By Nancy Covert
More than a hundred parishioners filled the narrow wooden pews of a small, white Steilacoom church for the June 26 morning Mass.
The historic church was originally built in the mid-1850s. In 1861 it was dismantled, board by board, and moved to its present location in Steilacoom near the crest of Main Street.
Besides the church’s 150-year presence in the community, the Sunday Mass marked the 50th anniversary of Fr. Lee Hightower’s priesthood. The altar was adorned with vases of gold and white flowers, while the adjacent reception hall served as the setting for the after-service gathering.
According to one of the parishioners, Fr. Hightower began his ministry on June 27, 1961 at Immaculate Conception church in Butte, MT.
His ministry includes 40 years as a parish priest and military service. For the past nine years, he has officiated at the Steilacoom mission and at St. John Bosco in Lakewood.
Honored this past weekend at both churches, Fr. Hightower socialized after Mass with his flock and reminisced about half a century of service.
Note: Between 1-4 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month, area history buffs can view a diorama of the 1849-1868 Ft. Steilacoom in Quarters 4 at 9601 Steilacoom Blvd. The diorama shows the location of the original church that was erected for soldiers at the first American military post in the region. Four of the fort’s original buildings were restored in the 1970s.