In Your Midst

Voices of the Cathedral

July 2007

Parishioners and friends offer meditations on St. James Cathedral

We received more responses than we were able to reprint in the souvenir booklet.  Many are included here for the first time!

Easter Vigil 2007 by Mike PenneyComing to St. James for me has been all about stretching myself, stepping out of my comfort zone and doing things even when I don’t want to. The first time I came to the Christmas Readings and Carols service, I almost did not make it.  It had been a very difficult year for my family and me and I was feeling very drained.  The Sunday of the service, I was told my little brother had AIDS.  I went numb.  I remember feeling like a zombie.  I was not angry, sad, or scared.  I felt nothing.  I could not even pray.  This was too much, too much death, too much illness, too much strife for our family to bear.

As the afternoon turned to evening I had decided not to go the service, but a gentle, but very persistent urging inside made me change my mind.  I dragged myself out of the house and drove to the church.  I arrived as the service was beginning and so I sat in the very last pew.  There I sat, barely listening and growing ever more annoyed by the mother sitting next to me who was letting her child jump up and down on the pew with her very noisy shoes.  I decided to leave as soon as a good moment came.  Instead, she left.

“Finally,” I thought to myself, and then started to feel guilty for my feelings.  As I sat, I thought about the coming Christmas.  All my friends had decided to leave town that year and I would be alone.  I turned my thoughts back to the service and decided if nothing else I would try to sing “Silent Night” with some effort.  With the church darkened and the candles lit, I remember feeling as if I was dead on the inside.  “How can something this beautiful not even move me?”  I sang along with everyone.

I am not sure when it happened.  All I know is that by the end of the song, I was filled with so much peace and so much love and joy beyond words.  I did not talk myself into feeling this, it just happened.  I left the Cathedral euphoric.  I floated through Christmas as though I were floating on a cloud.  I realized then, He takes what little we can give Him and returns it to us multiplied by a million.  The candlelight service has become one of my favorite services at St. James.  It reminds me of this night when Jesus filled me with His love, even when I could not give Him much.


A musical thread ties together the varied aspects of St. James Cathedral life for my family.  We have had three baptisms, four weddings, one funeral, and provided one altar server, two choir members and one organist over the years.  Music always plays a part.

I was eight years old in the winter of 1943 when my great-uncle Pete was dying in Harborview Hospital.  Mother brought my brother and me on the bus one evening after work to visit him.  Walking the last few blocks, we passed the Cathedral.  “We’ll go in so you can see it.”

The building was mostly dark, with a light showing from behind the high altar -- and the organ was playing!  I was thrilled, and I still remember the feeling of that first visit.  Turns out it was Carl Natelli (still a parishioner of St. James Cathedral in 2007) practicing on the Casavant.

In the spring of 1956, at age 20, I was invited to be organist at a pontifical Mass which was part of a national convention.  Vilem Sokol from the University of Washington was conducting a choir made up of singers from all over the city.  I was really thrilled.

The thrill today comes from the wonderful, remarkable music program now alive at St. James.  The quality and breadth of the music, and the skill of the performances are unmatched by anything we have heard in this country or Europe.
When illness brought my performance days to an end, my recuperation is built on the music in St. James Cathedral.

James Impett

Our Lady of Grace, North TranseptMy grandmother, Florence Ryan Agen, came to Seattle as a young woman from Helena, Montana, with her mother.  She later married John B. Agen, a pioneer businessman in Seattle and Mount Vernon.  He was also one of the nine men on Bishop O’Dea’s building committee for the Cathedral.

Their house, six blocks from the Cathedral at Seneca and Boylston, was where the first meeting of the Building Committee was held.  They drew a sketch of the planned Cathedral on my grandmother’s white damask tablecloth about which I’ve been told she wasn’t too thrilled!  Grandmother Agen had a devotion to the Virgin Mary and the statue of Our Lady in the north transept was her gift to the new Cathedral.

J. A. Baillargeon, my father’s father, was one of the nine Building Committee members as well.  He had a great interest in architecture and also knowledge and love of music, and he gave the gallery organ.  Grandfather Baillargeon met Dr. Franklin Sawyer Palmer—the Cathedral’s first music director—in Paris, at St. Sulpice, and was instrumental in bringing him to St. James.

The Cathedral always has played an important role for all the generations of our family.  My father kept a photograph of the Building Committee displayed in a prominent place in our home.

I was baptized here in the Cathedral’s font, and even though we grew up in the country, I remember coming occasionally to Christmas Eve Mass with my brothers and sisters and our parents, Katherine A. and Cebert Baillargeon.  Later I lived in New York for a few years and also had some job assignments in other countries, but on returning to Seattle began coming to St. James and became an active parishioner in the 1980s.

I was fortunate to be on the Renovation Committee in the early 1990s and thought the renovation was beautiful and Father Ryan’s vision of the altar in the center was wonderfully successful.

To me St. James embodies what it means to be a Cathedral.  I never cease to be impressed by the pervading spirituality of St. James, Father Ryan’s inspirational leadership, the concerts, and the extensive outreach ministries to the broader urban citizenry.  It is a community gathering place, and it is a place of prayer and tradition and beauty and social action.  I think the Cathedral plays an enormous role in the life of this city, and it is a privilege to be a parishioner here.

Pat Baillargeon

The first truism to know about St. James Cathedral is that the building has a ministry of its own.

Depending on mood or circumstance, the cathedral can be a refuge from the workaday world, a destination for solace in times of trial, a venue where the mind is engaged to listen and think, and—of course — a place to ask God’s blessing and assistance.

On Wednesday of Holy Week, always in competition with doings elsewhere, I find my way to Tenebrae.  Its music is stirring, of course.  What’s most important, however, is that the darkened cathedral is a place to pray and reflect on the central experience of the Christian faith.

A few years back, a person I loved lay stricken with an aneurysm a block away at Virginia Mason Hospital.  Numb and despondent, I walked with friends to Mass at St. James—praying for a miracle, of course, but for wisdom and strength in my family.
With the cathedral’s ministry, I endured the litany of the emergency room—the 58 intimate questions that precede organ donation, and the awful decisions on what to donate.  In our case, a kidney from the dying was to keep alive a carpenter in Montana.

