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 adrum. Roman Catholic bishop Michael Driscoll strides behind them inhis red-and-white robe and tall white miter. As Driscoll and thedancers approach an altar that has been decorated with tribalblankets, they bow, pray, and begin their multicultural Mass.

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

Jesuit priest Antonio Ravalli started building the CataldoMission in the late 1840s. He was inspired by European churcharchitecture but employed Idaho building materials: With the helpof the tribe and local settlers, he built the mission by fellingtrees, hewing them into boards, and using wood pegs to join theboards together. This remarkable structure is "central to thespirituality of the tribe," says tribe chairman Ernie Stensgar.

Tom Connolly, a Jesuit priest, has worked with the tribe since1955. Of the Feast of the Assumption, he says, "It's a chance forthe 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 Massat 11 a.m., followed by lunch and traditional dancing. The CataldoMission 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 toexit 39.

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