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Faith & Values

The Catholic Community will commemorate the 60th anniversary Saturday afternoon of the closing of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish, the historic spiritual center for Japanese-American and Filipino Catholics.

Maryknoll priests and sisters from 1920 onward offered the sacraments and ministered here to the new Japanese-American immigrants.

On Saturday, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain will dedicate a commemorative plaque at 16th Avenue and East Jefferson Street where the red brick church once stood, just west of Providence Hospital (now Swedish/Cherry Hill).

The parish was a thriving hub of worship, youth activities and church clubs up until the outbreak of World War II. Then in February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt mandated the forcible incarceration of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans on the West Coast.

As early as December, just a few days after the Pearl Harbor attack, Gerald Shaughnessy, the bishop of Seattle, had written a pastoral letter cautioning against violence, hatred and racial prejudice.

Prophetically he said, “Our Catholic heritage inculcates upon us … that we embrace our fellow American citizens of Japanese extraction in a special bond of charity, for they are no less loyal than others, and no less claimants of true American citizenship … innocent victims, as in many cases they will be, of antipathies and unreasoning prejudices.”

Later Bishop Shaughnessy was one of the few civic leaders who spoke out against the internments of Japanese Americans.

Father Leopold Tibesar, a Maryknoll priest who was the pastor of Our Lady of the Martyrs, insisted on accompanying his parishioners to the camps, much to the chagrin of the Army. Two Maryknoll Sisters also joined the camp ministry.

Born in Quincy, Ill., and fluent in Japanese, Father Tibesar celebrated Mass each day at the Minidoka camp in Idaho, baptized the newborns and performed several weddings as well as a few funerals.

As the war moved to its conclusion, he cared for Japanese relocates in Chicago and then returned to Japan in 1946 for another 17 years to assist in reconciliation efforts in Tokyo.

One of my Jesuit classmates, Ron Hidaka, was born at Minidoka. Before the presidential order, his parents had already intended to get married, but they quickly moved up the ceremony so that they would not be separated, and Father Tibesar married them in the temporary quarters at the Puyallup fairgrounds where they and others were being held before being sent to camp. Ron was born a year later.

His family members — from the Hidaka and Takasaki families — and many others had deep roots in the area around Yesler Way and what’s now the southern edge of the Seattle University campus and southward toward Rainier Valley. But only one-third of the residents moved back to the area after the war.

One who did — fortunately for Seattle University — was the famous garden architect Fujitaro Kubota. Jesuit Father Ray Nichols, dubbed “Father Green Thumb” by the students, enlisted Kubota to design the campus gardens.

Over the next 20 years they moved rock and pine trees and some exotic Japanese imports into place so that the university now boasts 10 Kubota garden designs.

The most recent addition was 10 years ago when Allen Kubota, Fujitaro’s grandson, constructed a Japanese-American Memorial Garden alongside Hunthausen Hall, the home of the School of Theology and Ministry of which I was dean at the time.

The memorial garden serves as a solemn reminder of the need for tolerance, acceptance and mutual respect based on our common humanity that binds all racial, ethnic and religious groups together. Catholics, Baptists, Shintos and Buddhists participated in the blessing and dedication ceremony.

Similarly, Archbishop Sartain’s dedication of the commemorative plaque Saturday afternoon reminds us of the dedication of the Maryknoll priests and sisters, of the tremendous bravery of certain heroic individuals, and embraces a divine call to live our faith as children of the one God.

Fr. Patrick Howell SJ is the rector (religious superior) of the Jesuit Community at Seattle University and professor of pastoral theology. Readers may send feedback to