The cathedral is also a place for stating convictions, whether you are deeply religious or part of Seattle’s “unchurched” majority.

St. James was a place to pray for the dead of 9/11, and the nation, a year after the terrorist attack.  At the same time, from the pulpit, Archbishop Brunett reviewed the Catholic doctrine of just war, making the point that justification for an invasion of Iraq had not been shown.

On the eve of war, in 1991 and again 2003, two of America’s largest marches for peace have extended from the Episcopal to the Catholic cathedrals in “unchurched” Seattle.

Are we really that unchurched?

I was in Paris four years ago, and went to Notre Dame Cathedral for Mass to mark the 59th anniversary of the City of Light’s liberation from Nazi occupation.  The number of worshippers in Paris that day was substantially less than the average turnout for 5:30 Sunday Mass with the Women of St. James Schola.

Joel Connelly is a columnist
with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Mass on Pentecost, 2007My name is Frances Kelly.  My sister, Mary Beth Kelly, and I are parishioners of St. James Cathedral since 1985.  Nothing is more important to us than our precious Catholic faith, and we dearly love the Cathedral.  What better place to nourish our faith than in its unsurpassed aura of beauty and peace, the truly wonderful sense of devotion, the most glorious liturgies and extraordinarily beautiful music?

Our family has had quite a connection with St. James.  Our great-grandmother, Mary Roe Booth, was a parishioner in the very early 1900s and there is a lovely stained-glass window to her memory in the east nave clerestory.

Our aunt, Alice Fairbairn, played the violin (with other children from St. Rose’s Academy on Broadway) at the groundbreaking ceremony for St. James in 1905.
Our parents, John Kelly and Elizabeth Fairbairn, were married in the Cathedral in 1911.

Following is the story of a quite miraculous happening, long ago:

In the mid-1930s, I was stunned to see in the window of a second-hand shop in downtown Settle, amid considerable junk, a monstrance!  The base was missing, but I bought it immediately, if only to save it.  After almost 70 years of "safekeeping," our helpful neighbor, Clint Miller, was consulted concerning repair and he referred me to an excellent metal craftsman, who restored it beautifully with a stemmed French-Gothic base and said the monstrance was from the 1850s.

Perhaps, in our mysterious past, this sacred vessel was used for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament by Father Prefontaine or some other missionary priest.  It has been given to St. James Cathedral, where it belongs, and Father Ryan has already used it on occasion.

What a miraculous event was the discovery of this Centennial treasure!

We are very blessed for your dear presence as our pastor, Father Ryan.  You always offer Holy Mass most devoutly and are very helpful to all in many ways.

On this, our Centennial anniversary, our beloved Cathedral stands as a welcoming sentinel on a high hill overlooking the city, bidding all to come, adore, and receive countless blessings.  We thank God for past years’ blessings and pray that the coming years will be equally blessed.

Deo gratias!  God be praised!

Frances Kelly & Mary Beth Kelly

Two years ago, I started thinking about returning to the Catholic Church. I was looking for answers to questions like:  Is there really such a thing as transcendence or is what I see before me all there is? I had attended St. James for a short time after moving here in 1984 and my memories of it were mixed: grand but decaying, growing old well before its time. But it was the only church I knew in Seattle, so one December night in 2005 I darkened its doors for the first time in over twenty years, curious and apprehensive.

Once through those doors, I was—in a word—astounded. This was not the drab, aging cathedral of memory. I confess I can’t remember a word of Father Ryan’s homily that night, so distracted as I was by the beauty around me. It was a feast for the senses and, to my delight, the spirit.

A deep awareness of the transcendent was clearly here for the asking. That would have been enough, if not for something else. I had never before seen a centralized altar surrounded by a full cathedral of worshipers. A dinner table, if you will, surrounded by family and friends.

The true transcendence to be found at St. James is not in just in the Cathedral, as glorious as it is. I find it in the men and women I see around that luminous altar week after week: a community of believers committed to fulfilling a demanding Gospel. A family of joyful faith that says, yes, there is so much more to life! I came here asking questions and I found a home.

Mark Schoen

Organ in the West GalleryIt has been sixty-four years since I first stepped into St. James as a new sixth grade student at Cathedral School.  I was greeted and welcomed on the steps of the Winter Chapel by Father Walter Mortek, one of many dedicated priests that I was destined to meet during a lifelong connection with this Cathedral—a connection that has pulled me back time after time over the years.

My Cathedral memories are many.  I remember traditions like the Christmas Eve procession to the north transept where the entire space was full of trees framing an almost life-size nativity scene; singing for Tre Ore on Good Friday, high up in the choir loft.  We climbed the stairs to the choir loft numerous times in a school year—the view from the loft was inspiring. After I entered high school, the pastor, Monsignor Gallagher, asked me to help out in the rectory after school and Sundays. I received an invitation to the installation of Archbishop Connolly, newly arrived from San Francisco; I was excused from classes that day but did not see the installation because somebody had to answer the phone in the rectory!  I was in the church often on one errand or another during “the rectory years.”  At times, I was even a witness for a wedding or baptism.  On February 14, 1953, I was married myself in the sanctuary at the main altar (to my Cathedral school classmate).  A couple of years later, we had a baptism at St. James.

While we eventually moved to a north Seattle parish, coming back one day to St. James remained a goal, when the time would be right.  Alone now, I came back to First Hill and St. James Cathedral in 2003 and every time I go into the church, I am still, after all these years, awed by the beauty and peace and the liturgy.  The sense of protective calm is pervasive, as if the walls just gather me in.  I glance up for a second or two to look at the choir loft and then take my place near to the area where my mother always prayed (actually, the Archbishop’s chair is exactly where she knelt years ago) and I can feel time melt away.

I am home, again.

