The iconic view of Holy Rosary with Mount Rainier (Mount Tacoma) in the distance.

By Jennifer Mortensen, Outreach Director

Holy Rosary Church in Tacoma, built by German Catholic immigrants who wanted to hear sermons in their own language, was originally established 1891 with the construction of a simple wooden church built by largely volunteer labor. With the growth of the congregation and rising concerns about the safety of the original church, services were shifted to the adjacent school auditorium in 1912 for almost nine years to make way for planning, fund-raising, and construction of the present, Gothic Revival style church. The cornerstone was laid on May 30, 1920, with the formal dedication following the next year on November 13, 1921.

The church was designed by C. Frank Mahon of Lundberg & Mahon of Tacoma, who himself was a member of Holy Rosary. Lundberg & Mahon was among the more prominent architectural firms in the South Sound region while in practice from 1913 to 1923, and Holy Rosary is considered the firm’s most notable design. In addition to its architectural merit, Holy Rosary’s significance is also due in part to its prominent place in the Tacoma skyline. The church is located at the terminus of Tacoma Avenue, a major north/south corridor in Tacoma, and is highly visible from Interstate-5. The church was also one of the earliest City of Tacoma Landmarks when it was designated in 1975.

Until recently, the church remained in continuous use as a worship space thanks to many renovation projects undertaken and funded by the parish. Most notably, the parish undertook extensive repairs and restoration work on the church and school over several years beginning in 1972; the Church steeple was sheathed in copper, replacing the leaking asbestos shingles in 1994; and restoration work was undertaken on the stained glass windows of the church in 1998 thanks to an anonymous donor in memory of her parents.

In the fall of 2018, a chunk of plaster fell from the ceiling into the choir loft. Due to safety concerns, services were moved to the adjacent school building auditorium and the church building was shuttered and fenced off. The Seattle Archdiocese undertook an assessment of the building, announcing in August of 2019 that the church would be demolished due to the high cost of rehabilitation. The Archdiocese’s assessment determined that $2.5 million was needed to reoccupy the church, an additional $7 million would address all structural issues, and another $8 million—bringing the total to about $18 million—would complete a full seismic retrofit and upgrade all building systems.

Meanwhile, earlier in 2019, community members concerned about the future of the church formed the non-profit group, Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church (STLC), to raise awareness and funds to repair and restore Holy Rosary. Since the demolition was announced, the local community in Tacoma has exploded with support for saving the church. STLC has capitalized on this energy and raised funding through awareness campaigns and a wide variety of events from a classic film series at the Blue Mouse to spaghetti dinners.

Over the past year, Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church raised over $400,000 in cash and pledges, and in December of 2019, STLC announced that they received an additional $1 million pledge. The pledge, from the Jack and Angela Connelly Family Foundation, consists of a $500,000 direct donation and a pledge of an additional $500,000 that will match all donations made up to August 31, 2020. Should the matching gift total succeed, the total amount in donations and pledges raised by STLC would exceed $1.9 million.

Most recently, STLC hosted a gala dinner and auction on January 18 at the Connelly Center at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma in support of Holy Rosary. Tickets to the event sold out in mid-December, and Tacoma showed up in a big way for Holy Rosary. In addition to raising over $130,000 toward rehabilitation, it was at the gala that the Washington Trust was proud to stand with STLC and announce that the church would be listed as one of Washington’s Most Endangered Places.

We are excited to be hosting our first joint event with STLC: a “heart bomb” to show the love for Holy Rosary on Saturday, February 15. A heart bomb is a fun and creative way to bring people together and raise awareness about places that matter. Attendees can bring any size of homemade valentine (or just snag one of the extra valentines we’ll be bringing) and gather with us the Saturday after Valentine’s Day for a big group photo.

For more information on the heart bomb event on February 15, visit our Holy Rosary heart bomb page.

Rear view of Holy Rosary Church. Photo by Adam Pritchard Photography.

Interior of Holy Rosary Church. Photo by a Holy Rosary parishioner.