In 1907, Catholics in the White Salmon area were first served by Franciscan Friars from Hood River, Oregon. Mass was celebrated every other Sunday, using loaned dwellings and a makeshift altar. In July 1908, a wooded hillside lot was purchased from the Lauterbach family for 100 gold coins. Then in early 1912, the present church structure was built by Father Francis Redman, O.F.M. It was dedicated April 14, 1912, the Sunday after Easter, by Father Felix Verwilghen, the Vicar General of the Seattle Diocese and pastor of St. James Parish in Vancouver, Washington. Two Sisters of Providence sang, accompanied by some ladies from Providence Academy in Vancouver. The visitors were entertained to lunch at the Colburn Hotel. The population of White Salmon at that time was 800 people.
St. Joseph Church remained a mission for many years, mainly served by the parish of Holy Trinity in Goldendale, Washington. Among the early priests who served the mission were Father Francis Redman, O.F.M.; Father Tom Edwards III (ordained 1923), with Holy Trinity parish from 1923-1934, who traveled in his renowned “Wreck of the Hesperus”; Father James Hamilton (ordained 1936); and Father Martin Skehan (ordained 1944).
On June 23, 1951, Pope Pius XII formed the new Diocese of Yakima. The new territory incorporated parts of Seattle Archdiocese and Spokane Diocese, and White Salmon fell within its boundaries. The first Rectory was purchased in July 1955 for $4,500 from a parishioner, Mrs. Delia Wolf. The house was located just south of the church, at the southwest corner of Garfield and Washington. On October 27, 1955, Bishop Joseph P. Dougherty officially raised St. Joseph Church from the status of Mission to Parish. The first resident priest was Father Henry Van Der Velden, who was succeeded in 1956 by Father Chester Wrxasxczak.
Father Chester had the distinct honor of celebrating the first Solemn High Mass at St. Joseph Church on St. Joseph’s Day, Tuesday, March 19, 1957. Father Chester was assisted by a deacon and a subdeacon. Father Paul Flad of St. Joseph’s Church, Sunnydale, gave the Homily. Every hour of the day, families took turns adoring the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, starting at 7:30 a.m. and closing 13 hours later with the solemn evening mass. A candlelight procession of men climaxed the sacred festivities. Father Chester cordially invited the public to witness the 8 p.m. mass. Van Findlay directed the choir, and Curt Stebbins served as organist.
In October 1956, Father Chester bought the larger and present Rectory for $10,000 from Mrs. Ethel Crow, through her daughter Mrs. Loren Triplett. The former Rectory was then rented and later used for CCD classes until it was sold in 1974. The purchase of the new Rectory greatly expanded the parish property. The land was cleared between the buildings, and the sacristy door was moved from the east side of the church to its present location on the west side. In January 1957, the men of the parish began digging out the church basement for a hall, under the direction of Art Goree. It required blasting boulders and rock-bound soil, convincing Father Chester that the church had been built on solid rock. When excavation was complete and concrete poured, the furnace was moved to install another washroom and a kitchen. A covered entrance was added to the east side.
The original steps came straight down the front of the church, facing south, and there was no roof over the small landing in front of the church doors. When Washington Street was paved in the late 1950s, the steps had to be moved. The logical position at that time was a short flight down facing west, then another short flight down to street-level, facing east. A covered porch was also added to the landing. After Father Paul McLaughlin arrived in 1959, the lower flight of steps was removed, leaving the church steps facing west. The steps were finally covered in 1982 by Father Paul Stecher.
In late 1965, the altar was turned around to face the congregation, as mandated by Vatican II, and the side altars and altar railings were removed in the ’70s. The Crucifix behind the altar was built in 1977 by Bob Palmer of St. Mary’s Parish in Hood River, Oregon. Under Father John O’Dea, who arrived in 1983, new vinyl siding replaced the old wood siding on the church, newer pews and a new altar were purchased (currently in use today), and an office was added to the Rectory. Several cabinets, shelves and a new sink were installed in the Sacristy in the mid-80s, and additional improvements were made in the ’90s. During Father Ken Kron’s residency, a Spanish-speaking mass was added to the schedule to serve the growing Hispanic community in White Salmon.
Several changes were made in the ’90s to the church and the property under Father Tom Dahlquist: new stained glass windows replaced the old gold windows; the wood double doors at the back of the church were replaced with glass-paned doors; the current antique chandeliers took the place of the old hanging lights; a new bell was installed in the belfry; the choir loft was re-enforced with stronger columns; recessed lighting and additional windows were installed in the choir loft; the confessional was remodeled and included a stained glass window; the upper-most step of the altar was removed, lowering the altar; new carpet was installed on the altar; and the house next to the southwest corner of the property was purchased to use for religious classes and was renamed Joseph House. In 1999, the Knights of Columbus cleared out an area on the north side of the church to make way for the Grotto, which was finally completed in the Spring of 2003. In 2002, Father Tom retired due to health reasons, but remained attached as the official Pastor until his death in 2005.
Father Felix Rodriguez joined the parish as Administrator in November 2002 and became Pastor in 2005. He added a second Spanish mass (Saturday evenings), purchased new chairs and tables for the parish hall, and worked to improve the parish property with a new building to serve as a youth center and gathering place.
In 2006, construction began on the hillside north of the church for a new parish community center to be used for larger masses, retreats, celebrations and CCD classes. The Grotto had to be removed when the land was cleared. In 2007, the old Joseph House was demolished to create additional parking. The two-story community center boasts five classrooms, an office, storage rooms, bathrooms on both floors, a commercial kitchen, and a large gathering hall.
Father Alejandro Trejo arrived as pastor in 2008, and had the finishing touches put on the new building in 2009 with a covered entrance and new cement steps connecting the building with the parking lot. Father Alex also added a third mass in Spanish, expanding the weekend mass schedule to five masses to accommodate our ever-growing community.
On April 15, 2012, our parish celebrated the 100th anniversary of the dedication of our church building. Festivities included a special High Mass at 1 p.m. The current Bishop of Yakima Diocese was in attendance, in addition to past bishops and past priests who have served our parish. Nearly 500 people enjoyed the outdoor ceremony under mostly sunny skies. The Knights of Columbus provided the Honor Guard for the bishops. Knights came from St. Joseph Church, St. Mary’s Parish in Hood River, and St. Peter’s Parish in The Dalles. The choir sang a selection of hymns and service music in English, Spanish, Latin and Greek. Bishop Tyson confirmed several young men and women as part of the celebration.