Anne Comer

Most of us remember where we were and what we were doing when we encountered a signal event: an assassination, falling in love.  I will always remember the first time I encountered Archbishop Hunthausen.  I was a 12 year old Jewish boy living in Pennsylvania reading a Look magazine on a dreary afternoon.  I was thrilled to read of a bishop who lived in a basement and subsisted on soup.  I wasn’t quite sure where Montana was, but Bishop Hunthausen found his way into my heart, and brought the Gospel with him.

Shortly after we moved to Seattle 30 years later, my wife Kathy, who works for Catholic Community Services, got me an invitation to a retreat given by Archbishop Hunthausen.  I had a chance to tell him that his witness for peace and justice was one of the reasons I became a Catholic.  He had tears running down his cheeks as I told him.  So did I.  I had no idea when we moved to Seattle that we would be blessed with the great gift of having as our pastor Father Ryan, the friend and confidant of my childhood hero, nor of the wonderful way Father Ryan would continue the inspiration Archbishop Hunthausen had begun for me so long ago.  I may no longer be young, but my heroes are!

Max Lewis

My love for St. James Cathedral shows itself in many ways, from the feeling I get during the Liturgy, whether glorious, music-filled on the weekend or a quiet Liturgy on a weekday, to the immense sense of joy and awe Eucharistic Ministry gives me.

And then I think about my family.

Gloria Steinem once said, "Family is content not form".

Most of my family of origin are gone; replaced now with those wonderful brothers and sisters I call my own in our congregation. To name a few of this huge family:

There's Roan, my beautiful godson and his sister Zoë, Bob and Donna, my High School chums from 50 years ago in another state! There are my fellow Eucharistic Ministers who feed my soul with their kindness and loving ways, and always present, Fr. Ryan and the wonderful Cathedral staff, who, the more I know of them, the more I love them. Now there are new members of my family too, met in RCIA, JustFaith, Putting God First groups and Book Club. Oh yes, coming home to St. James Cathedral is pure joy.

Kathy Lewis

St. James Cathedral is alive with a community open to the Spirit.  I am home.  I am at peace. I am grateful for the invitations and opportunities to stretch, deepen and validate my faith.

I came to St. James Cathedral one evening in 1991.  The war in the Persian Gulf was looming and I was longing to pray with like-minded folks.  An invitation to come together to pray was sent out to the city and surrounding parishes.  To my surprise I found myself among 30,000 other people who came to pray and walk to St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in a silent peace march.  A parish willing to stand and pray so publicly for peace was a place that believed in the power of prayer and the connection between peace and justice.  I knew I was coming back!

Over the past 17 years I have been affirmed in my call to work for justice through the Peace and Justice Committee where Sr. Terence’s phrase “Be open to the Spirit” kept us grounded, and Mary Segrave Mulhall charged our discussions with passion for justice.  I recall being invited to serve the vulnerable at weekend Masses with the First Hill Doorkeepers group and, then the Emmaus Companions. In the time spent companioning with others after Mass I understood better what discipleship felt like and how blessed I was to have been invited into this challenging and faith-deepening ministry.

The growth I experienced and witnessed throughout the parish over the past 17 years leaves me turning in gratitude to Father Michael Ryan.  Thank you, Father Ryan, for your visionary leadership, gentle guiding way and belief in reaching out to those most in need within the parish, as well as Seattle.
I also want to pause and remember St. James’ excellent and deeply devoted staff.  It has been great serving with you and watching you help make this incredible faith community grow.

Finally, when I let my mind wander through the interior of the Cathedral what I recall is the warmth of the candle flames and the fragrance of wax in the Mary Shrine, a cantor’s angelic voice at Mass, words of wisdom during a homily and a deeper understanding of scripture, and the reverence of those receiving Eucharist.  In one word:  Peace is what I feel when I think of the Cathedral.

Ann O. Jackson

St. James Cathedral is truly Domus Dei, Porta Coeli.  The house is welcoming; the gate is open.  I feel welcome and included here, which is not always the case for an elderly person.  St. James is also a beacon of beauty and serenity in the Seattle community.  I am proud to be a part of it, even a small part.

My uncles worshipped here during World War II, and I promised them that if I ever came to Seattle, I would attend St. James.  I never expected to live in Seattle, but that’s how things worked out.  I can’t imagine feeling as close to God in any other church.  There have been times when I thought the homily had been composed especially for me and times when the choir took us as close to Heaven as we can expect to be in this world.

St. James does the most serious work in the world, but it doesn’t lose its light touch or its sense of humor.  Best of all is the effect on my behavior and personal life from Sunday to Sunday.  I pray to be better and stronger, worthier of my surroundings, opportunities, and loved ones.  I believe that St. James enhances my ability to grow spiritually, and I send my thanks to all who have made possible this place of refuge in my old age.


Ray and I became part of the cathedral family in the fall of 1985, and we often spoke of the cathedral as both a place of refuge and as an inspiration, as a confluence of cultures involving people of all ages, coming together to worship and praise, to commune with him during all aspects of our lives individually and in community, on the earthly pilgrimage we all share.

The cathedral, despite its largeness, remains a true meeting place for the Lord's "little ones," a place where its mission is fulfilled by its staff, its pastors, its volunteers, and yes, its congregation and even its visitors from other places--who reach out to one another in warmth, honesty and concern, not just for the moment, but for the long haul!

St. James Cathedral has, with and in God's grace, created, through its members, a true atmosphere of caring and service, of worship and its attendant holiness, in humility, respect, and love for all who enter its doors.  This is the reality Ray and I found here, a reality that goes beyond mere words, a reality which is truly a treasure--the pearl beyond price Jesus spoke of.

Velande R. Pingel

I want to share, if I may, a brief story of my encounter with St. James Cathedral and Father Ryan.  Shortly after Father Ryan became pastor, I was going through a major spiritual and physical challenge.  I had taken my “party life” to its end and it was becoming most apparent.  One of the ways I would overcome my struggles is I would walk and walk and walk.  It just so happened to be Good Friday around 6 or 6:30 pm when I noticed the Cathedral in my sight.  I decided to check if it was open not realizing (pagan at that time, I guess!) it was in fact Good Friday.  When I entered, Archbishop Hunthausen had just walked to the pulpit and began to give one of the most inspirational homilies I had ever heard.

