Naught ‘n’ Pot

Y’all are invited to a poetry readin’:

The Jesuit Origins of Spokane

Today’s Inlander features an article on how the death of a Jesuit brought life to Spokane:

A desperate journey to Rome, a tragic telegram and an unstoppable Jesuit.

They all came together in 1885, creating a future that includes Gonzaga University and Gonzaga Prep, which turn 125 years old next year

“I jumped,” in January of 1885. “I jumped, and that jump saved the Rocky Mountain Mission,” recalled Father Joseph Mary Cataldo, when he heard a knock on his bedroom door one fateful evening.

Against his better judgment, Cataldo was in Fiesole, Italy — far from the many, many obligations pressing for his time back in the fledgling settlement of Spokane. But two regional bishops had insisted that he travel to Italy and appeal both to the Father General of the Society of Jesus — leader of the Jesuit order — and to the Pope, himself, for increased support of the Catholic community in the Inland Northwest.

Dutifully, Cataldo had taken a steamer from New York to Antwerp, Belgium, in the fall of 1884. But soon, as he had feared, his visit teetered on becoming a complete waste of time. To begin with, the Jesuit curia, or Society headquarters, was temporarily in exile from Rome and had relocated to Fiesole. Then, when Cataldo reached Tuscany, he found the Father General so ill that a substitute, a Vicar General, was making decisions in his stead.

It was from this Vicar General that Cataldo learned the Society would provide no additional resources — neither men nor money — for the remote corner of the globe they called the Rocky Mountain Mission. Society finances simply could not meet such a request. Finally, when Cataldo traveled to Rome for an audience with Pope Leo XIII, he received similar negative news.

Despair grew even deeper for Cataldo after a cablegram from America arrived at the Society’s villa. The message was intended for Cataldo, but, as he recalled, “my name was not spelled well,” and so the missive found its way onto the desk of the Vicar General. After reading the sad message, and realizing for whom it was intended, the Vicar General personally delivered it to Cataldo in his room.

Thus the knock at his door that echoes across the region to this day.


The clipped phrases of the cablegram announced that Father Louis-Marie Ruellan, Cataldo’s Vice-Superior for the Rocky Mountain Province, had died of pneumonia in Spokane. It was a crushing blow because Cataldo had placed Ruellan in charge of his many plans for Spokane for the duration of his trip to Italy. Ruellan’s assignments included the construction of Spokane College, the building of a church for Saint Aloysius Parish and another church to be dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, with yet a fourth project taking place at Saint Michael’s Indian Mission near Bigelow Gulch.

Suddenly, every prospect for Spokane appeared doomed.

But the Vicar General took an interest in the drama unfolding so far away and became so distressed at the genuine sadness of the priest from Spokane that, according to Cataldo’s memoirs, he undertook an impetuous action without consulting others. The Vicar “went to his room and wrote for me a letter, to all the Provincials of the Society, in which he said all he could, except ordering them … to help, each one as he could, the Missions of the Rocky Mountains.”

With this special passport to enter European and American Jesuit schools, Cataldo could recruit students to join the Rocky Mountain Mission, or the Catholic community in Spokane, or the college being built in Spokane.

The foundation of modern Spokane was sealed as the Vicar General wrote that letter.

Read more here

Reading the Trains

When approaching or leaving Spokane by way of I-90 and Sunset Hill, you will often see a train or trains crossing over the freeway. It is a lovely vision of steel and cargo traversing the skyline.

Moreover, you can read a forecast of your fate for the day in the coming and going of the trains.

A train moving towards Spokane as you are leaving, or departing Spokane as you are arriving, indicates opposition, contradiction, challenge. You must alert yourself to devils and natural disasters and bumps in the road as you continue on your journey.

Conversely, a train departing as you are departing or arriving as you arrive indicates harmony. You can count on the way unfurling smoothly before you, pretty girls smiling at you, dogs wagging their tails at your approach.

Occasionally you will see one train leaving and one train arriving simultaneously. This is a sign of cross-purposes and ambiguity. You must be discerning of your choices and pray for wisdom in choosing the right path as you continue your journey.

It is an extreme rarity, but it can happen that two trains arrive or leave simultaneously. This is a sign of power, but it is not simply a quantitative increase in contradiction or harmony. There is a qualitative difference, a transcendence, indicated by the doubling of the trains. A religious vision or dark night of the soul could be indicated. You might die or have a transformative experience as you continue on your way.

And if no trains at all appear, you can count on the usual miasma of everydayness. You must slog on through the invisible fog. Remember you are a pilgrim traveling through a strange and broken land.