, other breezes were blowing also, and some were unsettling. While the parish was growing rapidly with the changing Federal Way community, changes were also happening in the church. For many people, confusion surfaced about what was growth and what was just change.

People were asking new questions. Others were asking old questions, but were given new answers. In many ways, the church was becoming very critical of itself even of established practices. The first Parish Council emerged in this atmosphere.

One of its first tasks was to deal with the size of the school. Considering many factors, it decided to reduce its size to only six grades, one through six but maintain its full enrollment of 240. Also, because of the growing size of the parish and the greater need to get the parishioners closer to one another, it decided to create within the parish 11 “mini-parishes.” Each of those areas was to have a representative on the parish council. A willingness to risk by moving out into such uncharted waters was a growing characteristic of the faith community of St. Vincent's. Renewal It became clear to many people that the renewal of the church could not happen only at the structural level. It also had to happen at the personal level, within the faithful themselves.

For this reason, many parishioners were attracted to the Cursillo Movement, the Marriage Encounter Weekend and the Life in the Spirit Seminars. Each in its own way developed the leadership potential of both men and women in the church. Many St. Vincent's parishioners became leaders in these movements at the Diocesan level not to mention in our parish, Father Pat McDermott, the first assistant pastor of St. Vincent's provided guidance to the Charismatic Renewal. The first pastoral change came with the appointment of Father Harold Quigg in 1972. The breezes of change were still strong when Father Quigg arrived.

By now, the church community was growing at a rapid pace, often drawing parishioners from the greater Federal Way area, as our neighboring parish, St. Theresa’s was unable to handle its expanding population in Twin Lakes and North Tacoma. Lay Ministry This became clearly evident as a result of the Bicentennial Questionnaire in 1976. The mini-parishes were going strong at this time, and the voice of the people was heard. Needed new ministries surfaced, like that to formerly married Catholics. Deacon Del Hoover was instrumental in reaching out to this part of our community. Someone was also needed to oversee youth ministry to provide continuity when priests seemed to come and go so fast. By this time too, the place for lay lectors, eucharistic ministers, and even girls serving at the altar was identified and filled. This does not mean the parish was all work and no play.

Parish festivals gave way, in 1976 and 1977, to the POOF Auctions. Beyond soliciting funds, POOF set out to build community. Held at the Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club, Pat Hunt, the chairperson, coordinated these very successful efforts. But St. Patrick’s Day was a time of fun for the parish too. You didn’t even have to be Irish. With Father Quigg also came a significant expansion of lay ministry in the parish. Due to the changes in society, as more and more women moved into the work force, the need to develop the parish staff became imperative. Because of the expanded activities, there was no way the priests themselves could direct all that was going on.

While the influence of such associate pastors as Fathers Michael Batterberry and Barry Ashwell was truly great, the time for lay ministry had come. Music New sounds were heard in the church as strumming guitars joined the traditional organ at Sunday liturgies. Music had always played a significant role in our parish celebrations, beginning with formation of the first choir in September of 1964 under the direction of Diane Randall. Christmas of that year was its birthday, as its full sound filled the church at Midnight Mass. Even Father Willenborg, who had a fever of 104 that night, could hear the “angels” sing.

John Madden joined the choir in the spring of 1965, and became its second director that fall. Good music in English was hard to find. Consequently, many hymns from the Protestant tradition found their way into our services. Lee Hanson, a Presbyterian at the time, joined Father Willenborg and John Madden in coaxing the people to sing. By 1976 the choir had grown along with the selection of good liturgical hymns. Composers like Ray Repp and Sebastian Temple had come to the church’s rescue, and Don Barrows came to John Madden’s, as he became the third (and present) choir director. Lee and Lois Hanson and Mary Osborn still remained as founding members of the choir. Joe and Jim Hafner brought guitar music to the liturgy in 1969. Bob Sroka was soon to join them with his talent and enthusiasm. Because of the difficulty of getting good music, Bob and his wife Kit began to write some of their own. They stayed with the Folk Choir” until 1977. At that time, Lee Harris, a transfer from St. John Vianney Parish, stepped in to help. These pioneers prepared the way for Sue Rockwell and her contemporary group.

Modifications As the mini-parish concept began to falter. Father Ouigg saw the need for involving the lay volunteer leadership in a new way, so he restructured the Parish Council into a Board of Trustees and an Administrative Council. These two bodies were to assist in the planning and implementation of parish programs and policies. It was about this time, also, that the sisters moved out of the convent. It was converted into staff offices and meeting rooms now known as the Willenborg Center. In 1980, the parish’s second All Parish Family Mass was held at Federal Way High School, this time to proclaim its Five Year Goals. The kind of parish St Vincent's had become was now very evident. It would be an oversight not to mention also the effort that went into the decorating for such events, not to mention the church for Christmas and Easter. Tim Ham, Bruce Leach and Virginia Roni performed miracles each time. No one would have ever guessed the church was originally intended to be only a gym.

