Keep the faiths

Idaho's Cataldo Mission celebrates two vibrant cultures
Nicholas O'Connell

It's not your typical Sunday service. Coeur d'Alene Indians, dressed in eagle feathers and beaded vests, dance to the beat of a drum. Roman Catholic bishop Michael Driscoll strides behind them in his red-and-white robe and tall white miter. As Driscoll and the dancers approach an altar that has been decorated with tribal blankets, they bow, pray, and begin their multicultural Mass.

The August 15 Feast of the Assumption has been celebrated by the Coeur d'Alene Tribe for more than 100 years at the Cataldo Mission in Coeur d'Alene's Old Mission State Park. Visitors are more than welcome; attending the mass offers a unique opportunity to see traditional Native American ways blend with contemporary Roman Catholicism.

Jesuit priest Antonio Ravalli started building the Cataldo Mission in the late 1840s. He was inspired by European church architecture but employed Idaho building materials: With the help of the tribe and local settlers, he built the mission by felling trees, hewing them into boards, and using wood pegs to join the boards together. This remarkable structure is "central to the spirituality of the tribe," says tribe chairman Ernie Stensgar.

Tom Connolly, a Jesuit priest, has worked with the tribe since 1955. Of the Feast of the Assumption, he says, "It's a chance for the tribe to reaffirm their faith in God, their people, their land. This is the place that blends those together."

INFO: The August 15 Feast of the Assumption begins with Mass at 11 a.m., followed by lunch and traditional dancing. The Cataldo Mission is open 8-6 daily Jun-Aug, 9-5 daily Sep- May ($4; 208/682-3814). From Coeur d'Alene, take I-90 about 26 miles east to exit 39.