Journey of Faith

New ‘graphic novel’–style book meant to educate, entertain and inspire local Catholics

By Kevin Birnbaum

The story of the founding and growth of the Catholic Church in Western Washington is “incredibly inspiring,” said Corinna Laughlin.

 “I mean, here you have Catholics just going into the unknown, knowing they’re never going to see their hometown again … and building something out of nothing, with God’s help,”
she said.

It’s a story more people should know about.

Unfortunately for the average Catholic, the go-to reference on the history of the Archdiocese of Seattle is a scholarly, out-of-print, 900-page brick of a book by Wilfred P. Schoenberg, S.J., called A History of the Catholic Church in the Pacific Northwest, 1743-1983.

Journey of Faith pages
Pages from "Journey of Faith"

This March, the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Faith Formation is rolling out a new history of the local church that’s a bit more accessible. Journey of Faith, which takes the form of a graphic novel, sweeps briskly through the centuries, from before the arrival of the first Catholics up to the present day, in just 40 colorful pages.

The book is written by Corinna, the pastoral assistant for liturgy at St. James Cathedral, and her sister Maria Laughlin, the cathedral’s director of stewardship and development, and published by the French Éditions de Signe. It is being sold through parishes.

A coming together of many cultures
The creation of this illustrated history began two years ago with the convening of a group of “stakeholders,” including representatives from women’s and men’s religious communities and local Native American tribes, to give suggestions and feedback.

At the outset, Corinna said, the stakeholders were asked how they would summarize the story of the Archdiocese of Seattle in one sentence. “And what came out was: The story of the Archdiocese of Seattle is a journey of faith and a coming together of many different cultures. And so that became really our guiding principle.”

Journey of Faith begins with the Native Americans who predated the local church, then embraced the faith of Catholic missionaries and even traveled thousands of miles to request that more priests be sent to the Northwest.

“It’s hard to express how foundational the native people are to the beginning of the church,” said Mary Cross, the director of the archdiocesan faith formation office.

The book ends, fittingly, with the story of Jake Finkbonner, a member of the Lummi Nation and student at Assumption School in Bellingham, whose recovery from a flesh-eating bacteria in 2006 was recognized by the Vatican as the miracle needed for the 2012 canonization of the Mohawk St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

Colorful characters, dramatic moments
In between, Journey of Faith tells the story of the diverse and colorful characters — bishops, priests, religious sisters and laypeople — who helped build the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Seth Dalby, director of the archdiocesan archives, sees the book as a corrective to the incomplete version of Washington state history often taught in public schools. Dalby, who is not Catholic, said you can’t honestly teach the history of Washington without acknowledging the role of the Catholic Church.

“The Catholic Church really sort of developed the foundations of this state,” he said. “We were the first to have contact with Native Americans … and we set up all of the institutions that are required for civilization in a place: hospitals, schools, churches, orphanages, convalescent homes.”

The book features well-known figures like Chief Seattle, Mother Joseph and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini; and dramatic episodes like the collapse of the cathedral dome in 1916 and the decision of Maryknoll Father Leo Tibesar to join the Japanese parishioners of Seattle’s Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish when they were interned at the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho during World War II.

Knowing where you came from
In conjunction with the release of the book, the archdiocese is organizing youth group pilgrimages to significant spiritual sites. Major pilgrimage destinations include St. James Cathedral, the 175-year-old St. Francis Xavier Mission in Toledo and the Proto-Cathedral of St. James in Vancouver, said Lauren White, the pastoral assistant for faith formation and youth ministry at Seattle’s Christ the King Parish, who is organizing the pilgrimage program.

Both the book and the pilgrimages are meant to help Catholics young and old connect more deeply with the local roots of their faith.

“I don’t think you can know who you are unless you know where you came from,” said Maria Laughlin.

The authors also hope Journey of Faith will help Catholics realize that the history of the Archdiocese of Seattle is still unfolding, and they’re part of it.

“We have an incredible, fabulous history that’s so varied and so much more interesting than I think probably most archdioceses would have, because it continues to grow,” said Corinna. “Our glory days weren’t 100 years ago. We’re living them. We’re in a thriving church.” 

For more information on Journey of Faith, contact the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Faith Formation at 206-382-4096 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

NORTHWEST CATHOLIC – March 2014