My Childhood, and Tacoma History is on the Brink of Extinction

This is not a story about religion, not even a little bit. I had to tell you that now, for fear that you may miss the entire point of this post, you may feel that religious zealot vibe bubbling up from deep inside you, or feel the need to voice some kind of crazy ideas about the Catholic Church and their challenges.

Now that we have that out of the way…..
This story is about a piece of Tacoma’s history, a magnificent piece of architecture that anyone who has come into Tacoma via Interstate 5 has seen.

Isn’t she beautiful, this is Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church.  To those of us that know her, she is just Holy Rosary.

If I had a church, this would be the one. In fact, I would go so far as to declare that this is my church.

I went to school at Holy Rosary School, K-8.  (It is now a bilingual academy, well respected in the community).

I went to mass at Holy Rosary Church every school day and on Sundays.  I had my First Communion, First Confession, my Confirmation and I got married at Holy Rosary Church.
I said goodbye to my Grandma at Holy Rosary Church.

The International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima was hosted July 22 at Holy Rosary Church in Tacoma, where parishioners participated in Eucharistic adoration, praying the rosary and Mass.

Needless to say, Holy Rosary Church holds a special place in my heart.

Holy Rosary Catholic Church and Steeple

Holy Rosary Church is in grave danger. Some of the interior structure of the roof is falling apart and it is too dangerous to go inside of at this time.

Truth be told, it needs some shoring up. $10 Million Dollars worth of shoring up.

Forgetting I said all that, here are some facts that you probably don’t know.

Holy Rosary Church as it stands now, was built in 1920.

It is a little known fact that it actually came to exist in 1891, as a stick built church, on land purchased by German immigrants for the sole purpose of celebrating mass. The school has also existed since 1891.  It is amazing I was able to find a photo, they were obviously very proud.

It was the second church (of any kind) in Tacoma.

On April 29, 1965, a 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck Western Washington. South Seattle sustained the worst damage: thousands of chimneys collapsed in West Seattle, and at the Rainier Beer headquarters in Georgetown a large brewing tank came loose from its foundations, spilling two thousand gallons of beer. In Tacoma, the quake toppled the cross atop the spire of Holy Rosary Church, “a Tacoma landmark with a long history”.

Please note that it was already being called a landmark in 1965. In 1966, during a celebration of the raising of the new cross to the top of that mighty steeple, Bing Crosby, a parishioner and former student of Holy Rosary, sang Ave Maria, and Wish Upon a Star.

In 1994, the Church steeple was sheathed in copper, replacing leaking asbestos shingles.  I was around to see this come to fruition.  Oh how proud everybody was.

For many months until the copper developed its patina, the steeple flashed and shone in the sunlight.

In 1998, restoration work was undertaken on the stained glass windows of the church. This was made possible thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, who wished to do this in memory of her parents.

After all of this history, and history of work, there are rumblings that the church may now be destined to fall to ruins.

I have been told that the Archdiocese of Seattle has little interest in funding repairs, or maybe they just haven’t had the right inspiration. I’ve done some research this morning, and I can’t seem to find the group looking to save it.

Maybe I am that group.

I am so very proud of that church, that architecture. I have spent many years of my life there, and while I may have strayed from heading to mass regularly at this point in my life, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the people there, the teachers, the priests, even the scary nuns.

I propose a joint effort, by the City of Tacoma, even dare I ask the government of the State of Washington, and the Catholic Church, via the Archdiocese of Seattle, together with a little local billionaire funding, to save this beautiful rendering of the past, brought forward into the present so many times, to be saved once again.

I am not kidding, I will go all the way to Pope Francis.  I have been wanting to visit the Vatican anyway.

And before you go talking to me about the evil and horror of the Catholic Church, I tell you this. Never once, not a single time in history has any member of the Holy Rosary clergy been brought up on charges of impropriety. Do not waste a second of my life talking to me about that.

Your tax money paid to restore the Union Station. You are paying hundreds of dollars a year in RTA taxes for a light rail system not even considering being active in this area until 2023. Both Lincoln High School and Stadium High Schools have been refurbished several times.

