Redemptorists celebrate 125 years of service to the local church that became the Archdiocese of Seattle
Over the past year, Redemptorist Father Lyle Konen would rise at 4 a.m. on Sundays, as he does most days, and spend an hour in prayer in the chapel before making the eight-mile crosstown trek from the Sacred Heart Monastery near Seattle Center to Christ the King Church in north Seattle. He and his brother Redemptorist, Father Bill Cleary, agreed to share responsibility for the parish in 2015 at the request of Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.
On most weekends, one of the two priests heard confessions at 4 p.m. Saturday evening before the 5 p.m. vigil Mass and then celebrated the 8:30 Mass on Sunday morning. The other senior priest — Father Konen will be 85 this summer and Father Cleary is 80 — celebrated the 10:30 a.m. Mass. Then they alternated the following weekend. Father Konen said he tried to be the first one to the church on Sunday mornings to give himself time for reflection and to prepare for Mass.
Redemptorist Fathers Bill Cleary and Lyle Konen at Christ the King Parish in Seattle. Photo: Stephen Brashear
“Both Konen and I said we didn’t want to be tied down seven days a week anymore, being in our 80s,” said Father Cleary, “so we do Christ the King together.” The pair’s assignment ended June 30.
The ministries of Fathers Konen and Cleary, which span a combined 109 years, are emblematic of the Redemptorist presence in the Northwest for the past 125 years and reflect the missionary impulse upon which St. Alphonsus Ligouri founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer in 1732.
“When we were first started by St. Alphonsus, because we had no parishes, our mission was that we were to preach to the most abandoned,” Father Konen said. “In those days the most abandoned were the country folk. Now, a lot of times, the most abandoned are here in the city.”
125 years of service
On July 5, 1890, four Redemptorist priests and two brothers arrived in Portland, Oregon, headed by Father Charles Sigl. They gave 24 missions and eight retreats in the next 11 months. They wanted to assume responsibility for a parish in Portland but it was “ill fated,” according to a history by Redemptorist Father George Rassley, because of opposition by diocesan clergy.
In October of 1890, Belgium-born Father Emmanuel Demenez resigned as pastor of the fledgling Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, which, contrary to the wishes of Father Francis X. Prefontaine, had been annexed from the northern part of his lone Seattle parish, Our Lady of Good Help.
After an invitation by Bishop of Nesqually Aegidius Junger (1879–1895) to assume care of the parish, Father Sigl introduced himself to the community as a “temporary pastor.” By 1894, there were five Redemptorist priests stationed at Sacred Heart.
Before their arrival at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Seattle, the Redemptorists from the St. Louis Province and Middle West had already preached a series of missions and retreats in 1887 in Oregon, British Columbia and the Washington Territory. A Seattle mission in June of that year by Fathers Charles Kern and James McLaughlin heard 477 confessions at Father Prefontaine’s Our Lady of Good Help Parish.
The Redemptorist fathers formally assumed responsibility for Sacred Heart, the oldest active Catholic parish in Seattle, in 1891 and have provided a continuous pastoral presence there ever since. Father Sigl, the first of a succession of more than 20 Redemptorist pastors, served until 1893.
Despite dramatic change in the region and the world since then, the Redemptorists’ service to bishops and the Western Washington Catholic community has remained remarkably constant from the earliest days until now. Like Fathers Konen and Cleary, Father Sigl’s ministry was largely devoted to offering Mass where no diocesan priest was available. He would offer Mass for the Sisters of the Good Shepherd at 6 a.m. on Sundays before going to Ballard, often on foot, for the 9 a.m. Mass. On his return, he would celebrate the High Mass at Sacred Heart at 10:30 a.m.
The Redemptorists will host a double celebration at Sacred Heart Parish Sunday, Nov. 13. The occasion will mark not only 125 years of Redemptorist service to our local church in Western Washington, but the 150th jubilee of the Redemptorists receiving the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help — a devotion central to the order’s spirituality — from Pope Pius IX.
Today the Redemptorists continue to serve the Archdiocese of Seattle, mostly through their ministry as parish priests for Sacred Heart and through the continuing ministry of senior priests like Fathers Konen and Cleary living at the Sacred Heart Monastery. “It’s a good place for senior ministry because they’re so short of priests up here you can write your own ticket,” Father Cleary said.
In addition to numerous parish outreach ministries initiated by the Redemptorists, Mass is celebrated at Sacred Heart twice each weekday, and confessions are heard prior to each Mass. On Tuesdays, devotions to Our Mother of Perpetual Help are held after every Mass.
Like those of their Redemptorist brothers past and present, the ministries of Fathers Konen and Cleary reflect the missionary spirit that brought the order out west more than a century ago. Both priests served in the mission fields of Alaska and Nigeria in addition to multiple assignments throughout the Northwest.
