Joseph Cataldo was in frail health throughout his life, but he built an immense spiritual legacy across the Inland Northwest.
Born in Sicily in 1837, the studious young Jesuit with a gift for languages arrived in America at age 25 and finished his studies in California. He was sent as a missionary priest to Indian tribes in Idaho, establishing multiple new parishes along the way. He learned the Nez Perce language and helped make peace between the Nez Perce and the U.S. government.
As the Jesuit Superior for the Rocky Mountain region, he founded a tiny congregation in a renovated carpenter’s shop in the budding city of Spokane Falls in 1881. In that first church were the seeds of the grand Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral. The cornerstone was laid in 1903 and a school was added in 1906. The church was designated as the cathedral for the new Diocese of Spokane in 1913, which for many years occupied the marble chancery building across the street.
Despite his many scholarly accomplishments, including mastery of 20 languages and his building of new churches and schools, Cataldo is best known for buying 40 acres just north of Spokane Falls in 1881 for Gonzaga College. The school was named for a famous Italian Jesuit, Aloysius Gonzaga, and it opened its doors in 1887.
Cataldo also established the Jesuit scholasticate at Mount St. Michael northeast of Spokane. The sickly Sicilian priest survived a lifetime of spreading the Catholic faith and tradition through the region and died in Pendleton, Ore., in 1928 at age 92. He is buried at Mount St. Michael, which is now a church and education center.
– Jesse Tinsley
1908: People line the street for the dedication of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church on Riverside Avenue on Thanksgiving Day.
Present day: Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral continues to serve members of Spokane’s Catholic community.