 “I would not look to God out of fear; out of shame; I simply would not look towards God as a person.  One day I decided I would look towards God and I was amazed.  All I got in response was… I love you… I love you.”  This is the a very abbreviated version, but you get the point at least as far as where I was coming from.

Several weeks passed and I came upon the Cathedral again on one of my walks, late on a Sunday afternoon.  I decided to enter approximately 4:00pm.   Father Ryan was just processing in for Vespers.  My thought was, Can I never find this church during a quiet time?  Vespers was absolutely the most beautiful service which brought tears to my then bloodshot eyes; yes—I was still struggling.  Vespers was held in the south transept and as Father Ryan began to process out after the service, he turned back and came to me where I was sitting in the main body of the Cathedral. He briefly explained the history of Vespers and we proceeded to have a significant, for me anyway, spiritual bonding of sorts.  It was this Sunday evening that I reached out to a support group.

These two episodes changed my life profoundly but I must say they would not have happened if I had not had that glimpse, on my searching walks, of St. James Cathedral.

God bless you all during the Centennial Celebration of our GREAT St. James Cathedral!

Joe F.

Taize Prayer in the Cathedral“Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and for ever!”   This final prayer at the end of the Taizé service, in the evening shadows, came as a call that drew us into the rich spiritual experience that is St. James.   The simplicity of the repetitive mantras, the candle light in the darkened Cathedral, the time for personal prayer helped us on our quest for Jesus Christ.   We placed the busy week behind us, we were encapsulated in the beautiful sacred space, seeking peace and taking refuge from the city around us.   We were enticed by sacred beauty.  Taizé was just the beginning.   Ten years ago we began a journey that has led us to places we never imagined.

Shortly after joining St. James Cathedral Parish, Pauline and I were married in the Cathedral.  We were privileged to have the Cathedral choir and soloists sing at our wedding Mass.  Special moments and experiences at the Cathedral are countless.  Singing the Biebl Ave Maria, the Mozart Requiem on All Souls Day, the extraordinary, faith-filled Funeral Mass for Father Ryan’s mother, to mention just a few.

Thank you, Father Ryan, for your exceptional leadership, to your staff who make things happen, and to the many hundreds of laity who truly make St. James the community of God’s people.

Father Ryan put it quite simply in his recent Pentecost homily: “God’s spirit is moving among us at this moment—prodding us, waking us up, stirring us, sending us.”

Patrick White & Pauline Smetka

It’s 5:30pm on Wednesday, and the bells chime the Mass call. I enter the Cathedral. This is my daily ritual. I’m on automatic pilot from Horizon House, the retirement community where I work.  The holy water is still on my fingers as fatigue exits and energy enters.

I first came to Seattle from Chicago fifteen years ago to celebrate my Easter birthday. I asked the taxi driver where I’d find the best homilies and music. His response: “There is only one place—St. James Cathedral!”

Eight years later I returned for one year as a Jesuit Volunteer.  In addition to the homilies and music, I found a renovated cathedral, a strong pastor and a vibrant community. I couldn’t leave.

Seattle Magazine calls our pastor, Father Michael G. Ryan, “a calming presence, leading people back to normal, such as he did after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.”  He has also been a stalwart anchor and a compassionate listener in my life storms.

Praying is effortless at St. James. My eyes leap from the soaring columns to Moses’ bronze burning bush.  I inhale the incense in the swaying censer and the scent of the roses perched on the altar steps in a lone vase. And I think of Isaiah’s well-trained tongue as I listen to Father Ryan “speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” After the Our Father, I reach out to the homeless woman and then to the CEO in my pew.

On Fridays, I read scripture from the ambo.  Then I light a candle at my favorite niche—Mary’s Shrine. I thank her for her Son’s ambassador—the taxi driver who led me here.

Helen Goehring

I started first grade at Cathedral School in 1921 and stayed there through fifth grade; after that our family moved up to Capitol Hill.  Margaret Downey and I made our First Communion together.  We were both ready for First Communion well before the usual age—we were only six.  Out of our class, Father Stafford decided that five of us would make our First Communion.  It was a First Friday Mass.  I had a little blue coat; Margaret had a little plaid coat.  You can picture us—Margaret, so pretty, with her brown hair hanging down—and me with my Buster Brown bob.

Well, Margaret had never told her family she was going to make her First Communion.  And her older sisters were in the choir—big high school girls.  So little Margaret Downey goes up to the communion rail with Mary Elizabeth beside her to make our First Communion.  And her sisters went nuts up there—just nuts.  “What’s Margaret doing?!”  So that was our First Communion—talk about adventures!

Father Stafford was a very fatherly man, though he was a young priest.  He visited all the classrooms, and knew all the kids.  He was like the pictures you see of Christ with all the children clustered around him.  Cathedral at that time was an elementary, secondary, and a high school.  (O’Dea High School wasn’t built until I was in third grade.)
Bishop O’Dea used to preside at all the big ceremonies in the church. The big highlight for us was that we got to carry our baskets of rose petals—not just on Corpus Christi!  We’d have a procession any time we could think of a reason for it!

In fourth grade I remember our teacher was Sister Edburge, who was a lady.  She introduced me to the finer things in life.  She showed us how to set the table when we were having a nice dinner at home—where to put the silver, how to fold the napkin. That was fourth grade and I, too, became a lady.

Another favorite was Sister Carmen Dolores.  She used to make little oval plaques, beautiful little relief plaques out of plaster.  She’d make the model, and then pour rubber cement over it to make a mold.  I was curious, and she taught me how to make them.  Afterwards, she even taught me how to tint them.

These were some of my favorite teachers; these were people who really had an impact on me.

Cathedral wasn’t a ‘village’ in the same sense Immaculate was.  Immaculate had the church, the parish house, the school, the playground, all these Catholic families, and its own grocery store.  It was a ferment of Catholicity; out of that village came a number of vocations.

