Mary Elizabeth Bischoff, 89, died Feb. 11 in Portland, after a long illness. There was a funeral Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Church.
Ms. Bischoff leaves behind a large group of loving family and friends and a lifetime of good works. Her accomplishments include 26 years with the Sisters of Providence, time as executive director of Family Services in Los Angeles, and a key role in rebuilding St. Joseph Church in Yakima, Washington, after a tragic 1999 fire.
Through it all she maintained her faith in God, her connection to family, and her devotion to the Catholic Church.
A second memorial service will be held at noon March 15 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Yakima, with interment to follow in the family plot at Calvary Cemetery.
Born in Yakima Feb. 18, 1927, Ms. Bischoff graduated from St. Joseph Academy in 1944 and joined the Sisters of Providence. She focused on teaching and earned a master’s degree in education, the first of her three graduate degrees. She taught at different posts around the West, including an appointment as principal in the early days of St. Joseph Catholic School in Vancouver, Washington.
In 1969 she left the order and soon after enrolled at the University of Southern California where she earned her second master’s degree, in clinical social work.
She was a social worker in the Los Angeles area for more than a decade, rising to the position of executive director of Family Services Los Angeles.
In 1982, as a response to her father’s failing health, Mary moved back to Yakima and became associate director of Children and Family Services at Comprehensive Mental Health Services. She worked there until her retirement in 1992.
Mary became a strong presence at St. Joseph, the parish of her youth, playing piano and organ for the church choir and helping in a variety of ways.
The year she retired she enrolled at Gonzaga University in Spokane, where she earned a master’s in Pastoral Ministries and made strong friendships within the Jesuit community.
Once more back in Yakima, Mary developed the position of pastoral administrator at St. Joseph, envisioning the job as a team effort between pastor and administrator, one where planning and decision-making duties were equally shared.
She held that position for 13 years but never imagined that time would include some of the church’s most challenging moments.
St. Joseph was the first Catholic church in Yakima and is home to the largest Catholic congregation in central Washington. The cornerstone was laid in 1904, but the roots of the church stretch back to the St. Joseph Mission at Ahtanum Creek, built in 1852 about 10 miles west of Yakima.
On July 30, 1999, a 28-year-old arsonist set fire to St. Joseph, gutting the 94-year-old structure. The fire destroyed the stained glass, woodwork, altar, and everything else inside the church. The entry façade and exterior walls were the only things left undamaged.
Ms. Bischoff was committed to making sure the church was rebuilt with no residual debt, and worked tirelessly to accomplish this goal. Donations were a crucial part of the project and many in the community gave generously.
By 2002 the $4.8 million project was paid for and completed. In honor of the original building the church kept the east-facing portico, which had two towers of dark, locally-quarried stone. This structure – with walls 3 feet thick and gables 60 feet high – was incorporated into the new church.
In December 2007 Mary moved to Portland, where she joined her sister Margaret and began her last chapter. Margaret was her faithful friend and companion, and along with her sister Martha was with Mary during her final moments.
She was predeceased by parents Phillip M. and Mina E. (Harrington) Bischoff and brothers William and Phillip Bischoff.
She is survived by her sisters Martha McMahon and Sr. Margaret Bischoff S.P., brother John and his wife Joan (Gilbert) Bischoff, and a large extended family including 11 nieces and nephews.