The Church of the Assumption was established as a parish in 1889 by Bishop Aegidius Junger, who named Fr. Jean Baptiste Boulet as its first pastor (1889-1905). Fr. Boulet had been serving as a missionary in the area since 1878. The first church was constructed on State Street, at the intersection of Cedar Street, a location central to the Catholics of the bay towns of Whatcom, Sehome, and Fairhaven. The first Mass was celebrated there on the feast of the Assumption, 1889. The parish quickly grew and it was necessary, at the turn of the century, to add on to the church to expand seating space. Even after Sacred Heart Parish was established in 1905, there continued to be a need for a larger church. Fr. Leo Ferland, second pastor (1905-13), purchased the property on Cornwall Avenue in 1906.
The move from State Street to Cornwall Avenue didn't begin until 1913 when the school was built by Assumption's third pastor, Fr. James Barrett (1913-1935). The new church was built in 1920-21, at a cost of $200,000, and it was dedicated October 12, 1921. Fr. Barrett and his successor, Msgr. James Stafford (1936-49), struggled to pay off the debt through the difficult years of the Great Depression and World War II; that finally was accomplished in 1949.
Bellingham, which was formed in the merger of the bay towns in 1903, was a lumber, fishing, and coal town, and early Assumption parishioners were a variety of immigrants from Europe and eastern and Midwestern states coming for work in those industries. They were very fond of their church, their pastors, their school and its Dominican sisters, and they sacrificed to support all of these and other needs of the parish.
The gym and parish center building was built in 1962, providing for the parish a most versatile facility for sports, dinners, festivals, and countless other events. The Dominican sisters, who had taught in the school since 1913, departed in 1972, initiating the hiring of a lay faculty and adding to not only tuition costs but the parish financial responsibility as well.
Pastors of recent history are: Fr. Bernard Cremer, 1949-60; Fr. John O’Connell, 1960-64; Fr. Thomas Hanley, 1964-72; Fr. Michael Cody, 1972-75; Fr. Patrick Callahan, 1975-81; Fr. Donald Piro, 1981-83; Fr. John Madigan, 1981-90; Fr. James Lee, 1990-97; Fr. Jay DeFalco, 1997-2003; Fr. Frank Schuster, 2003-07; and Fr. Scott Connolly, 2007 – present.
In 2000 much-needed repairs and expansion were made to the church and the school. The addition of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and gathering space, along with the addition to the school, was a great improvement. Along with a busy schedule of five weekend Masses (including a Spanish Mass), there are daily Masses, a weekly 24-hour period of adoration, Benediction, and a full complement of sacramental and liturgical services. Assumption Church sports Bellingham’s tallest steeple, a beacon indicative of the parish’s leadership and outreach in the community. On the campus is Hope House, a social service to individuals and families in need. The monthly community meal also assists the homeless and low-income persons. Many parishioners attended the canonization of St. Kateri Tekawitha, with her sainthood confirmed by the miracle cure of an Assumption School student. All of these activities are guided by several parish committees and the pastoral staff.
Throughout its 125-year history, Assumption Parish has been blessed by the presence of many saintly and selfless priests and thousands of self-sacrificing parishioners who have made Assumption what it is today. May God continue to bless the parish as it looks to a future of service to His people.