Cathedral wasn’t like that.  People came from quite a distance to go there, and they were from all different backgrounds and social classes.  But it had a very warm, friendly atmosphere.  I recall that from my earliest years.  There was such a sense of warmth, of belonging.  Part of it was the priests, and then the Holy Names sisters were so warm and friendly.  The warmth of the sisters:  nobody was excluded; they took care of everybody.  And they did it joyously.  As I look back on it, I understand what is meant by belonging.

Sister Mary Elizabeth Dunton, SNJM,
interviewed in October 2004

Shaft of LightFor me the Cathedral has a long history. I served Mass for Bishop Gill in the early fifties and watched the Rambusch transformation that lasted about forty years. I have rejoiced in the recent restoration, worshipped, celebrated Mass, and preached in this wonderful space. The vibrant life of the parish community, its outreach to the poor of our own city and victims of natural and man-made catastrophes around the world gives meaning to the words in the oculus above the altar, “I am in your midst as one who serves.” I have used the Cathedral as an extension of my theology classes. The tours given to my students through the docent program have opened their eyes to an architectural beauty and symbolic richness that is, for most of them, entirely new. The Cathedral’s music program, extraordinary organs and talented performers, has provided Seattle with one of its most significant centers of culture. On many a morning or afternoon I have slipped into the church, lighted only by the sunshine coming through its stained glass windows and the skylight above the altar, to get in touch with the silent place where God’s Spirit renews my life each day. I love this “House of God and Gate of Heaven.”

Rev. Peter Ely, SJ

Here are some random thoughts from my fourteen or so years at St James. Probably my favorite activity and the one thing I miss the most (with the exception of the Sunday 5:30 Mass with the Women’s Schola) is the Friday night Taizé service.  I found it incredibly peaceful and relaxing—the chants still linger in my brain (Ubi Caritas…).  One image that remains with me is looking over at the L’Arche community during the finale of “Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and forever” and seeing two young people, on their knees, arms stretched out to the sky, singing the song—what an act of true faith!Shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary

I also enjoyed the Mary Shrine and the chance to light real candles—what a special place.

One sermon that changed my life as a Catholic, was delivered by Father Ward on the subject of stewardship. It was like having someone turn the lights on in my head.  There were so many things that I was thankful for and there were so many ways that I could repay those gifts by giving my time for others.

Peter Cassidy, New York City

What brought me to St. James Cathedral? The short answer is Death.

Long-time Washingtonians may recall the late State Senator Cal Anderson. I had known Cal and his partner, Eric, since the mid-1980’s.  Around the time that he won the primary election for the state senate in 1994, Cal told me he had AIDS. We agreed that I would work for him as his aide for what turned out to be his last legislative session.
Cal made it through the session, though he was hospitalized for several weeks of it. I cherished the time we had to visit while he was sick. Cal expressed how wonderful Michael Ryan had been and I didn’t get what the big deal was about this priest.  Late one night after regular visiting hours at Providence Hospital, the nurse told me I had to wait because Father Ryan was visiting Cal. I told her to tell him to hurry up (she gasped and, having some sense, didn’t do it). I was in the waiting area, crying, when Father Ryan came around the corner from Cal’s room.  I stopped crying and watched, mouth agape, as he strode down the hall toward the waiting area at a brisk clip, made a 90 degree turn at the corner and was gone. This was not the priest I had imagined!

Cal lived and served his constituents through the spring and summer until he died at home on Friday, August 4, 1995. The following Monday Cal’s mom Alice, good friend John, partner Eric, and I met with Father Ryan. We were all a mess, in shock, even though we had known Cal would die sometime.  After our meeting, Father Ryan showed us the recently renovated Cathedral. By this time, I was falling under the spell. I watched as Father Ryan connected with and welcomed each of us. As he touched my forearm he said to me, “I like your spirit, Alison.” Nice effort, I thought.
The funeral was truly perfect. I cried. I laughed. I prayed. It was so full of love, community, and reconciliation. It makes me tear up just remembering it.

For weeks thereafter, I felt a yearning to go to the Cathedral. I wondered if it was a phase, part of the grieving. I went to a Mass in September and visited with people during the coffee hour afterward. Father Ryan saw me, but kept his distance. No heavy sell. What kind of place was this?

After two years of observing the Catholic life at St. James Cathedral and struggling with my emotions, I finally began going to RCIA in September 1997. After my confirmation in January 1998, I looked forward to experiencing my first Easter Vigil and fully participating in the Mass. At the vigil, Archbishop Brunett splashed my face during the sprinkling rite. I laughed with joy and rejoiced.

Alison Warp

A memory of which I am particularly fond, one that recurs each year, is a special moment of the Easter Sunday morning liturgy.  During the lengthy procession (too lengthy for some, just right for me) the choir and people sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” accompanied by organ, tympani, and brass.  Then, the third verse arrives, and all except the choir are silent.  Softly they sing:  “But the pains, which He endured,  (Alleluia) our salvation have procured (Alleluia) . . .”  I cannot describe the feeling—by definition, the ineffable cannot be put into words—but I would make the trip from Baltimore for that verse alone.

Barbara deLateur, Baltimore

The first time I set foot in Seattle, it was a Saturday night.  I was just off an airplane, and, as I checked into my hotel, I asked directions to the nearest Catholic church.  They sent me here.  So, on Sunday morning I walked up the hill, wondering which St. James was the Cathedral’s namesake.  That was forty years ago.

That wasn’t a bad question to ask, you know.  Which St. James?  There are many in our church’s history.  Even the twelve people closest to Jesus, after his mother, included two. The one we honor today is older brother to John, and one of Jesus’ first followers.  He is definitely the first of the twelve to be martyred.  He was beheaded in testimony to his faith in Jesus.  And there is more that we could say of him.  But when we are done we’ll still be asking the same question:  “Which St. James?”

It happens that in my former career as a banker, I traveled the whole world over:  east, west, north, south.  It is rare in any big city, in this country or anywhere else, that I know of, to find a church like this open and welcoming to any and all at all times.  The doors open early in the morning and don’t close until after the last Mass in the evening.  That’s every day of the year.  No guards.  Virtually no restraints.