In addition to two stints as pastor at Sacred Heart, Father Konen has carried out assignments at the Redemptorist retreat house in Tucson, Arizona; San Francisco; Portland; Great Falls and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; and was the director of the Redemptorists’ Palisades Retreat Center in 1972 and 1973. Father Cleary, a Portland native who grew up in the Redemptorists’ Holy Redeemer Parish, launched the Redemptorist mission in Nigeria in 1987 and served as mission superior for six years and regional superior for eight years, in addition to assignments in Great Falls, Portland and San Francisco.
In his invitation to the Redemptorists, Bishop Junger stipulated that since they were “a missionary body,” their ministry was not confined to Sacred Heart Parish, but could extend over “the entire Diocese of Nesqually and elsewhere.” Their history and the history of their order represents a sustained response to the bishop’s original request, in which he granted them “the privilege of preaching and of hearing confessions in their church in any language and at any time they may deem useful or expedient.”
Sacred Heart Parish in Seattle. Photo: Ray Meuse
The early years
In their early years, the Redemptorists based out of Seattle preached missions, retreats and Tre Ore services as far away as Pennsylvania, Ohio and California, but their primary mission field was the region that would become the Archdiocese of Seattle.
1890 - Redemptorists agree to “temporarily” assume care for Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Seattle.
1891 - Redemptorists officially assume responsibility for Sacred Heart, offer Masses in Ballard and take charge of St. Michael Parish, Snohomish.
1892 - Under the care of Redemptorists, a church dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help is built in Everett.
1895 - Redemptorists start serving Catholic communities in Fremont and Smith’s Cove.
1903 - Redemptorists begin care for Seattle’s Green Lake area.
1907 - Mass is celebrated for Catholics at Port Blakely on Bainbridge Island.
1908 - St. Anne Church on Queen Anne Hill, part of Sacred Heart Parish, is dedicated.
1908 - Mass is offered for Immaculate Heart Parish in Sedro-Woolley and a newly founded community of Carmelite nuns in Seattle.
1910 - Redemptorists serve Catholic communities in Port Gamble and at an abandoned school in Winslow converted into St. Cecilia Church. Redemptorist fathers begin the care of the Indian reservation at Suquamish.
1956 - Redemptorists open the Palisades Retreat House
1973 - Redemptorists begin to serve Our Lady of Good Help Parish in Hoquiam and the Indian mission and resort at Quinault.
Source: “A Brief History of the Redemptorists in Seattle” by Redemptorist Father George Rassley
St. Alphonsus Ligouri founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer in 1732.
St. Alphonsus Liguori
Alphonsus Maria Liguori founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, popularly known as Redemptorists, in 1732. Ordained a priest on Dec. 21, 1726, Alphonsus spent several years attending to the spiritual needs of the beggars and street people of Naples before being appointed bishop of St. Agatha of the Goths in March of 1762. He died on Aug. 1, 1787, and was canonized in 1839. Pope Pius IX declared him a doctor of the church and Pius XII declared St. Alphonsus the patron saint of moralists and confessors. He is also the patron of vocations and of people who suffer from arthritis. St. Alphonsus was nicknamed the Teacher of Prayer. “The person who prays is saved,” he said. “The person who does not pray is lost.”
Sacred Heart Parish
The Redemptorist mission in Western Washington is inextricably tied to Sacred Heart Parish, and spans the history of our local church from the days when it was the Diocese of Nesqually up to the present. The oldest active parish in Seattle, it was moved to its current location — a tiny island of property spared condemnation when Seattle Center was developed — in 1927 during the Denny Regrade. Sacred Heart has experienced the construction and destruction of two previous church buildings, longstanding relationships with the religious sisters who staffed the parish school, and groundbreaking charitable efforts to house the homeless and feed the hungry. For a detailed parish history, visit nwcatholic.org/sacredheartseattle.
Our Mother of Perpetual Help
According to tradition, when Redemptorists asked Pope Pius IX to move the original icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, he instructed the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer “to make her known throughout the world.”
The icon was restored and placed on display for public veneration at the site of its original home between the two basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran in Rome 150 years ago.
Tradition holds that the 15th-century icon was stolen by a merchant who made a deathbed request that it be returned to a church. The Blessed Virgin is said to have instructed that the picture should be placed in the Church of St. Matthew the Apostle, located between the basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. The icon was placed in St. Matthew’s in 1499, where it remained for 300 years; it was later moved and all but forgotten. Redemptorist missionaries acquired the land previously chosen by Mary as her sanctuary. A church in honor of the Most Holy Redeemer and dedicated to St. Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the congregation, was constructed, and in 1866, the Redemptorists retrieved the icon with approval from Pope Pius IX, who charged them with spreading devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
Devotions in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help were established by Redemptorists in Seattle in 1890 and weekly “novenas” in her honor were widely attended and continue today following Tuesday Masses at Sacred Heart.
To view the original icon at the Church of St. Alphonsus in Rome, visit www.maryprayforus.org/about-the-icon/view-the-icon-in-rome.html.
Northwest Catholic - July/August 2016
Greg Magnoni was the founding editor and associate publisher of Northwest Catholic until 2018.