EDMONDS — After 11 years of celebrating Mass in another parish’s church, North American Martyrs Parish celebrated the blessing of its own church by Archbishop Paul D. Etienne on November 23.
“The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter is very grateful to Archbishop Etienne for his presence here and his words of support and prayers,” said FSSP Father Zachary Akers, development director at the order’s North American headquarters in Pennsylvania.
“It’s a great joy for this community to finally have their own church after so many years,” Father Akers added.
Before the first Mass was celebrated in the church by FSSP Father Joseph Heffernan, pastor of North American Martyrs, Archbishop Etienne walked around the building’s exterior, sprinkling the walls with holy water. Then he moved inside to complete the sprinkling and blessing, which was said in Latin.
Archbishop Paul D. Etienne sprinkles holy water on the exterior and interior of the new North American Martyrs Church in Edmond November 23. Photo: Michael Curtis Photography
“I’m very grateful … that he agreed to bless North American Martyrs church using the old ritual” from the 1962 Roman Missal, Father Heffernan said. “One of the points of his sermon was that he tries to be aware of the needs of his people, and that he did that for us. It was very pastoral of him.”
Before his homily, Archbishop Etienne noted it was on the feast of the North American Martyrs in 2009 that Pope Benedict XVI appointed him bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming.
“As a pastor for 17 years before I was named a bishop, one of the most important places for me to be each day and every week was at the doors of my church,” Archbishop Etienne said in his homily.
His parishioners “opened their life to God as they entered the church,” a space where they would tell him, as their pastor, “things I would otherwise not have known,” the archbishop said. “And that’s truly what allowed me to be a good pastor — to, with and for my people. It’s one of the reasons why these sacred spaces are so important.”
Altar crafted by parishioners
One of the most striking features of the newly remodeled church is the altar, titled the “True Presence Altar,” which was created by parishioners as a “last-second call,” said James Jasper of Jasper & Scheer Liturgical Art. The parish had been looking for a suitable altar to purchase, but could not find one, he explained.
“I said to Father [Heffernan], ‘Look, we could just make one,’” Jasper recalled. The usual turnaround for such a project is at least six months, Jasper said, but he and his wife, Susan Scheer-Jasper, conceptualized, designed, carved and stained it in just eight weeks — with Jasper putting in 16-hour days to complete it.
Roland Quade of High Pitch Construction fabricated the 2-inch-thick cherry wood panel pieces, and Rick Janes of St. Joseph Carpentry cut and assembled the altar, Scheer-Jasper said in an email. The rest of the altar will be completed and installed by Easter.
“The fact that it was the parishioners who love the parish so much made it feel that much more glorifying to God,” Father Heffernan said of the altar, noting that it was “kind of like in the old days — it’d be the local guilds that build the cathedral.”
Perseverance 'made this day possible'
The blessing of North American Martyrs Church begins another chapter in the parish’s history. In 2001, Archbishop Alexander J. Brunett granted permission for the Latin Mass to be celebrated in the Josephinum (now the home of Christ Our Hope Parish) in downtown Seattle. In 2008, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain established North American Martyrs as a quasi-parish; in 2015, it became a parish without geographical boundaries.
For more than a decade, the parish celebrated Masses at St. Alphonsus Church in Ballard and the chapel at Holyrood Cemetery in Shoreline, drawing members from as far away as Bellingham, Anacortes and North Bend.
Over that time, NAM has searched for a suitable home close to a major freeway, looking at 40 different properties before the 14,000-square-foot former Lutheran church in Edmonds came up for sale in early May, Father Heffernan said earlier this year.
The altar in North American Martyrs Church, named the “True Presence Altar,” was designed and crafted by parishioners. Additional parts of the altar will be completed in installed by Easter. Photo: Michael Curtis Photography
Located a short drive from Interstate 5, the property at 9924 232nd St. S.W. is “almost exactly where we need to be in the archdiocese,” Father Heffernan said. The $3.4 million purchase was finalized August 2 and parishioners began working in earnest to get the church ready for Catholic worship by Advent.
The first Mass, held a week before Advent began, was attended by nearly 350 people.
“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s wonderful that it’s here,” said Bill Purcell, a longtime parishioner.
Father Heffernan reflected on celebrating the first Mass in the new church home.
“When I was distributing holy Communion [to] parishioners who … have been coming for decades — to the Josephinum, to St. Alphonsus, to Holyrood — to be able to give them Communion in our own church … I almost had to pause,” Father Heffernan said.
“They’re the ones who, their perseverance over the years have made this day possible.”