Christ the King Parish History
Feast of Christ the King
Sunday, November 24, 2019
In 1943 the government took possession of the area that included the small communities of Richland, Hanford and White Bluffs for the construction of nuclear facilities. The project was initially called the Hanford Engineering Works. The Catholics in these communities at that time depended on services provided by St. Joseph’s Parish in Kennewick. Father William J. Sweeney was the Pastor at that time. The government gave St. Joseph’s Parish permission to continue using the existing Lady of the Rosary Parish at White Bluffs for services. A security clearance and badge had to be issued to Father Sweeney for him to have access to the restricted area. Beginning in July 1943, Mass was celebrated every Sunday in White Bluffs for the construction workers. Because of the rapidly increasing attendance, Catholic services were transferred in August from White Bluffs to a small white tent, provided by the army, at the construction workers camp being built at the old town of Hanford. The tent could seat only about 150 people. As the congregation continued to grow rapidly, a section was added to the tent. Occasional masses were also said at Grange Hall, located at the corner of Stevens and Van Giesen Street where the current Lutheran Church is situated, often called the cupcake church.
In October 1943, Fr. Sweeney asked the government for a church and was given a circus tent that seated 1,500 people and was built at the Hanford construction camp. It was used as a theater for workers on weekdays and Mass on Sunday. To assist in the handling of the rapidly increasing workload, Father Bernard Schiller was assigned to St. Joseph’s Parish as Father Sweeney’s assistant in May 1944. At the peak of construction at the nuclear facilities, there were more than 50,000 people housed at the Hanford site. The last mass in the 1,500-seat tent was held in February 1945, as a new stick-built church for Catholics had been completed in Richland. Mass in the new church was celebrated for the first time on Christmas 1944.
The church was blessed on February 11, 1945 by Bishop Charles White and dedicated to our Lord under the title of Christ the King. At that time, Richland was still a mission church serviced by St. Joseph’s Parish, which was part of the Spokane diocese. Father Sweeney moved from Kennewick into the new rectory in Richland in February 1945. His assistant, Father Schiller, remained in Kennewick. This arrangement continued until July 1, 1946, when Christ the King became a self-sustaining parish, separate from St. Joseph’s Parish and Father Sweeney was re-assigned as the pastor of Christ the King. In 1951, Christ the King Parish became part of the newly established Diocese of Yakima. Also, in that year, members of the parish formed the CEE KAY Credit Union. Its services were available to all parish members. It continued to operate for many years.
The church building and its 11-acre site were purchased from the government in 1954. The change in ownership enabled the parish to begin plans for new construction projects.
Early in 1954, a fund drive was initiated to finance the construction of an elementary school and a convent. In September, classes were started in the first three grades in the partially completed school.
In 1975, Father John Heneghan was assigned to the parish as a Co-Pastor. In the Fall of 1977, the parish held the first Sausage Fest, a project for the school and parishioners to work together to provide fun and entertainment for the community and to help with finances for the parish school. It has become an annual tradition for the parish and community hosting 25,000 to 30,000 guests and remains the third largest community event in the Tri-Cities.
In 1976, Pope Paul VI bestowed the honor of Monsignor on Father Sweeney. He retired as Pastor in 1978 and Father John Murtagh became the Pastor. In 1980, the old church was torn down and construction on a new one began on the same site with Mass celebrated in the school gymnasium during the construction period. The first Mass in the new (circular) church was celebrated on Palm Sunday, April 11, 1981.
In 1983, Father Richard Wuertz succeeded Father Murtagh as the Pastor. In 1986, two permanent deacons for Christ the King Parish were ordained by Bishop William Skylstad, and a third in 1989. Monsignor Sweeney died on January 9, 1996. He had served as Pastor for Christ the King Parish for 36 years and Pastor Emeritus for an additional 18 years. In 1996, Father Thomas Champoux was assigned to the parish as the administrator. In 1997, Father Wuertz was reassigned to St. Francis de Sales Parish in Chelan with Father Champoux succeeding him as Pastor of Christ the King. On May 30, 2001, Father Wuertz died in Chelan. He had served as Pastor of Christ the King for 15 years. In 1999, a drive was initiated to improve the church and school's parking, add new classrooms to the school, and make an addition to the church. The church addition, completed in 2006, provided a large meeting room (Gathering Space) for parish education and social events and church offices.
Five new members to the permanent diaconate from Christ the King were ordained by Bishop Carlos Sevilla on September 25, 2010, briefly bringing to eight the number of deacons in our parish. Many newly ordained priests also have served as Parochial Vicars at Christ the King before moving to other parishes in the Diocese. On May 20, 2017, the 50th anniversary of his ordination, Father Champoux was elevated to Monsignor by Pope Francis. Monsignor Champoux continues as Pastor, leading our parish of more than 2,800 families, 74 organized ministries in charity, education, visitation, liturgy and spirituality, and a budding pre-school construction project.
Bishops of the Diocese of Yakima
Pastors of Christ the King Catholic Parish
Parochial Vicars of Christ the King Catholic Parish
Deacons of Christ the King Catholic Parish