History Of St. Matthew’s Church
The historic St. Matthew’s Catholic Church was built in 1910 by Great Falls architect George Stanley and remains the city’s most commanding Gothic landmark.
Only three years after the city of Kalispell was surveyed and laid out, the first bishop of Montana, the Most Revered J.B. Brondel, in March 1894 appointed Fr. H.J. Van de Ben of Butte to the first pastor. In 1895, the first church and rectory was constructed on 4th Avenue and 5th Street.
During the first few years, the territory for St. Matthew’s Parish was quite extensive and included the missions along the Great Northern Railroad from the Idaho border to Columbia Falls. New missions were quickly formed in Whitefish, Somers, Jennings and Rexford. Eventually parishioners outgrew the small wooden church structure. Plans for the construction of a new building were initiated under Father Francis O’Farrell, the pastor who would be the longest serving priest at St. Matthew’s Church.
Warren G. Conrad, President of the Kalispell Townsite Company, donated the half-block of land for the new church. Ground was broken on April 2, 1910 and Bishop Carroll laid the cornerstone on June 5th of the same year. On September 2, 1911, the completed church was dedicated by Bishop Carroll.
St. Matthew’s Church was extensively damaged in February 1938 by a fire that started in the basement. The ornately sculptured wood altar was destroyed. Damage to the building was listed at almost $10,000. As part of the reconstruction and repair, new altars were created and the church was completely redecorated. The structure remained largely unchanged until the 1950’s when the basement was remodeled and made into a parish social center.
Fr. Rod Ermatinger
I was born and raised in Chicago and grew up in a Catholic family of five children. I attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, where I studied law enforcement and English literature. Then I took a well-deserved break from school for six years. I went on to study law at the University of Montana Law School, partly choosing this law school for its proximity to outdoor splendor. Even though we grew up in the city, my father instilled in us a love for the outdoors. My parents spent many retirement years in Missoula.
It was after a number of years of practicing law in Missoula when I felt that our Lord might be calling me to the priesthood. It didn’t feel that great, to be honest with you. I had other plans! But there was one problem, I started praying the rosary when I was thirty-five years old. Watch out for the Blessed Virgin Mary. I entered the seminary in 1998 when I was thirty-eight and was ordained on Christmas Eve 2005 in Rome.
I spent my first four years as a priest with a religious order working primarily in New York City and Long Island. I came to the Diocese of Helena on November 2, 2009, All Souls’ Day and the anniversary of my mother’s passing from this life to a place far better. My first eleven months were on the Hi-Line, helping with parishes in Shelby, Cut Bank, Valier, and Sunburst. It was a special grace to work alongside Fr Michael Drury and with the wonderful people of those towns and parishes. I arrived at St Matthew’s on October 1, 2010, the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. In addition to the parish work and ministries, I am also active in our school helping with classes and other activities.
My hobbies include fly fishing, hunting upland birds and waterfowl, as well as big game such as deer and elk. I also enjoy snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
I strongly recommend praying each day to saints and angels, including your guardian angels and the archangels Michael, Raphael and Gabriel; they help us a ton. Each day I pray to a litany of saints, including St. Joseph, St. John Vianney, St. Padre Pio, and St. John of the Cross. I have a special devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux. Yet it is the Blessed Virgin Mary to whom I rely on the most to intercede for me before God.
Thoughts about being at St. Matthew’s: It is a profound and unmerited privilege to be a priest and to live out my priesthood here at St. Matthew’s.
Deacon Charlie Harball
Deacon Charlie Harball, a native of northwest Montana, was raised in Polson, Montana and began serving the Church as an altar server at Immaculate Conception Parish in 1964. He and Claire were married in 1980 and are now proud parents of two grown daughters. He moved with his family to Kalispell in 1991 becoming parishioners at St. Matthew’s Parish. He and Claire have been active in the parish as catechists for the younger children, for confirmation classes and the RCIA program. They have served as Eucharistic ministers and reader as well as serving time on the pastoral council.
Charlie and Claire entered into the Diocese of Helena diaconate formation program in 2007. Charlie was ordained as a Deacon to the diocese on June 29, 2012, and assigned to St. Matthew’s Parish which he now gratefully serves.
Charlie has been the City Attorney for the City of Kalispell since 2001 when he retired from private practice to serve the public. He obtained his law degree and MBA from the University of Washington and his undergraduate degree from Temple University. Prior to that time, he served five years of active duty in the United States Navy as a corpsman for the Marines.
The Catholic faith has served as the stabilizing “gyroscope” for Deacon Charlie throughout his life experience. He unabashedly shares his faith with others and believes evangelization to be a natural extension of living a life focused on Jesus Christ.