HILLSBORO — Crews have broken ground and built a handful of houses, the start of Oregon’s largest planned development. A new town with an estimated 20,000 residents gradually will emerge along Tualatin Valley Highway at Cornelius Pass Road. It’s being called South Hillsboro.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Aloha stands a mile from the development’s entrance and is planning for an increase in membership. Father Jeff Meeuwsen, the pastor, calculates that eventually about 1,000 new parishioners will come from South Hillsboro, adding to the 1,500 who already pack the church at weekend Masses.

The parish is in the midst of an expansion campaign, with the first phase being a new building for the parish office, conference rooms, a food pantry and a chapel. The current office is in a mobile home. A later phase will build a parish hall and increase seating for Mass.

One focus is expansion of the food pantry, since increased population likely will mean increased need, Father Meeuwsen said.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton at present is made up largely of low- and middle-income families with a large Hispanic population. Efforts to raise funds for construction are going slowly, with $600,000 needed for phase one.

“We could do better,” said Father Meeuwsen, who is extending the pledge drive. “I have faith it will work. The folks are joyful and they have been generous. We’ll keep moving forward.”

Being located in an unincorporated part of Washington County has its drawbacks for a parish, Father Meeuwsen said. For example, law forbids a sign on the nearby highway directing people to the church, a courtesy common in cities and towns. The priest may hire a billboard.

Builders will put up about 15 homes per month, doubling the pace in the years ahead. In all, South Hillsboro will have 8,000 houses. The new development is commuting distance from major tech employers like Intel.   

Also near South Hillsboro is Valley Catholic School, a campus with students in preschool through high school. Part of the development is being built on land that once was a farm owned by the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, who founded Valley Catholic.

John Matcovich, president of the school, called it difficult to predict how many South Hillsboro Catholic families would opt for Catholic school. But accommodating an increase in numbers is part of Valley Catholic’s future strategic plan. The school now is at full enrollment.

Developers have given Valley Catholic an advance look at South Hillsboro plans and have agreed to let the school share promotional information with new homeowners. “There is real cooperation,” Matcovich said.

The Archdiocese of Portland Department of Catholic Schools is shaping a strategic plan for all of western Oregon. Plan documents foresee the need for additional Catholic school capacity in Washington County.