Stadium High School
Lincoln High School

Excepting the fact that this structure is a Church, is there any difference in the historical value in keeping it in our City? Do we have to knock down every building that is a work of art to make way for modern structures of glass and steel?

$10 Million is a lot of money to me. It’s not a lot of money to some others. Money is paper and 1’s and 0’s in computers. Money is made to be used. You can’t take it with you.

Dare I point out that rebuilding such a structure would cost more than the $10 Million it will take to save it?

Marijuana tax money has made this state rich. It is reported that the State’s coffers now contain monies equal to 5 years worth of State Budget. We are no longer a State that is struggling for funds.

Our wise, spendthrift (read:  sarcasm) Governor Jay Inslee does not report what that money is slated to be used for, even when asked 10 million times.  His only response, “it is going into the general fund”.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if drug money saved my church?

It’s just an idea, don’t get your panties in a bunch.

I am looking to save this church, and you are looking to keep seeing it from I-5. Help me in my quest. Point me in the right direction.

I know that I am not going to flounder alone in this quest, this is just the beginning.

I am also well aware that the real challenge I am taking on is the concept of separation of Church and State.  I am asking that they work together.  I can do this without the State, and may have to, but you can’t tell me that members of our governing bodies do not wish to continue seeing that majestic sight welcoming them to the City.

2020 is going to be the 100 year anniversary of this church’s existence. I am not willing to see it go away without a fight.

Spread the word.  Share this post everywhere.  Send it to the news, post it to your Facebook, please, please retweet, whatever you can do.  Do you have an idea or an “in” with someone who can help?

Help me save Holy Rosary Church.


Update 09/07/19-  Archbishop Peter Sartain issued a decree that Holy Rosary Church is to be “Closed and Razed”.  A group that I helped start, and that I sit on the board of directors for, Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church has led an appeal with attorney and delivered it this week.  I am doing everything I can to save her, for the next bunch of families to be raised as good Catholic people, and for the next 17 generations.  I am not kidding.

Oh and the City of Tacoma is backing us 100%.  They obviously can’t give us money, but given the registered historical status, it’s gonna be a battle we’ll win.  Hooray!

We will save my church.  Help us.  Donation Link

47 Replies to “My Childhood, and Tacoma History is on the Brink of Extinction”

  1. Joy,
    Proud to be your Dad.
    I feel for the church as you do. We all have a stake here.
    Its about our history . Its about our family and all the friendships we developed because of Holy Rosary.
    There is lots to be explored on what we can do.
    I will do what I can to help.

  2. Although I am not Catholic, the church is beautiful and should have been maintained and kept up through the years. Isn’t that why we are called to tithe? Very sad but I have seen several churches (mostly Greek Orthodox) that hold festivals for extra funding. The Church of Lady Guadalupe in Puerto Vallarta also holds specials events to help fund that church as well. Best wishes on your endeavor – it should be preserved as a historical site and I feel a Sister Act 3 coming on :-)…you go girl.

    1. I am sure that there was a lot of things involved with maintaining the church over the years. Sadly this happens and hopefully something can be done to save it.

  3. Thank you for your article! Very well said! I would most definitely like to help! I say you start with a go fund me account….I know when my kids went there, we put on several fundraisers and kicked butt on them! My children were fourth generation Holy Rosarians. My grandmother being the first in 1927. We need to save this church and it’s going to take a village!

    1. Dear People,
      The good parishioners of this church have held many fund raiser over the years some of which I have attended. (I belong to another parish). Most of the proceeds would go to the school to educate the children who will become the real church building – the people of God. The archdiocese is already subsidizing this dwindling parish and the archbishop is also trying to create stable funding for their retired priests and nuns, not to mention housing the homeless and impoverished, assisting immigrants and providing some loans to parishes for upkeep. Ten to eighteen million dollars is a lot for the Catholics of Western Washington to provide for a church building which houses a parish which cannot sustain itself.
      Churches, even beautiful ones must have parishioners to support them, or perhaps as a last resort, tourist dollars to keep them up. But ultimately they cannot be shrines to our memories, but rather to Jesus present on the altar in the great and Holy Sacrifice . To all of you who bemoan the loss of beautiful churches, I extend a heartfelt invitation – Come to Mass! The Lord awaits you.

