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Historic Mount St. Michael building needs facelift

There are 138 wood-framed windows in the west wing of Mount St. Michael, a former Jesuit scholasticate on a hill overlooking north Spokane.

They need repainting.

The congregation based in the sprawling compound wants to restore the historic building in preparation for a centennial in 2015.

Members of Spokane Preservation Advocates have offered to help during a “doing it” event on July 17 from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Volunteers are being sought. Lunch will be served.

Those who turn out will get a chance to see the inside of one of the Spokane area’s most curious landmarks, which overlooks Hillyard from atop a prominent foothill north of Bigelow Gulch Road.

Completed in 1917, Mount St. Michael was home to Roman Catholic priest trainees from the Jesuit order until 1968, when the Jesuits consolidated their operation at Gonzaga University.

The building was acquired in 1977 by a breakaway Catholic organization, the Tridentine Latin Rite Church, which rejected Vatican II doctrinal changes in 1965 that allowed English-language Mass among other reforms.

Formally called the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen, the church group operates the Late Gothic Revival facility for childhood education, a convent and a traditional Catholic parish with about 600 members.

Women must wear modest dresses and cover their heads, and men are required to wear coats and ties during church services in the building’s ornate chapel.

“It’s like walking into the turn of the century,” said Gary Lauerman of the preservation advocates group. “Nothing has changed.”

On an upper floor, longtime parishioner Alvina Urban, 90, has been spending her days working on the window restorations.

She uses a heat gun to strip old paint from the windows, which were removed by volunteer John Netzel, another parishioner, so they could be repainted safely indoors.

“I just think it’s good to be busy,” she said.

Down the hall, parishioner Rosie Cyr balances herself in a window casing in a building in which she, her husband and their seven children have spent much of their lives.

“I have a vested interest in this,” Cyr said.

The property was acquired in 1881 by the Rev. Joseph Cataldo and operated initially as a farm, supplying Gonzaga with fresh produce and dairy products.

The cornerstone of the building designed by renowned Spokane architect Julius Zittel was laid in 1915; the building was completed in 1917. It was built in the vicinity of the 1866 Mount St. Michael Mission, a Roman Catholic outreach to Spokane Indians.

The complex is listed on the local, state and national historic registers.

The church was the subject of controversy in 1984 when its leader, the late Bishop Francis Schuckardt, was accused of mismanagement and being sexually involved with assistants and forced out of the church.

Since then, the church has operated quietly and may be best known for its Singing Nuns musical group and the blue habits of the convent sisters.

The west wing, where the window work is under way, was completed in 1929.

“On the whole, it looks like the building is in really good shape. The windows need some love,” Lauerman said.

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