Our History

Early Years
Catholic ministry to seafarers in Seattle began in 1939, when Bishop Gerald Shaughnessy invited Fr. Hans Reinhold to become Port Chaplain.  Fr. Reinhold was a multilingual activist for social justice who had done ministry to seafarers in his native Germany before being expelled for his opposition to Nazism, and was considered by many to be a rabble-rouser.  After founding the seafarer ministry, he went on to serve a parish in Sunnyside, Washington, and became a noted liturgical scholar and advocate for liturgical reform.  

In the years that followed, the seafarer ministry moved through several physical locations around Seattle.  The Club first opened its doors at 905 1/2 3rd Avenue on September 20, 1940, and about one year later moved to 1925 5th Avenue.  In 1944, the facility moved to 421 Olive Way (Olive Way & Westlake), where Fr. John J. Murphy was appointed chaplain.

Fr. John J. Murphy Lays the Foundation
The Catholic Seamens' Club became a fixture in Seattle because of the work of Fr. Murphy, who developed strong ties with area labor union leaders and with Seattle's Mayor and other city officials.   It was because of Fr. Murphy's work and the assistance of many city officials that the Catholic Seamens' Club was able to move to its current location at 2330 First Avenue at First Avenue and Battery Street, opening on December 3, 1956.  

Our building has had a rich history as well, having been a film exchange center for Paramount studios, as were many buildings in the immediate Belltown neighborhood, before being set aside for seafarer ministry. This new location was convenient to both seafarers working on nearby docks along the waterfront and also to the many union halls around the neighborhood.   

During this time, the Club's focus was on serving American seafarers, who would find a warm welcome from both an "Auxiliary", a 90 member volunteer group of married ladies, and the "Stella Maris League", a group of younger, unmarried women who served as hostesses for the visiting men.  

Fr. Murphy was famous for what some called "benevolent shakedowns", which would happen at the Club's monthly Labor/Management luncheons, held then on the third Thursday of each month.  The support of area labor unions for the Club helped it to survive many changes.  We still host these same luncheons today, and funds raised through these luncheons are still a significant source of income.

The Ministry Expands
Several people succeeded Fr. Murphy, whose tenure at the club ended in 1970, including Fr. Frank Jansen and Fr. Ciaran Dillion.  Fr. Andrew Horgan took the reins during most of the 1980s, and offered a vision of the Club as a place of service to both American and foreign seafarers.  

A fact sheet written during Fr. Horgan's time refers to the Club as a place for seafarers to "identify with and further their contact with their fellow seafarers and develop a sense of belonging to the Community through their association at the Club."  One could say that it was under Fr. Horgan's leadership that the identity of the club as a social service agency focused on seafarers' welfare began to solidify, and that the Club began to change to meet new needs of seafarers.

Besides meeting the needs of visiting sailors, the Club also understood its mission to be one that ministered to the needs of retired seafarers, giving them a safe place for recreation and relaxation.  Seafarers in need of social services were counselled and referred to area agencies, and the Club served as a good waiting spot for seafarers waiting on job calls at local union halls.

As before, a lunch counter served nutritious meals to visiting seafarers, but the Club also provided a mailing address for those away at sea, a bank of telephones for making calls to loved ones far away, space for Maritime AA meetings, and video games.  

Fr. Horgan's philosophy was that the Club should "provide for the well being of the whole person, spiritually, socially and physically and thus not only tries to correct problems that some may have, but to help prevent them by providing a good healthy, friendly environment."  

The ministry of Fr. Tony
In 1992, Fr. Tony Haycock was appointed as Port Chaplain.  With language skills in English, Spanish, German, and Afrikaans, Fr. Tony is able to board ships to chat with seafarers, determine their needs, and remind them of the welcome they receive when they visit the Center.  

Fr. Tony built on the work of previous Chaplains by maintaining ties with area labor unions and maritime industry leaders, while providing pastoral services to international seafarers on cargo ships and American seafarers in the Alaskan fishing fleet.

While we maintain and honor traditions of the past that so many have worked hard to build, Fr. Tony reminded us that our mission is to serve seafarers on ships that visit the Port of Seattle - men (almost all are male) from the poorest countries of the world who work in substandard and dangerous conditions, a difficult situation complicated by current economic realities.

With this understanding, in the summer of 2015 the Catholic Seafarers’ Center of Seattle moved from its long-time home at 2330 1st Avenue, in Belltown, to a new location closer to the container port.  The Center had occupied the same building since the 1950’s, when the north end of the waterfront was a busy maritime industry neighborhood and home to most of Seattle’s maritime union halls.  Over time, changes to the industry have moved shipping activity away from Belltown, making the 1st Avenue location impractical.  In the new location, the Catholic ministry is co-located with the Lutheran and Episcopal seafarers’ ministries at the ecumenical Seattle Seafarers’ Center, and the Catholic organization will conduct its separate activities under the name Catholic Seafarers’ Ministry of Seattle.  The new address is:

Catholic Seafarers' Ministry

3568 W Marginal Way SW

Seattle, WA 98106

The new office email is csm@seattlearch.org .

The phone (206 441 4773) remains unchanged.