My wife and I have lived in eight parishes in our 52 years together, and have served four more as deacon.  Never have we found such joy in an assembly of people as here at St. James.  My answer—our answer—to the question “Which St. James?”  The one on the hill, and well worth the climb.

Deacon Joe Curtis,
Feast of St. James, 1996

Corpus Christi, 2007My first time at St. James was the Noon Mass on Easter Sunday of 1987.  I was fascinated with the music and solemnity of the Mass. My family and I went to St. Edward’s Parish for so many years but I kept coming back to St. James on special occasions like Easter, Christmas, and New Year’s. In the fall of 1999, I signed up my son Kassey for First Communion classes. I thought that it would be wonderful to celebrate my son’s special day at the Cathedral.  I asked Marianne Coté if there was anything I could do to help out while Kassey was in his class.  She suggested that I could help deliver snacks to the younger children in their classroom and answer the door.  That was fun and easy.  In 2000, Rosanne Michaels asked me if I could assist in the children’s RCIA class.  I was delighted but somewhat worried—would I have to memorize the Bible?  Melina McCombs was the teacher at the time and was incredibly good at her job.  I sat in her class and learned a lot from her.  I was on the children’s RCIA team for three years. Meanwhile my son Kassey trained to become an altar server after his First Communion, and loved the job. And just recently during Lent, I was invited to join a small group of parishioners to explore the concept of Christian Stewardship.  It was a profound experience and great opportunity to meet with people.  It is a blessing and honor to be part of St. James.

Loida Santos

Arriving here in 1955, the first Catholic church I spotted was this Cathedral. The black and gold window out front impressed me with its local touches of lumberjacks, miners, fishermen, Mt. Rainier, and with Christ blessing it all. After attending the Easter Vigil of 1957 at St. James, I decided to try becoming a priest. Entering St. Edward Seminary, a prominent feature out front was a white marble statue of Mary and her Infant. It is now here in our Archbishop Murphy Courtyard. So I like to look at it and realize: here marks where I began the journey to priesthood, and where I hope to be able to end it.

Father David A. Brant

Sedes Sapientiae - Seat of WisdomI first came to St. James in April of 1991.  It was a very happy occasion for our family, the wedding of one our daughters.  A year and a half later, I was back again on the saddest day of my life, the funeral for my husband of 30 years.  As it is with death, it was also a beginning, because in the days, weeks, and months following, I found myself drawn back here again and again.  I was not Catholic, but I kept coming, always sitting in the back, listening and looking.  Looking for what, I do not know.  I just needed to be here.

And what did I find in this marvelous place?  First I found a space that was incredible to behold.  And that was before the renovation!  Since the renovation, the beauty, design, and majesty of this great cathedral are almost beyond description.  Yet, what gives it life and spirit are the loving, caring people who gather here to worship. I found a community where everyone is welcome.  A community of young and old, rich and poor, from every culture and language.  A community where faith is an everyday thing.  A community which calls people to live this faith through countless ministries.  A community that helps the hungry, the hurting, and the homeless, but also feeds the mind and soul with great teaching and extraordinary music.  A community at its best when it comes together as one, around one table to hear God’s word and be nourished by the Eucharist.  A  community where Christ is truly in our midst.  A community of healing, hope, and peace.

These are just a few of the things I saw and felt as I hid in the back pews.  Soon I found my way to the RCIA.  In the years since then, as my life has changed, one thing has not: I need to be at St. James!  I need to continue to put God first in my life.  In the good times and the bad and all the ordinary times in between, I need to be here, sharing in the work that is being done, God’s work, because that is what we as church, especially this church, are all about.

Bev Mauser

In the mid-1990’s when the proposal was brought forward for renovating St. James Cathedral the standard objection arose, “Why spend so much on a building when this money could be used to help the poor?”  At that time my sister was living on the streets of Seattle and frequenting the Cathedral Kitchen.  Her response to the controversy was, “For me and many others on the streets, that (St. James Cathedral) is a beacon of hope.”

Father Dave Rogerson

The very first time I came to St. James I was very nervous.  I had not been to a Catholic church since I left St. Peter’s on Beacon Hill as a boy.  I sat down, and almost before I could get settled a gentleman in front of me turned around and introduced himself.  He was welcoming, kind, and interested in the beginning of my journey back to church.  The man, David Wright, soon became my sponsor in the RCIA process.  He not only became my sponsor but one of my best friends.  He was just one person of many who have always gone out of their way to be gracious and welcoming.  I have now been a parishioner for over six years and I always make an attempt to introduce myself to people who look to be nervous or uncomfortable.  With such a large parish it would be easy to feel lost in the sea of people.

Recently my mother passed away.  She had been to St. James a few times and to some events—the parish picnic and the monthly senior trips.  When the word got out that my mother had passed away it seemed as though everyone in the Cathedral—staff, volunteers and parishioners—were there to support me.  People that I was not aware even knew who I was, were coming up to me very graciously offering their condolences.  My mother was not a member of the parish but I felt she was treated as one of the most important people at the Cathedral.  In preparation for the funeral Sister Anne Herkenrath took care of everything.  From a few comments I gave to Father Ryan and only a couple of times meeting my mother he gave a funeral homily that was directed at giving her respect and me comfort and that is exactly what he achieved.

I have been coming to St. James for six years and in that time I have been lifted up spiritually and made to feel welcomed and loved.  During the worst period of my life St. James was a haven of peace and comfort.  For that I will be forever indebted.

Bert Landreth

Sixteen years ago, my husband had just died, and in my grief, I wanted to get away from my home setting to think things over.  I came to Seattle and went to the 10:00am Mass and was awed by the beautiful music and prayerful liturgy.  After that first visit after my spouse’s death, each time I came to Seattle for business and shopping, I attended Sunday Mass at St. James.