We Are Family Perhaps nothing caught the spirit of St. Vincent's more accurately than what happened as a result of the “Year of the Family” in 1980. “WE ARE FAMILY’ bumper stickers surfaced all over Federal Way. St. Vincent's saw itself as a family and simply wanted to proclaim it for all to hear. To support this value, the Family Ministry Office was opened in the parish, with Robin LaMoria as its first director. Now there was someone to support the seniors of the parish as never before, as well as single parents, and the formerly married. The parish also committed itself to reaching out to its own needy by tithing 10% of its gross income to help families and individuals in distress, whether it be by providing professional counseling or emergency help. At this time the parish also developed its marriage preparation program to assist those couples coming to the church for marriage.

All of this was another way our parish tried to fulfill its mission “to teach all nations.” Like any family, we had our hard times over the years. Yet, we were able to deal with most of them in responsible and faithful ways. Father Pat Callahan came to our parish in 1981 as its third pastor. As a man of many gifts and a strong sense of direction, he remodeled the church to its present configuration. As much as anything, he helped us realize our call to be a family at worship; that we needed one another to live the faith we shared. While his leaving our parish was difficult for us in many ways, as was his eventual leaving the active ministry, he challenged us to be a people of the faith we proclaimed.

It was at this time. March of 1983 that Father Tom Vandenberg came as administrator of St. Vincent's until a pastor could be assigned. As it turned out we got three all at once: Father Jerry McCloskey and Father Michael Tucker joined him to form a pastoral team, each sharing the pastoral role. Needless to say, many were confused, not to mention the priests themselves. It was decided that this “trinitarian experiment” should not continue. Father Vandenberg became pastor ‘cum solo” in 1982 when Father Jerry Woodman was assigned as the Parochial Vicar. A Time To… These years of our history continued to see the desire to grow and improve our life and work as a people of faith. Again, the parish leadership went through a major adjustment. A pastoral Council was formed following a year’s study by the parish leadership. Its membership reflects all major areas of parish ministry, as well as special committees to assist in the decision making process regarding finances, personnel, facilities and planning.

Considering the size of our parish, this design is meant to lessen the administrative load on our parish priests We were still working at the spirit of joy too. The ‘Family Vincente” lived! Appreciation Dinners, Guadalupe Festivals, Lovers’ Masses and coffee and doughnuts continued as a part of our desire to grow in unity. First Communions still brought tears to parents, as did weddings and funerals of loved ones. Yet, joy was mingled with those tears in each case. That is what happens to people of faith. And who can estimate the impact of RENEW? It was clear that God was still with us after 25 years.

While we had taken the inevitable step into the computer age, thanks greatly to the help of Father Woodman, we continued to struggle in our efforts to be a people of the Gospel, who try to proclaim it by our words and lives. We were in a time of healing and coming together. We were in a time of paying off past debts, financially and otherwise, and were turning toward the future with hope. We were in a time of consolidation and evaluation, a time of thanksgiving for yesterday and renewal for tomorrow.

A Dream Begins to Happen On Mother’s Day 1995, over 400 parishioners turned out for our groundbreaking ceremony. At last, there was evidence that a new church would actually be built, the fulfillment of a dream that goes back to the days of Father Larry Willenborg, the first pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish. In a letter from Archbishop Thomas A. Connolly, Father was told not to spend too much on “accouterments” for the church because the building’s use as a church was to be only temporary. That was 31 years ago. The dream for a new church was kept alive by Father Harry Quigg and the parishioners in the 1970’s. In fact, plans were in the works to build a new church in the early l980’s. But, as providence would have it, Father Quigg was transferred from St. Vincent's, and with him the momentum for the new church was lost. But the stirrings to do something were felt by Father Patrick Callahan. Not here long enough to fulfill the dream, he did a great favor for the parishioners by rearranging the worship space in the old church so all could experience something of “gathering around the altar.”

As the growth of Federal Way in the 1980’s translated into the rapid growth of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, it was not long that the dreams of years before became current once again. Space for expanding ministries became critical, the seventh and eighth grades were reinstated in the parish school, and the old worship space was clearly inadequate in terms of size and in answering the call for the renewed liturgy initiated by the Second Vatican Council. In addition, St. Vincent de Paul Parish had become a gathering place for many of the Vietnamese Catholic Community for liturgical celebrations and educational programs. “FULFILLING OUR VISION” became the theme of our fund raising drive that began in the fall of 1990. Our goal was $1.6 million. $1.7 million was pledged.

