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About Our Parish

In the spring of 1948, Alice Hansen, the local postmistress in West Yellowstone, approached Bishop Joseph M. Gilmore, the Bishop of Helena, with the idea of building a Catholic church in the community of West Yellowstone. A busy entryway into Yellowstone National Park for the few months of summer, West Yellowstone almost approached "ghost town* status during the winter months. Bishop Gilmore questioned the wisdom of undertaking such a project in these circumstances. Alice Hansen, however, was determined. Her sons had enlisted in the war effort, and she had promised the Lord if they were to return safely from the war, she would see to it that a church would be built in West Yellowstone. Her faith and determination moved the Bishop to approve the project.


In the summer of 1948, Father Joseph Oblinger, then Chancellor of the Diocese, was sent by Bishop Gilmore to provide Mass on the weekends and consult with Alice and others on the project. Father offered the Sunday morning Mass in the Lounge of the Stage Coach Inn, a much smaller institution than it is today. Each summer following, a priest would be assigned to West Yellowstone to offer the Sunday Mass and oversee the progress of the new church. With a gift of a site from James and Otelia Woods, and a grant from the Catholic Church Extension Society, the project went underway. Alice raised building funds, secured an architect, consulted with Bishop Gilmore, hired a building supervisor, purchased materials, kept track of workers hours and wages, and generally oversaw the construction of the church. It soon became a community project.

The church was completed and ready for occupancy in the Spring of 1950, and Father Emmett O'Neill was at hand to prepare for the day that all had anticipated, the blessing of their new church. On August 20, 1950, Bishop Joseph M. Gilmore formally blessed and dedicated the new church under the name of Our Lady of the Pines. At the time of the dedication, there was a full basement but totally unfinished, there was not heat in the church, since at the time it would only be used during the summer months for the benefit of the tourists who visited the Park. For almost two decades, the church was in use only during the summer months. During the 1970's, under the leadership of Father

Joseph Mavsar, Pastor of Holy Rosary in Bozeman, the increasing use of the park in the summer required additional Masses to accommodate the crowds. A winter chapel downstairs was constructed in 1972 with a grant from the Catholic Church Extension Society. This enabled the community to have services year round. In addition to the Chapel, living accommodations for a priest were also part of the project. The downstairs is now a multipurpose room for social gatherings, Faith Formation classes, and other uses for the parish and community.


Further Improvement to the Church took place in 1980 with an expensive reroofing project plus the construction of a study/office area on the main floor of the church. When Father John Kirsch retired in 1988, he chose to move to West Yellowstone and take over church responsibilities as a full-time pastor. At this time the Snowmobile business began to develop, which necessitated the availability of Masses throughout most of the winter season.  Also associated with his ministry, Father Kirsch organized and conducted the "Living Water Contemplative Center, a retreat and prayer ministry. This arrangement continued until the mid 1990's when his health began to fail, and he was forced to give up the parish responsibilities.

Under the direction of Bishop Alex Brunette, in 1996 Father Joe Oblinger volunteered to take care of the weekend Masses and whatever Sacramental needs would arise. He took up residence in West Yellowstone as the Administrator. But added to the responsibilities here were those of the new Big Sky Mission, where the population was growing rapidly nd more and more Catholics were in need of these same ministries. From 1998-2002 Sister Anne

Marie Burke, SCL, became the Pastoral Administrator for the two missions, and Father Oblinger served as Sacramental Minister and commuted from Bozeman. Sister Patricia Toeckes, SCL, was the Pastoral Administrator of West Yellowstone and Big Sky

with Father Oblinger as Sacramental Minister until his death in 2019.  Sr Toeckes retired as Pastoral Administrator the same year and Fr Frank Wright SMA was appointed Administrator until July of 2021.  Fr Val Zdilla now serves as Pastor of Our Lady of the Pines and St. Joseph of Big Sky Mission.

Fr Val Zdilla-Pastor

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