One hundred twelve years ago a pint-sized church in Dayton served a handful of pioneers.
"If the parishioners of that early era suffered hardships, so did the priests." Catholics on Robinette and Jasper mountains, and on Lewis Peak rose at 4 a.m. to hitch up the team, and make the two-hour trip in open buckboards to church.
Some especially hazardous rides had to be made through deep snow and ice, to attend Midnight Mass.
The parishioners would come down from the mountains, tie their horses up at Ed Hines' place, and walk one mile to old St. Joseph for Mass.
Reverend Van Holderbeke was first to serve the area. From 1882 to 1893, while assisting at St. Patrick in Walla Walla, he would travel to Dayton and Waitsburg by rail.
Waitsburg's first mass was said in the Parnell Hays home. Later services were held in the Knights of Pythias Hall. Several priests from Walla Walla assisted during the intervening years. In 1899, Rev. Guilelmi Auschwand began a nine year stint in the area, residing in Pomeroy.
In 1908, Rev. Herman Loeffler, a native of Barvaria, Germany, assumed duties briefly, followed by the first main builder, Father Patrick Flavin. A quiet, prayerful, Irish priest stationed in Walla Walla and seeing the need for other churches in the many-miled area, Rev. Flavin began what was considered a vast building program with edifices shooting up as St. Catherine in Prescott, St. Mark in Waitsburg and St. Joseph in Dayton.
St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church was built in 1914 in Prescott. The building was dismantled in about 1940. Masses were held in private homes prior to the construction of the church. The priest often arrived in Prescott by train from Starbuck.
A jolly, well-liked Irishman, Father J.L. Campion arrived in 1916 for a ten year stay. Making his home in the sacristy of Dayton church, he managed to complete the building program and pay off the then huge debt of 12000. Our parishes were without a resident priest until July, 1946 when Father Ralph Schwemin arrived.
In 1950, Fr. Schwemin purchased a large site on West Fifth Street in Waitsburg and built a modern parish hall with a knotty pine interior. Work commenced on the new St. Mark Church in 1953. The first mass was said February 7, 1954. The cost of the new church was $ 25,000. Rev. Schwemin spent countless hours building pews, making crosses and doing finishing work.
A two year project began march, 1966 with the addition of four classrooms, storage room and the expansion of the kitchen area.
The congregation of St. Joseph outgrew the 1916 original structure and in 1985 plans for a new expanded complex were begun. Completed in May, 1987 the new church boasts 1,056 feet on the main level and the same on the The lower level provides the space for three classrooms. The entire cost for construction of the new church was $ 300,000.
Parishioners of St. Mark and St. Joseph take great pride in their churches and spend countless hours helping to maintain not only the buildings but also the growth of the Catholic religion in their communities.
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