One Sunday in particular, I came into a St. James Cathedral that smelled of smoke while all the walls were covered in black soot.  I realized there had been a fire and heard that the congregation had a plan for reconstruction.  The place looked dismal and in a sorry state.

A year or more later, I showed up again, and now the congregation was celebrating liturgies in O’Dea High School Gym.  Several years passed before I returned to St. James.  And lo! the church had been fully restored and remodeled.  The building was more beautiful and more accessible.  I said to myself, “This place is for me.”  It was around this time I began praying for guidance as to where I should be living now that I was alone.  My children had homes and families of their own and I was looking for a parish community where I could feel spiritually nurtured and that also had worthwhile volunteer activities.

I faithfully attended the 10:00am Mass on Sunday, and always sat in the second row on the west because I liked facing the altar.  One Sunday not long after my arrival, a lovely lady named Breege Elkington greeted me warmly.  And, on each successive Sunday, she was always there in the second row with her cheery smile and welcoming heart.  Breege invited me to sit next to her and soon a friendship developed.  She introduced me to several others who were regulars in the second row behind the ambo.  Very soon, these welcoming parishioners invited me to coffee with them in the Hall after Mass.

I was warmly welcomed at St. James and it felt good.  I feel lucky to have been guided to the welcoming and nourishing parish of the faithful at St. James.  I left Alaska for good in 2006 and now make Seattle my home—thanks to St. James Cathedral and its welcoming presence in downtown Seattle.

Madeleine D. Betz

I love the music, especially the Women’s Schola as they gather by the baptismal font before the 5:30pm Mass.

I love sitting in the pew and seeing the shadows cast by the columns, the changing light through the windows, the candles flickering by the statues.

Amy Kiessling

Because of the location of the Cathedral, the people who come to church here are a very interesting assortment—perhaps not as ‘sanitized’ and neatly packaged as churches in other neighborhoods.

One day in the chapel for daily Mass, we had an even more noisy and disruptive group of people than usual.  None were malicious; it was just a lot of people with difficulties of various kinds.  It was hard to stay focused.  I prayed that they would cease their noisy behavior and prayed that it would not distract Father Ryan, who was saying the Mass.
During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I looked around the chapel and noticed what an odd and funny assortment of people we were.  I felt an impression in my heart that said, “This is what heaven looks like.  If you do not like this, you won’t want to be in heaven with me, because it is a jungle up here.”  This made me smile.  Instead of being angry, I felt love for them.  I had to laugh at myself and at us.  For this is what heaven looks like.  God helped me to see the people there through His eyes.  I have always appreciated the diversity at St. James, but he helped me to feel more than appreciation.  He knows that the quickest way to my heart is through my funny bone.  He helped me to see the humor in a situation I would normally be annoyed at, and feel love for people who are challenging.  I hope I never forget this lesson.


Our family has celebrated many momentous events at the Cathedral, from weddings, to baptisms, to funerals, but the moment that most evokes the spirit of the Cathedral for me was an ordinary Sunday Mass last summer.  Because of illness, I was unable to attend Mass from mid-June until about mid-August. The Cathedral kept in touch with me, but I couldn't participate. The day I was able to rejoin the celebration was a nice summer day, but the minute the congregation began to sing the entrance hymn, it became glorious. It seemed as if the whole community was welcoming me back (it wasn't even our "regular" Mass), and it was difficult to hold back tears of joy and relief. It struck me forcefully that day just what it means to belong to the community of faith we call St. James Cathedral.

Nancy Flohr

St. James Cathedral is...


I really enjoyed playing my cello with the first-ever Youth Chamber group for Mother’s Day 2007. This was especially significant to me because it marked the 100th year of the Cathedral and my great-grandparents helped build the Cathedral in 1907.  Hopefully we will play again.

Peter John Keckemet

It's often said, when you sing, you pray twice. As a "consumer" of beautiful music (i.e. one who attends Mass) and parent of a participant in the Schola Cantorum choir, I would suggest that "twice" is not adequate. The beauty, quality and sanctity of the music at St. James has often moved me to tears and given me new insights into scripture.The Mother's Day line-up of the Schola choir performing with the Men's Choir was one occasion that astounded me. The beauty and richness of our faith is humbling when expressed through their powerful singing. May God grant the Cathedral another 100 years of strength and leadership.

Chris & Madeline Fish

Two of my most vivid memories of St. James Cathedral are from the early 1980s during the pastorate of Fr. William Gallagher, and involve music and the liturgy.

he first was a staging of Hildegard of Bingen's Ordo Virtutum. This was my introduction to the music of the 12th century mystic. I remember being spellbound by the beauty and power of this morality play, and by the accomplishments of the Cathedral musicians under the direction of James Savage.

Another memory involves an All Souls' Day Mass. The presiding priest, vested in black, chanted several of the prayers in Latin. The community recalled the many faithful parishioners by honoring the death registers containing their names. The priest censed the books, then walked around the Cathedral censing the people in the pews. It was a wonderful symbol of how we are united in one body, and how death is not the end of our communion with each other.

I'm grateful for the many gifts of the Cathedral parishioners, and for the imaginative stewardship of all its ministerial leaders. That commitment to beautiful worship experiences and outreach continues with Fr. Michael Ryan, and with the sacrifices made by parishioners in the restoration of St. James Cathedral, and in the nurturing of many ministries on behalf of the community.

Jim O'Grady, Long Beach, CA

I started coming to St James in the late 1990's, when I moved back to Seattle.  The two biggest draws for me were Father Ryan and the Choir.  I loved each homily of Father Ryan's and his very presence, and I loved the music!  While listening to the powerful performances of the Choir, on those glorious sacred works of the great Master Composers, I wondered "could I ever be part of that group?"  I'd usually talk myself out of it - I don't have enough time, I'm not good enough, etc.  In 2005 I attended mass with my sister from out of town, herself an accomplished musician, and she was very moved by the Cathedral Choir.  She stated "if you don't audition for this choir, I will never forgive you!"  I was also motivated to audition when I heard an announcement at the end of that mass - the Choir was planning a trip to Italy in March 2006.  So, to make sure I maintained a good relationship with my sister, and to feed my adventurous spirit, I auditioned.  I made it!  I find it a pleasure every Sunday to be part of the celebration.  St James is an integral part of my life - the music, the people, the outreach, and most of all, Father Ryan.

