26900 78th Ave NW, PO Box 1002, Stanwood WA 98292  |  360-629-3737


Parish History

History of Saint Cecilia Catholic Church, Stanwood

In the 1860's, extensive and fertile land attracted settlers to the lower Stillaguamish Valley. This land was and is suitable for the production of wide varieties of grains, fruits and vegetables. Coexistent with the early agricultural development was a booming lumber industry. For in the early days, these densely timbered lands had to be logged before they could be farmed. The pioneers of this promising area did not come to claim a fast fortune, but hoped to carve a secure and productive life in America's last frontier.

Of the early settlers to this region there came, in the 1880's and 1890's, a small number of Irish families from Canada and the Central United States. They had come west to build a brighter future and they brought with them their Catholic faith. In the 1890's, several Catholic families living in the lower Stillaguamish Valley prevailed upon Father P. Dubbel, from the Tulalip Indian Reservation, to hold services for them. Three to four times a years, Mass was offered in the homes of Edward Tolin, Edward O'Melia and Walter Hogan. Also in the 1890's, Father H. Saindom, Father J. Dellanoy and Father P. LeRoux came by wagon to offer Mass in Private homes. A catechism class was organized by Mrs. Peter Carlson in the early 1890's. In 1896, the first class was taken by train to Tulalip for Confirmation. Stories, from the early Catholics, tell of Father P. Gardas a kindly missionary Priest, who came by canoe to this area at the turn of the century. In 1900, Father Gard took a group of six boys along the beach to Tulalip for Confirmation. It was a disheveled group that entered Tulalip one afternoon. Their clothes were muddy and torn from stumbling over rocks and brush. Father Gard did his best to have their clothes cleaned and mended for Confirmation, which was held the next morning.


In 1906, at Florence, southeast of Stanwood, the first semi-permanent altar was erected in the home of James Hall. Once a month, Father William Quigley came by train from Marysville to celebrate Mass at the Hall Home.

The James Hall residence in 1906 located in Florence

The desire of these early Catholics to have their own church prompted Father Quigley to purchase a small tract of land from the Giard Estate, in 1906. In 1908, because of the generous contributions from townspeople and businesses (a majority of whom were not Catholic) money raising dinners and socials, the Catholic families were able to construct a new church, under the guidance of Father Patrick O'Donnel. It was Father O'Donnel who chose Saint Cecilia as our patroness. Bids for the little church were advertised in The Stanwood Tidings, on January 19,1908. On September 4, 1908, The Stanwood Tidings reported the foundation for the new $1,600.00 Catholic Church was being laid just west of Mr. Giard's residence. The contractors expected to have it ready in about six weeks. The new church was blessed by Father Brogan, S.J.

The original congregation consisted of Mr. and Mrs. James McFarland, Mr. and Mrs. Edward O'Melia, Mr. and Mrs. William McDougall, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Tolin, Mr. and Mrs. Dan McDonald, Mr. and Mrs. Hugh McGinnis, Mr. and Mrs. James Hall, Mrs. Walter Hogan, Mrs. Andrew Carlson, Mrs. Peter Carlson, Mrs. Catherine McFarland, Robert Ferguson and Hugh Callaghan. We still have third, fourth and fifth generation descendants of these pioneer families.

Mrs. Andrew Carlson was the great grandmother of Joe, Terry and Mary Seabury and the great-great grandmother of Angela, Brenden and Jessica Seabury. Mr. and Mrs. Edward O'Melia were the grandparents of Peter McDougall.

The first funeral in Saint Cecilia's Church was for Mrs. Bridget Hogan, March 1909; the first wedding was Mary Dolan and Walter Hogan, August 1910; and the first baby to be baptized was Albert Moe Jr. Up until 1915, Father O'Donnel came by railroad to administer to the congregation of the new Church.

In 1918, St. Cecilia was detached from Marysville and canonically attached to Arlington. Father William Fitzgerald attended to the needs of the Stanwood Mission until 1925. Father McGrath cared for the mission from 1925 until 1933; Father Francis Jones from 1933 until 1936; Father Roger Furlong, 1936 until 1947; Father Edwin Budde, 1947 until 1948; Father William Ogden, 1948 until 1952 and Father James Deady, 1952 until 1958.