  4. I am a former parishioner and part of a group getting started to save Holy Rosary. We would love to be in touch. Please email me.

  5. Just found out the Archdiocese doesn’t want to help because they have a cash offer from the Muslim community to make it a Mosque! This cannot happen! Please whoever wrote this article contact me. Thank you!

  6. I think it’s very important to have the history of the church correct, especially if asking for donations. I think Bing Crosby’s parents were married at Holy Rosary but moved to Spokane when Bing was about 3 years old. He was not a parishioner or student of Holy Rosary. Facts are very important in a situation like this and I want very much for Holy Rosary to be restored. In Europe the churches are 1000 years old. Why can’t we manage to save a one hundred year old building?

  7. I hope and pray you gather a village to battle with you! This beautiful church and its history certainly deserves your passionate words and your fight! 🙏🏼🤞 good luck Joy!! Let me know if there is anything I can do.

  8. I heard that the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP) that currently have two parishes in Western Washington, one of them, North American Martyrs in Seattle, are actually sharing space in St Alphonsus church. They have been asking the Archbishop for a permanent location in the Puget Sound for their North American Martyrs parish.
    Could that not be a great opportunity for Holy Rosary? I am sure the FSSP can do a great job together with parishioners to collect the funds to keep Holy Rosary and its Scbool in good shape, not only physically speaking, but also spiritually: they would improve the parish, and ensure a steady supply of wonderful Pastors at Holy Rosary.
    The FSSP seminary produces the best and most faithful priests within the Catholic Church…I am not exaggerating one bit…Just talk to any of those priests and attend one of their Masses: true and solid Catholic values all around.
    The FSSP currently also runs St Joseph in Tacoma, this is a very small Church that is overflowing with parishioners that come even from Olympia to hear their Masses. It would be wonderful if Holy Rosary could be taken by the FSSP.
    I hope Holy Rosary parishioners consider this option, you have to think not only about a “millionaire” or the state repairing the building. As much as it is important to keep the building and school in good repair, you have to think about the spiritual well being of the Parish.
    If you repair the building but don’t have priests that will provide solid and steady spiritual care to the parish, you may be wasting your time. Remember: Psalm 127 [126]
    “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil.”

    1. My wife and I come to St. Joseph’s from 20 southeast of Chehalis. We have always admired Holy Rosary’s beauty. We attend every Sunday, except when we are snowed out.

      We would love to be part of helping with this project. I really like the idea of approaching the FSSP with your ideas. I know the local parish in Seattle (North American Martyr’s) has some money saved towards getting a church of their own. I don’t think their parishioners from the Bellevue area would be happy about driving south but this project can be done.
      With two priests in Seattle and two at St. Joseph’s I can visualize keeping not only the two churches going but keeping the school operating too. Doesn’t the Archbishop have a sister that is a Dominican Nun? Perhaps they could be invite to come to Holy Rosary or maybe the Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church, located in Spokane (they are looking for a permanent home). The possibilities are endless.

      I can’t speak for the FSSP but I can encourage you and them to sit down and talk.
      I guess we really don’t have much information to make any decisions. So we need clarifications from the Archbishop.
      Let me know if you form a working committee.

      1. I do hope the approach of bringing Holy Rosary within the FSSP does work.
        I heard the Pastoral Council of Holy Rosary is exploring this possibility now.
        It is very sad that Holy Rosary lost the opportunity 10 years ago to get with them.
        Someone told me recently that Fr. Stinson (Pastor of the FSSP at St Joseph) made several attempts to get Holy Rosary. Not sure who or why the obstruction happened, but everyone can see that Holy Rosary lost a great opportunity….the church would not be in ruins now if the FSSP priests would have taken it. How sad….

        1. Maybe that was the lesson to be learned. It seems like the fssp is a perfect solutions st Joseph is literally steps away already. I wonder too why it didn’t work out before. Both can exist together.