Angela Arralde


The silence in the stately Cathedral is broken only by the resonating sound created by the heels of my black stilettos as I walk through the stained glass doors of the West nave. I count the rows as I walk past the last pew, the second to the last, the third...until I reach my usual seat seven rows from the back. I read my bulletin, pray, or simply sit quietly as I wait for Mass to begin. Amidst the silence, I feel God’s presence among us. His love shines brighter than the summer sun—His warmth radiates through our bodies and His brilliant light illuminates our faces.
St James is a place of beauty, a sanctuary of peace and solace, but its splendor is only a reflection of the thousands who travel near and far to worship here. Families with small children, the old and young, small and large, and of every imaginable color and background form an unbreakable thread of individual lives knit together. St James is a home away from home. It is a nexus of kindred souls who share a love for God and an understanding of the importance of fellowship, when for a brief hour from our modern hectic lives we come together to remember the full meaning of the Eucharist as a way of life, and allow it to profoundly influence the way we share our time and our gifts.
I like when we rise together and hold hands as we recite the Lord’s Prayer, fingers intertwined, gripping God’s love and hope that links us as One. I love how we quietly walk single file like small school-age children, not so innocent but bestowed with God’s mercy as we approach Father Ryan for Holy Communion. I feel better after dropping my gift as the collection basket makes it way to me, when for a moment I remember how fortunate I am for the many blessings and answered prayers. I know my contribution, however small or large, supports the many ministries that carry on the work of the Church. At the time of collection, we are given the opportunity to recall our priorities and express our care for the poor, the homeless, the lonely—those with the face of Christ we sometimes find difficult to see.  It is a blessing to take part in the building of a legacy of thanksgiving, service, and humility that is already legendary at St James.
All too soon the evening Mass comes to an end. I give a final hug goodbye to my friend, cross myself with Holy water on my way out, and take a brisk stroll back to the O’Dea parking lot. As I leave, I quietly whisper a prayer to remember the homily and for the courage to integrate it into my days. It always amazes me how quickly I fall short and disappoint myself, but ever so slowly, I see how I am more astute to my thoughts and actions and how with each passing day I am getting better at learning to carry my Cross. The good news is that St James, and God, and the mercy and hope we find in Christ are always present, waiting with open arms for anyone of us to embrace.


George Kolitaris and his mother Pansy were social fixtures in Seattle for over three decades.  I understand that Pansy’s husband passed away and left an endowment to provide for his wife and child.  Because of their life challenges and limited financial experience, it was wisely established to be doled out over the long haul.  Everyone on the streets and in the Pike Place market knew George by name and exchanged boisterous greetings with him.  One sunny summer evening a couple priest friends and I were chatting with George on the front steps of St. James Cathedral in Seattle.  George was in his usual attire of plaid pants, white saddle shoes, and bobby-pinned hair.  At one point he leaned over to me and in his lisping voice with a twinkle in it said, “You know, some people think I’m kind of stupid, but you know, I have never worked a day in my life.”  George and Pansy gave more to the life of Seattle than many people who conscientiously worked every day of their lives.

Father Dave Rogerson

In Luke’s gospel, Ch. 13, v. 34, we hear Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem, saying, “Jerusalem…I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling…”
If I may be a bit presumptuous, I would like to think of our St. James Cathedral as a place and community where Jesus can say: “…and you gathered…”    In response to Jesus' call,  we have gathered in love and prayer as one family many times:  as an ecumenical assembly striving to be one in him, as caring “neighbors” to victims of a tsunami or of earthquakes or other natural disasters, as a family embracing our Jewish brothers and sisters at a healing remembrance of their tragic experiences from Nazi oppression, as one people acknowledging God’s loving and sustaining presence as in the wake of the horrors of 9/11.  We gather as sacraments of his loving presence in the assistance embracing immigrants in their various needs, in the fellowship and warm meals offered by the Cathedral Kitchen, in the open arms that welcome back and embrace God’s children returning home.  We gather as a richly diverse assembly to praise him in music and worship him in the Eucharist.  We gather as his family, graced by a multicultural celebration of him and his Blessed Mother through Madre de las Americas, Simbang Gabi, Vietnamese/Chinese New Year, and similar celebrations.  We gather as his sinful children celebrating his loving forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  At St. James we gather as God’s children doing their best to respond to Jesus’ yearning to gather us “together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings”.
Perhaps I am being presumptuous as I like to imagine Jesus saying to his children at St. James Cathedral, “I yearn to gather you under my wings and you gather together willingly.  Carry on, my children.  What you do to the least of my sisters and brothers, you do to me.  Carry on.  The road you follow is narrow and rough and steep and you still have a long, long way to go. Carry on, for I am with you always, until the end of time.” 
This is St. James, my parish, my cathedral parish, and I am so blessed to be among those who gather in its loving embrace as it responds to Jesus’ call to gather in his name.  “Yes, dear Jesus, we have gathered in your name and with your Holy Spirit,  we will continue to gather as your family united in your love.” 
God’s continued blessings on you, dear St. James Cathedral pastor, parishioners and visitors!  Happy Centennial!!

Lita McBride

Ten years ago I came to St. James after being in spiritual direction with a Sister of Providence, I immediately knew “I’m Catholic.”  I took quick steps to join RCIA and undergo the necessary process to do what my heart always knew was right—that I WAS, indeed, a person gifted with celibacy and that the Catholic faith and my home at St. James was where I was bonded as slave (St. James and the sisters understood me seriously.)  And my gift is to humankind, as I found in Eucharist, where we are all ONE.  It is a Cosmic gift glorious.  I am so honored and blessed to be serving this community and all my brothers and sisters—in this neighborhood where I live and work for the good of all.

Marcelyn Madden, Providence Associate





Cherub by Steve Harrold

Back to the July 2007 Issue of In Your Midst