The Stanwood congregation had grown over the years and the little 1909 church could not meet the needs of the regular parishioners and the growing number of summer visitors from Camano Island and Warm Beach. In the summer, Mass was held at the east Stanwood Town Hall (now the American Legion Hall), because the summer parishioners and visitors alike had to stand outside the church in order to attend the service. Anticipating an even larger population, Father Deady realized that a larger church would be needed. A seven acre plot of ground, overlooking Stanwood, was bought for $7,125.00.

During this time, there were many fund raising projects to finance the new building. There were bazaars, bake sales, dollar fairs, raffles and oyster stews. The people of the parish were dedicated to raising money for their new church. Father Edward Boyle cared for the parishioners from 1957 until 1965. Under his guidance, in 1963, the building fund goal of $49,500.00 was reached. In that same year, Archbishop Connelly authorized the plans for the construction of the new church in Stanwood. With a basic bid of $128,000.00, Schaffer Construction Company of Everett was awarded the contract. The overall cost was $170,000.00. To launch a financial drive, a loyalty dinner was held December of 1962. The three year goal was to raise $40,000.00, in addition to the regular Sunday offering. With over $41,000.00 pledged, the three year program was inaugurated in January of 1963. In the Spring of 1964, the building was nearly completed. Many of the men from Saint Cecilia formed work parties to clear the the grounds. With the love and sacrifice of the parishioners, local and summer visitors, the congregation was able to move into the new church, which was blessed by the Most Reverend Thomas J. Connolly, D.D., J.C.D. on July 12, 1964.

In 1965, Father Boyle was succeeded by Father Earl LaBerge, 1965-1968; Father William Slate, 1968-1974; Father Bernard Jonientz, 1974-1979; Father Richard Basso, 1979-1980; Father Dell, 1980 and Father Oliver Duggan, 1980-1981.

We have even been blessed with two priests from our own Parish. Father Thomas Marti, M.M., son of Alfred and Anna Marti and Father Phillip Bloom, son of Mel and Mary Bloom.

In the late 1970's, Camano Island parishioners asked Father Basso to celebrate Mass once a week on Camano. Father agreed and Mass was celebrated every Wednesday, first in private homes and then at the Country Club Fire Hall. Father Dell continued this when he became Pastor. Father Treacy, who was Ecumenical, asked permission to say Mass at Camano Lutheran Church. This continued until the summer of 1998, when it was decided the Wednesday Mass would be celebrated at Saint Cecilia.

On July 10, 1981, St. Cecilia was declared the newest parish in the Archdiocese of Seattle. Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen officially installed Father William Treacy as Pastor on July 29, 1981. With their own Pastor, the people of Saint Cecilia now needed a Rectory. Plans were presented to the Archdiocesan Planning Commission for approval. Sunday, October 25, 1981, became pledge Sunday, with a goal of $150,000.00. On December 7, 1981, in pouring rain, Archbishop Hunthausen broke ground for the Rectory, which was completed in June 1982. On December 5, 1982, the mortgage was burned in the presence of the entire congregation. Paying off the cost of the Rectory and paved parking lot in such a short time showed generosity and support of the parishioners and our summer visitors. Father Treacy retired as Pastor in 1989.

The growth of our Parish continued and on November 20, 1982, we were blessed with our own Deacon, Don Hanika. He and Vera have worked tirelessly for the welfare of Saint Cecilia. In 1995, our parish family was honored to be part of their 50th wedding anniversary. In 1998, Don retired and he and Vera were given a farewell party attended by the whole parish. Don will be greatly missed as our Deacon, but he and Vera remain with us in our parish family.

In 1989, Carmelite priests came to Saint Cecilia. On June 20, 1989, Father James Geoghegan, OCD, was appointed as Administrator when the Carmelite Order made Stanwood their home and headquarters. He was appointed as Pastor to the parish in July of 1990. Along with Father James came Father Colm Stone, OCD, who was appointed Director of the new Institute of Spirituality, located two doors down from the church here in Stanwood. Both priests were a blessing to Saint Cecilia. Father James directed the extensive renovations in 1993. In addition to being the Institute of Spirituality, the house also serves as a retreat house known as the Carmelite Center. Father David Centner, OCD, arrived in September of 1993 and the three priests formed a "Carmelite Community." In September of 1995, the Carmelites purchased the "Larson House" next door to the Institute. It is now known as the St. John House, and also serves as a retreat house as well as housing the Institute's administration staffs. In July of 1996, Fathers James and Father David were transferred to California to serve the Carmelite community. Father Matthew Williams, OCD arrived from California and was appointed our Pastor. Father Colm remained among us and served as the Director of the Institute and our Parochial Vicar. Now, we are blessed to have Father Colm with us and we miss Father James and Father David.

