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Bellingham’s Church of the Assumption celebrates 125th anniversary

It has been a historic couple of years for Whatcom County residents associated with Assumption Catholic School and with Church of the Assumption, located side-by-side at 2116 Cornwall Ave., in Bellingham.

Last year, the school marked its centennial with a series of events. Then, this summer, the church celebrated the parish’s 125th anniversary on Aug. 15, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The church celebrated with a special Mass attended by 800 people and a roasted pig potluck attended by 300 people.

Next year, in June, the church will mark the 125th anniversary of the dedication of its first building.

“The parish officially formally began in 1889, but the church wasn’t finished yet,” said the Rev. Scott Connolly, Assumption’s priest the past seven years.

The church has about 1,500 registered parishioners. Some 2,500 to 3,000 people attend Mass over the course of a weekend, Connolly said.

Assumption’s first church building was at North State and Cedar street, accessible to the three pioneer bay communities of Fairhaven, Whatcom and Sehome. With quick growth, a larger church was needed, so Assumption bought the property on Cornwall Avenue in 1906. The school opened in 1913, and the church on Cornwall was dedicated eight years later.

“It’s amazing to think of the longevity of our community within Whatcom County and the state of Washington,” Connolly said.

While a sense of history is important, the school and church are taking the opportunity to prepare for the future. A fundraising campaign for capital improvements was originally pegged at $1 million, then raised to $1.5 million. So far, people have committed to donate $1.7 million over three years.

“We’ve overachieved our goal, which is great,” Connolly said.

The money will help bolster the endowment fund and pay for building improvements at the school, will pay to repaint the church and clean its roof, as well as provide $175,000 to clean and re-lead the church’s stained glass windows, provide new phones and computers for both the school and the church, and replace the church’s linoleum gym floor with a wood floor.

Also, more than $200,000 was raised to help replace the Hope House with a new building at the same location behind the church. Hope House is a converted residence at 207 Kentucky St. where clothing, household items, emergency food and other services are provided to needy people.

Demolishing the current house and replacing it with a better-designed building might occur in the next two or three years, Connolly said. Longer term, the church also might erect a new community hall so receptions, coffee hours and other small gatherings can be held without requiring the use of the gym, Connolly said.

He said Assumption’s robust plans are noteworthy, especially for an institution that began a handful of months before Washington became a state.

“We have a great history and heritage,” Connolly said. “We’re still going strong.”