MORTON – For nearly 100 years, Catholics in East Lewis County celebrated baptisms, weddings, funerals and Sunday Masses at Sacred Heart Church.
Now the 45-household parish has closed, due to declining population and an aging church building needing costly repairs that far exceeded its current income. The final Sunday Mass was celebrated January 20 by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.
“It was a difficult decision to close the parish, but I am grateful for the faith and support of the community here at Sacred Heart,” said Father Jacob Maurer, who is pastor of Sacred Heart as well as parishes in Chehalis, Centralia and Toledo, and a mission in Harmony.
The Madonna and Child statue was donated to Sacred Heart Parish by the architects who designed the A-frame church that was dedicated in 1963, according to a parish history. The wood interior reflects Morton’s natural setting and timber industry heritage. Photo: Courtesy Father Jacob Maurer
Although Sacred Heart has closed, its Pastor’s Pantry ministry will continue on, providing food to hundreds of people in the Morton community each month. That effort is possible because of a strong volunteer base and generous donors, Father Maurer said (but more help from volunteers and sponsors is needed, he added).
“I’ve been really proud of the parishioners,” Father Maurer said. “It’s really hard to say goodbye.”
The decision to close the parish was a shock to the faith community, said parishioner Rhonda Krolczyk, who was baptized, confirmed and married at Sacred Heart 44 years ago. “A lot of people are grieving,” she said.
This crucifix adorned the altar at Sacred Heart Church in Morton. The parish closed on January 20 with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain. Photo: Courtesy Rhonda Krolczyk
Krolczyk, who has served as the parish’s religious education director and is a volunteer for the Pastor’s Pantry, said she and her husband are struggling to decide where to attend Mass. “I look forward to going to Mass because Sacred Heart is home,” Krolczyk said.
Father Maurer said Sacred Heart’s parishioners are being welcomed by St. Yves Mission in Harmony (about 11 miles away) and St. Francis Xavier Parish in Toledo (about 30 miles away). St. Yves is adapting its Mass schedule, and St. Francis Xavier parishioners sent handwritten notes of welcome to members of Sacred Heart, the pastor said.
Besides its registered parishioners, Sacred Heart also served visiting Catholics — on their way to places like Mount St. Helens in the summer and to the ski slopes in the winter, Father Maurer said.
The furnishings from Sacred Heart Church, including the “beloved” statue of the Madonna and Child, will not go by the wayside, Father Maurer said. According to a parish history, the statue was a gift to the parish from the architects who designed the A-frame church, dedicated in 1963. The future of the building — which replaced the original mission church that was dedicated in 1922 — hasn’t been determined, according to Father Maurer.
Bishop Edward O’Dea established Sacred Heart as a mission in the early 1920s; after years of community growth, it became a parish with a resident pastor in 1968. Now, changes in the timber industry that resulted in Morton’s declining population mean a new chapter is beginning for the local Catholic community.
“Though it will take on a new form in a new location,” Father Maurer said, “we will continue to place our faith in Jesus and carry out his work here in Morton and the surrounding communities.”
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