    2. If the focus is on money and covering the immediate expense of the crisis, we do have some of the richest people in the world residing in the vicinity that can be contacted; perhaps the Bing Crosby estate as well. Ten people donating one million seems doable. The underlying question remains as to why our churches are not thriving instead of merely surviving. Holy Rosary would be a beautiful church for FSSP; our entire Diocese is already blessed beyond measure for their presence in our Diocese. With God, nothing is impossible!

  9. Well said….Holy Rosary Church, I believe, was not maintained because the focus had always been on saving the school…a place where young children were nurtured, found lifelong friends and built relationships with God and a community that had always been considered the “less fortunates”. Members of HR school and church may not have the most money but they have alot of heart and that heart is about to make a balance attempt to save the church. Why the admin at Holy Rosary never tried to have it put on the historical registry is beyond me but we are now in a spot where we all need to come together and see what can be done. I understand the ius a gathering tonight(Thursday) to problem solve.

  10. Ok, but has anyone asked the archidiocese what it would take for them to regain some interest in saving HR? Is there a minimum dollar amount, a certain number of parishioners? Also, what is attendance like and what would it take not only to make repairs, but also make the parish viable for the next x many years if the restoration work was done? Simply saving the building isn’t enough.

    Also, is the mosque thing true or did someone just through that out there to inflame sentiments?

  11. Please let us know what we can do also. My father and his many friends spent many hours and weekends , doing many minor repairs to the school and church to most of our years at Holy Rosary.

    1. A separate 501c3 must be established so as to not violate the archdiocese moratorium on capital fundraising. We dont want to get the parish into trouble, we just want the church fixed. Go fund me requires a 501c3 for charitable fundraising. It takes 30 days to establish a new one, so we wait.

  12. What about a go fund me campaign? I went to Saint Patrick’s, but I think it’s an awesome part of Tacoma’s history.
    I don’t know about raising 10 million bucks, but every little bit counts!

    1. I would not initiate a Go Fund campaign without a solid plan on how the church’s finances are going to be managed and actual clear and written quotes for the project, which may also require to hire a project manager and/or a consultant(s). The dollar amount given seems to be very high from my point of view…It seems you could build a whole building for that amount….Also, the message posted by the Parish Council/Pastoral Administrator on the church’s website (, mentions lack of money to actually keep the church open and running…Not sure exactly if the issue is “only” the crumbling building. Based on this, a Go Fund campaign does not seem the best approach.

  13. I have the same attitude you do about my upbringing at Holy Rosary, I simply wouldn’t be who I am today had I not attended the school and gone to mass at the church. (1993-2002) It would be a great loss to our city, our state, if we allow such a landmark crumble in front of our eyes out of apathy or utter dismay. Concerts, benefits, fundraisers, I’d be happy to help. 10 million is a lot!

  14. If people can use go fund me to build a wall, why can’t the same be done to save this amazing structure. I am a Buddhist and have loved driving by this Church for the last 30 years.

  15. Do you have any additional information about the Bing Crosby appearance in 1966? I’d love to write an article about that for my Tacoma Music History blog, both because it sounds like a very cool story, but more importantly because it would be a way that I can help bring more attention to this situation with Holy Rosary. If you could give me an exact date where maybe I could find coverage in the papers of the time, or know of any photographs or other records of this, let me know!

  16. I am so glad I saw this blog… I was just thinking that something MUST be done to keep this Church from becoming a lost landmark. I attended school there from 1st thru 8th grade as well, in the late 60’s into the 70’s. Going to mass every week day (it was done in Latin when I first started) was amazing. This Church meant so much to me and my parents who have both passed away now. My Mom volunteered countless hours at the school and the church. It is an absolutely BEAUTIFUL landmark! Please let me know what I can do to help out. I feel like there are a lot of us out there that want to see this restored to all of it’s glory!

  17. I loved in Tacoma for 15 years until the Army moved me to Ft. Benning Ga. I do come back every few years to see my niece and friends. I may not be Catholic but the architecture of this church is beyond beautiful. No one is using this art in new buildings. Plus the fact that the church has long and strong ties to the community. It doesn’t matter what religion the church is. What matters is it’s history and the building itself.


      Please tell all of the Spanish community to help us save the church. Follow Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church. We will ask for volunteers to help always when we need them.

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