Catholics of this beautiful valley straddling the Clearwater River traces its humble beginnings from the desire of the Native American tribes living in the area to have powerful “medicine men” in black robes with a book to show them the way to heaven.
Previously, French-Canadians fur trappers were the first Catholics to have probably brought their belief in the area thus influencing the local tribes.
This desire saw its fruition with the establishment of the historic Cataldo Mission. For a long time, Catholicism in the area remained limited to the local tribes of Native Americans. However, a gold rush began in 1862 that broucght tens of thousands of people to the valley, including a large number of Irish Catholics. In 1875, Father J.M. Cataldo himself arrived in this area to spread the gospel. After two years, the church here became part of the Slickpoo Mission with a priest coming over on a horseback to celebrate the Holy Mass in Catholic homes.
It was during the days of the second era of the Slickpoo Mission that one of Orofino’s oldest resident and parishioner, R.S. Blevins, recalls attending those celebrations. Mr. Blevins came to Orofino in 1900 and has many memories of the early church here.
The tiny Catholic community of the Orofino area was under the care of the Jesuit Fathers either from Stanislaus Church in Lewiston or St. Joseph Mission at Slickpoo near Culdesac for most of the years until 1930. Only for two years in 1927-1928 did it have a resident pastor in Father. Bart J. Carey. A church was built in about 1902. It became the home of the Loseth family. It is still on Riverside Avenue.
In 1930, Fr. John B. Kunkel became the resident pastor of Orofino and he almost single-handedly built a new little brick church. The foundation was dug by hand and the dirt was hauled away with a team of horses and wagon. The cement was also mixed by hand and without much technical knowledge. Father Kunkel himself fashioned and built the first cement front steps and sidewalk around the church. It was in 1935, that St. Theresa’s Catholic Church was dedicated in honor of St. Theresa of Lisieux, “the Little Flower” to whom Father Kunkel has a great devotion.
As the years pass by and the Catholic community of Orofino grew, plans were made to replace the little brick church, which had served the parish for 50 years. On April 25, 1985, ground was broken for the new church on the corner of Kalaspo Ave. and “C” Street. Construction proceeded with the marvelous financial cooperation of members of the parish together with the tireless effort and spiritual guidance of Fr. Michael A. Spegele. Bishop Sylvester W. Treinan dedicated the present day St. Theresa’s Catholic Church on December 5, 1985. Upon the retirement of Father Spegele, Father Thomas Taylor succeeded him from 1992 to 1994.
On July 1, 1994, Father George King was appointed Pastor of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church. For the next fourteen years, Father King who eventually became Monsignor King served Orofino and its surrounding communities of Pierce in Our Lady of the Woodland and St. Catherine of Sienna in Kamiah tirelessly. His humble and mild mannered ways endeared him to all the people of the community regardless of their religious affiliation. His lingering illness didn’t prevent him from doing what he loves most: serving God’s people whoever, whatever and wherever they are. No amount of rain or snow would prevent him from going to Pierce or Kamiah to say Mass on Sundays. As his illness overcomes him and saying the Holy Mass was already too demanding of him, he contends himself sitting on his wheel chair during Sunday Masses. On November 25, 2010, Thanksgiving Day, Monsignor King finally yielded on his courageous battle with cancer but in the eyes of the people whom he served tirelessly, he won their hearts with his faith filled life. Father Sipho Mathabela, Parochial Vicar eventually took over his duties and instituted as Pastor on December 1, 2010.