“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:20
The History of Our Parish
Father Francois Blanchet, later Archbishop Blanchet, the pioneer missionary of the Oregon country, traveled by canoe through Agate passage in 1840 and visited the Native American at their camp below what is now Suquamish. By 1843, Captain Wilkes records that there was already a crude Catholic chapel at this site. The priests who continued to serve the Catholic Tribes of Puget Sound throughout the following decades also visited the flourishing settlement of Port Madison. During the late 19th century, Mass was celebrated from time to time at the home (still standing) of Phillip Wist, the local hotel keeper.
As Port Blakely, in turn, became a booming mill town, its Catholic families gathered about once a month for Mass at the home of one of the workers. In 1914, these families built St. Andrew Church on the top of Blakely Hill. This church, built on the top of Blakely Hill, continued in use until 1943.
About this same time, the Catholics of Winslow bought the old one room Winslow school house and moved it across the street to its new site next to where the bowling alley stood on Madison Avenue. In 1914, this new church was placed under the patronage of the Roman martyr St. Cecilia and officially established as a mission of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish, Bremerton.
The St. Andrew and St. Cecilia congregations were served first by the Redemptorist Fathers from Sacred Heart Parish, Seattle and then after 1930, by the Jesuits from Seattle College (now Seattle University). For some 18 years the much beloved Father Raymond Nicholas, S.J., celebrated Mass on the Island every Sunday. On these Sundays, and the occasional Saturday, he also baptized babies, married couples, conducted funerals, visited the sick, taught catechism class to the youngsters, trained the Altar servers, and also found time to get to know his flock. Weekdays were spent teaching history classes at the college. St. Andrew continued until 1943 at which time it consolidated with St. Cecilia.
With the Winslow shipyard booming and the two large naval installations active, Fort Ward and Battle Point, St. Cecilia could barely take care of the swollen population brought on by the Second World War. The church had been placed on a lot that sloped sharply down, and the Altar end rested on tall stilt-like foundation posts. When the large group of communicants went to the Altar rail, the floor would shake and vibrate, and a feeling of uneasiness would prevail as the people wondered if the church was about to collapse. About this time, plans were made to build a new church when the war ended, and Fr. Nichols arranged for the large collections to be placed in a building fund.
On November 6, 1946, the St. Cecilia Altar Society was founded, a dedicated group of ladies who had as their primary goal the building of a new church. They have card parties, teas, dances, and dinners and saved all their money to go toward the new building. They also cared for the Altar and lines, and provided lunch and transportation from the ferry landing for the Holy Name Sisters who taught Saturday morning catechism classes.
The little church was growing shabby. Its paint was peeling, the floors were wearing then, and the old wood heater smoked, but all the repairs were postponed in hopes that the new church would soon be built. The war was over and things would soon be back to normal. The parish received a windfall in 1947 when Louis Esterman (later Fr. Marian, O.S.13.) donated 5 acres of land upon which to build the new church. Construction began in January 1949.
Then in June of 1949, St. Cecilia at last received full parish status and Father John Duffy became its first resident Pastor. Others who have served as pastors at St. Cecilia since 1949 include:
Rev. Laurence O’Larey (1953-55)
Rev. William Odgen (1955-61)
Rev. Alfred Mathlenski (1961-69)
Rev. Charles Crosse (1969- 71)
Rev. Gerald Moore (1969-74)
Rev. Cornelius Harrington (1974-79)
Rev. Donald Conger (1979-90)
Rev. Joseph Erny (1990)
Fr. John Graisy (1990- 91)
Ward Oakshott (1991-95)
Fr. Gerard Clenaghan (3/95-6/95)
Fr. Patrick Godley (1995-2000)
Fr. Dennis Sevilla (2000-2003)
Fr. Sean O’Loughlin (2003-2005)
Fr. Emmett Carroll (2005 – 2013)
Fr. Joseph Mitchell (2014 – 2018)
Fr. Mark Kiszelewski (2018 – present)
In 1949, St. Cecilia numbered a scant 100 families. Over the years, however, the Catholic population of Bainbridge Island began to grow. As more and more young families moved to the Island, the need for additional religious education classrooms became a real concern. The hall was no longer adequate. In the early 1980’s, the Parish Council formed a task force to study our long-range needs. Out of this committee’s extensive study, there came the historic decision to build a new parish church and hall, and to convert the existing church and hall into classroom and meeting room space.
Months and years of fund raising and then of land clearing and construction followed. On the holy night of Easter Vigil, April 18, 1987, the doors of the current St. Cecilia Church were at last opened and the first Mass was celebrated. On May 24, 1987m the new church and hall (Conger Hall) were solemnly blessed and dedicated by Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen. During the summer of 1987, the old church was completely remodeled to provide Religious Education office space and much needed classrooms and meeting rooms. On November 22, 1987, the Feast of St. Cecilia, the new of our Patroness was blessed. This statue was the work of Holy Names’ Sister Paula Turnbill and a gift of the Parish Women’s Club.
As the parish continued to flourish and the population of the island grew, the St. Cecilia community once again began to make plans to build. Under the guidance of Fr. Emmett Carroll in 2007 the parish would begin plans to accommodate the parochial school (established in 2001) and replace the small, dilapidated church offices and rectory. In 2010 the Saint Cecilia Faith Center was dedicated by Archbishop Alexander Brunet. See Video. The Faith Center is comprised of Saint Cecilia Catholic School, grades PreK thru middle school, and the adjoining parish offices, library, and meeting rooms.
Our vibrant, welcoming faith community has grown to nearly 900 families. And we will continue on our journey in faith together as we continue to grow, learn, and love one another. We are Saint Cecilia.