The Rev. Joseph Cataldo was born in 1837 in Sicily, where he went through his religious education, probably never imagining that he would be sent off to the Inland Northwest as a missionary – or that it was here he would do his life’s work, including founding Gonzaga University.
Students, faculty, staff and friends of Gonzaga Preparatory School gathered Sept. 21 for the blessing and dedication of a statue of Cataldo in the school’s courtyard.
“When you think about it, for Father Cataldo to come over here at that time took more guts than it took to fly to the moon,” said Tom Keefe, who donated the statue.
Cataldo also founded Gonzaga Preparatory School, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.
“Not only did he found Gonzaga and Gonzaga Prep, but by many, Father Cataldo is seen as one of the fathers of Spokane,” said the Rev. Tom Lankenau, who conducted the outdoor Mass in the courtyard prior to the blessing of the statue. “He came to the Northwest to serve the native people, and he fell in love with the people he served.”
Spokane artist Sister Paula Mary Turnbull – who also created the famous Garbage Goat in Riverfront Park – designed the statue.
“She is a wonderful woman and an incredible artist, and she’s been friends with Mom for 78 years – they are both 90,” said Keefe.
Cataldo played a central role in the history of the Nez Perce and many other Inland Northwest tribes, and representatives from the Nez Perce, Blackfeet and Spokane tribes were honorary guests at the statue blessing.
Keefe has a personal connection to the Nez Perce because his wife, JoAnn Kauffman, is a tribal member. The couple’s three children, Josephine Keefe, Kevin Keefe and Julia Keefe, all graduated from Gonzaga Prep.
“Our three children are also members of the Nez Perce Tribe,” said Keefe. “This is really a gift from my children to Gonzaga Prep, for giving them a great education and helping them get a good start in life.”
Keefe said the idea to honor Cataldo with a statue took root when his family relocated to Spokane in 2000, after having lived both on the Nez Perce Reservation and also in Washington D.C. Turnbull was a natural choice as the artist because she was very close to the family.
“She became like a surrogate grandmother for my children here in Spokane,” Keefe said.
The longer he lived in Spokane, the more he wondered why there wasn’t a statue of Cataldo in Spokane.
“The statue is also to show appreciation of what Father Cataldo meant to the tribes,” said Keefe.