The Rev. Paul Magnano: A Queen Anne son's downtown mission
Wednesday, May 01, 2013 7:37 AM
Despite the new condos and shiny tech boom, something of old Seattle survives.
After delivering the Communion bread and wine, parishioners bow to each other in respect, as Father Paul Magnano looks on. Photo by Elliot Suhr
You can see it from the sidewalk outside Christ Our Hope Catholic Church, housed in the Josephinum at 1902 Second Ave.
At certain times of the day, the scene recalls Scripture: “For the poor you have always with you.” The poor along with the mentally ill, it might be added, and the drug-ravaged and those pushed or fallen through the cracks.
“I stand outside before Mass in vestments,” the Rev. Paul Magnano (pronounced “mun-yawn-o”) said. “Sometimes you get hassled or you get people who shout obscenities; others are friendly. There’s a Metro here that goes by where people wave. All kinds of people walk by. The world walks by.”
Magnano, 71, who grew up on Queen Anne, has come full circle.
The Magnano family roots are woven into Seattle’s history. A century ago, his Italian-immigrant grandfather, Antonio, launched a wholesale food business where Harbor Steps is now. From those humble beginnings came the family’s food-brokerage firm.
Magnano chose a different path. The eldest of eight children, he has been a priest for 45 years, ministering to places as varied as Madrona and the Skagit Valley. He has also lived near the Trevi fountain in Rome, where he was ordained.
In 2010, Magnano — a fit, energetic man with a level gaze — founded Christ Our Hope in the name of social justice, returning his church and his family name to Downtown Seattle.
The Josephinum is very much part of Seattle’s history. As the new Washington Hotel (once one of the city’s finest), the building played host to the likes of William Howard Taft, Babe Ruth and Elvis Presley. Bought by the Archdiocese of Seattle in 1963 as a retirement home, it’s operated by Catholic Community Services and now provides 240 studio apartments for low-income and formerly homeless residents. SHARE/WHEEL, father of the tent cities, headquarters in the basement, as does a women’s wellness center, which serves 75 to 80 homeless women.
If Second Avenue and Stewart Street is a busy spot, it’s also one of those Seattle nodes for a prick of the conscience.
“Magnano is a priest’s priest,” wrote the Seattle P-I’s Joel Connelly when the Belltown church opened. “He ministered to students at Western Washington University during the Vietnam War era. He used potluck dinners to connect Madrona neighbors with the Tent City homeless encampment when it spent a summer month camped in the St. Therese playfield.”
“I’m in the heart of downtown, where my grandfather started out,” Magnano observed. He points out the city’s first Mass was celebrated in Henry Yesler’s sawmill. “There is an expressed need for a Catholic presence in downtown.”
Sunday Masses are diverse, Magnano noted, attracting the poor, the afflicted, young techies, the more established from nearby condos and passengers and crew from the cruise ships.
“There’ve been some challenges,” Magnano said of the mix. And yet, “there’s something special in this building because of the presence of the church.”
The congregation consists about 300 people, according to Magnano, and the numbers are growing. His church has become a player downtown, connecting people with social-service agencies and referrals. Christ Our Hope, a member of the Downtown Seattle Association, hosted the March 10 Volunteer Fair, which featured some 50 social-service agencies.
A Queen Anne-influenced upbringing
Magnano’s father, Angelo, who died in 1997, carried on and expanded the family business with brothers Marco and Antonio, handling products like Napoleon olive oil, Lowry salt and the Crosse & Blackwell line. The Magnanos were instrumental in bringing Japan’s Kikkoman products to the Northwest. The Bellevue-based business is still in family hands as The Napoleon Co.
Magnano’s mother, Mary, 95, lives in Horizon House on First Hill and attends her son’s celebration of the Mass each Sunday.
Magnano grew up on Queen Anne, where he attended St. Anne School, delivered the Queen Anne News (he still has a scar on his leg from a dog bite to prove it) and followed in his father’s footsteps to Seattle Preparatory School.
He felt called to the priesthood somewhere in the seventh or eighth grade. As a junior in high school, Magnano considered entering the Jesuit order or working as a Diocesan (parish) priest; he chose the latter.
“I saw the importance of parish life,” Magnano said, having been shaped by Queen Anne’s Roman Catholic community.
His ordination took place in Rome in 1967, a time of social turmoil here and abroad. Upon arrival in the Eternal City, Magnano encountered his first anti-American demonstrations: The war in Vietnam was escalating just as the Second Vatican Council wound down.
Rome steeped the new priest in the Church’s rigorous intellectual tradition. Using Latin as a first language, Magnano also studied Greek and Hebrew.
Time to stop and think
The Christ Our Hope sanctuary — brightly lit, with stained-glass windows and a high, terra cotta ceiling — occupies the Josephinum’s former dining room. A semi-circle of benches and chairs faces the altar. There are no shadows: Everyone is equally out in the open. It is a disarmingly candid space.
“A lot of people are living life without asking why we’re here and where we’re going,” Magnano reflected. “People are too busy; religious sensibilities get ignored. In crisis moments, people have to stop and think.”
In his four-plus decades as a priest, after hearing thousands of confessions, Magnano explained what he’s learned about people and whether people’s confessions have changed.
“These days there’s a greater longing for community, more than 40 years ago,” he said. “Seattle had its neighborhoods. Now, there aren’t the family connections and rootedness, especially with the young people.”
Nationwide trends have seen the Catholic Church withdrawing from its traditional downtown venues; Magnano is bucking the trend. When he stands on the sidewalk at Second and Stewart before Mass, the son of wealth who became a priest sees a part of the city not everyone in the new Seattle sees, but it’s one his grandfather, starting out in a hardscrabble era, might have recognized.
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