Support for the building project was strong, both in the parish and from the Archdiocese. Obstacles to overcome were many. Delays came one after the other. When the three-year pledge drive was over, many people continued to give to the building fund. Thanks to a bequest of over $800,000 from the estate of parishioner Ray Brown, we were able to continue when cost estimates skyrocketed. Mother’s Day 1995 was bright and sunny. Hopes were high. The ground was ceremoniously broken. And then, after more unexpected delays, the work finally began in September.

A resilient dream was about to be fulfilled. New dreams were about to be born. We began worshipping in our new church in September of 1996. The Parish had just completed Phase I of our major development process. We also added a new nursery wing and parking lots. Phase II of the remodeling of the old church into an activity center, and extension to the parish and addition to the school for space for a kindergarten, classrooms, and library was to begin. About

The Building Project Our Dream for Completing Our Facilities A new Education Center to be built over the wing of the new church complex, to include: 1. Science classroom and lab 2. Computer classroom and lab 3. Library for parish school and Religious Education classes The addition of a Kindergarten in the current school where the “birdcage” was located. Renovate and modernize the parish social hall’s 35-year-old kitchen and add additional space by extending the west wall. Add a small kitchenette in the new church storage area, to encourage the use of this area for small functions.

What had occurred during 2001-02 When our Phase II Fund Drive completed its 5-year duration in December of 2001, it was obvious that we had insufficient funds available to proceed with our expansion plan. We needed to make up for the contributions lost during the five years by employment changes or families moving away. So during October and November of 2001, we conducted an intense fifteen-month pledge drive to make up this difference, choosing to do this without the help of an outside fundraiser. With the help of many, many parishioners, we succeeded in receiving $533,927 in pledges. With this commitment, and the money we currently had in the bank, we approached the Archdiocese about the possibility of a small loan. We were approved to borrow $276,800 (should we need it), and it would be added on to our mortgage without increasing the monthly payment.

Once we had the funding, the Building Committee went to work with Bassetti Architects to come up with drawings. The Committee then interviewed and selected Shinstine Construction as the contractor. After that, everyone involved was working on designs, costs, permits, complications, and even colors, It was all proceeding as scheduled, and construction was scheduled to begin in early spring of 2003. Phase II 2003 Phase II expansion began in February 2003 and we were seeing our old building transformed into the school of our dreams!

The construction included the addition of a kindergarten classroom, science lab, computer lab and library as well as expansion of the parish hall. We were extremely thankful for everyone who supported us financially and through prayer to help us see this vision to completion. The construction was scheduled to finish in mid-August and we would open the doors in September and welcome our very first Kindergarten classroom. The school year opened with the addition to the school completed, and we welcomed our very first Kindergarten class. The dedication of the building was held on September 7th 2003 with Archbishop Brunett on hand to bless our new space.

Father Tom’s Letter Dreams do come true! At long last, our parish plant was complete, the fulfillment of our dreams that go back decades. The major push to bring our parish up to its capacity for ministry began back in the 1980’s with the purchase of two portables needed to reinstate the 7th and 8th grades to our parish school. An extensive parish survey led to the decision to build our new church, which was dedicated seven years ago. (Can you believe it has been that long ago already?) It was obvious that we were not just dreamers. Committed parishioners took it under their wing to remodel the old church into a wonderful gym and activities center. Not only did it provide a space for in door activities for our school children, but also for our Grapevine children who used it on Monday nights during the school year.

During that time, we had a five-year pledge drive for the second and final phase of our development efforts, but it fell short of our goal, much to my failure to do a mini-reminder campaign after the third year of the five. But once we got back on track, the construction wasn’t long in starting. And now it is over! We have a school library, science room and computer room deserving of the commitment we have made to provide the best education possible for the students in our school. We have a kindergarten for our little ones, a dream that was so long in coming. And our refurbished and expanded parish hall will be able to handle the crowds as never before, whether it be for a Lenten fish fry or a Lovers’ Celebration dinner-dance. Finally, we were able to put a small kitchenette off the south narthex. Small luncheons, like for our Vincentians, will now be so much more manageable. At last, the stage is set. Our focus can now be on the ministries of service to our people.

A new day for our parish has begun. So, on your mark, get set, ….This may be the end to our history for now, but the Spirit that formed and shaped it still breathes in the hearts of the faithful of St Vincent's. Where ever it leads us, one thing is sure: We needn’t fear. We are not alone.