With Father Matthew, Saint Cecilia entered into a new phase in our parish life. We started a fund drive to build a social hall addition to our church. In July of 1999, Father Matthew was transferred back to California, and Fr. Paul Koenig, a Carmelite priest from California, joined us as our newest pastor. It was during Fr. Paul's tenure that the parish hall project was completed. Archbishop Brunett blessed the new facilities on May 1, 2002.  Fr. Paul also was able to obtain the services of Andy Dorrington to serve as our Deacon and the Faith Formation Director.

Father David Centner returned to serve with Father Colm in the Institute, and to assist with parish duties as well. It was good to see Father David return. Unfortunately, it was a short stay and Fr. David relocated to Holly Hills, Wisconsin in late 2001. 

In September 2002, Fr. Colm was transferred to help establish the Carmelite Mission in Uganda, East Africa.  He was replaced at the Institute of Spirituality by Fr. Charles Garrity, O.C.D. 

A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was donated and erected by the Knights of Columbus. It was dedicated on June 1, 2003, "in memory of all unborn innocent victims." It stands in the garden outside the parish hall.

In 2005, Fr. Matthew Williams returned as pastor. Over the next several years we would continue to grow in registered families as well as have some staff changes. By July of 2008, Fr. Matthew Williams was elected as the Provincial of the Carmelite Order. Newly ordained Fr. Laurence Poncini would return as our Priest Administrator.

Fr. Charles Garrity would leave as director of the Institute of Spirituality and Fr. Colm Stone would return from Africa to take his place. Fr. Ramiro Casale would join Fr. Colm at the Institute in August. We were truly blessed to have these two priests generously embrace our parish community.


Since change is a given with the Carmelite Order, Fr. Colm would leave the Institute for another assignment which left Fr. Ramiro to over see the Institute as well as assist at the parish as needed.


On September 21, 2008, we celebrated our 100th Anniversary with a Mass presided by Archbishop Alex J. Burnett. A wonderful reception followed in the hall and under the tents on the side lawn.


Our parish was bequeathed a substantial donation from the estate of Helen Drew in 2009. Her generosity provided us with the financial means to start planning for the construction of a new parish office. With improvements in our future it seemed a good opportunity to have another fund drive called “Enter His Gates”. This goal of this fund drive was to pay off our outstanding loan and rebuild our savings account. A parish survey was done and from the input a list was developed of projects our parish family would like to see done as money became available.


By February of 2009, the antique hanging lights that were purchased while Fr. Matthew was pastor had been refurbished and hung in the Church. These aged lights truly enhanced the environment within the sanctuary of the Church. There were a few financial set backs when the Church needed a new roof and the furnace needed upgrades.


As the finishing touches were being done on the Parish Office spaces the outside entrance was also getting improvements. The front steps were widened as well as a new ramp put in and the landscape planting was finished. The first week of December several volunteers showed up to help the staff move from the basement into the new parish office.


2010 brought about more changes and numerous improvements to the parish. The Religious Article Store run by Caroline Hall was moved to a room downstairs and open on Sundays after Mass. John Amber-Oliver made the Ambry, a cabinet to hold the holy oils and the holy water font. The St. Cecilia Website was launched and some patching was done on the parking lot.


As we rang in 2011 the pledge drive continued to help us improve the sanctuary. To the right of the altar a niche was created for the statue of Our Lady and candle holders were place on either side. Two stained glass windows from the original St. Cecilia Church were framed and hung in the sanctuary of the Church.


As summer approached it was again time for reassignments for the Carmelite Order. We would say good-bye to Fr. Laurence Poncini and Fr. Ramiro Casale and welcome Fr. Christopher La Rocca as our new Pastor. At the time of assignments there was no one available to run the Institute of Spirituality so Fr. Christopher is acting as the director at this time. Several months later Brother Leonel Varela was assigned to St. Cecilia Parish under the guidance of Fr. Christopher and Brother Leonel has been a great asset to the Faith Formation programs.  


Our list is gradually being reduced with each project that is successfully completed. During the summer new windows were put in downstairs as well as new carpet and the bathrooms were updated. A new entrance sign was designed and installed with new plantings along the roadside flower bed. At this time the current project we hope to get accomplished is new floor coverings in the Church and hall. Stay tuned!


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