Tom and Brenda Goracke visited every parish in the Archdiocese of Portland. “Every community, every church, no matter how big, how small, how rural — they were all very unique and very worthwhile," Brenda said.
Tom and Brenda Goracke visited every parish in the Archdiocese of Portland. “Every community, every church, no matter how big, how small, how rural — they were all very unique and very worthwhile," Brenda said.

MONROE — Tom Goracke had attended the same small town parish his entire life — more than 50 years. He and his wife Brenda were married there. Their children were baptized there and confirmed there. But time came when he started to question what it meant to be Catholic. And that was the catalyst for what eventually became a pilgrimage for the couple to visit every parish in the archdiocese.

Tom and Brenda, now parishioners at St. Mary Parish in Corvallis, started off just checking out a neighboring parish in Lebanon and then another and soon decided they wanted to visit them all. They had a checklist and a bulletin board. They didn’t tell any church officials they were doing it, they just went. At each parish, they were strangers. They would take a photo in front of every parish sign and would take a bulletin to keep for their records.

It took the couple four years to attend the more than 120 parishes and missions in the archdiocese. They completed the pilgrimage with Holy Family Mission in Glendale about three years ago.

“At first going from one to the next didn’t seem right,” said Brenda. “It seemed like it was just a checklist. It just didn’t sound right. But after we did that, we noticed the diversity among churches, the diversity among people.”

Of course, Tom and Brenda couldn’t go every weekend. Some weekends were dedicated to family commitments, but they had made a commitment to themselves to visit every parish. Some churches with infrequent Masses required extensive planning. Other times, multiple Masses could be attended in a weekend. They generally went to at least one Mass a weekend and once went to four. The diversity in parish communities was apparent.

“Every community, every church, no matter how big, how small, how rural — they were all very unique and very worthwhile. And communities were just wonderful,” adds Brenda.

The couple were welcomed and even occasionally asked to carry up the gifts during Mass.

“At the end, we were very proud to be Catholic,” says Tom.

Neither realized what they were doing was special.

“Somebody else has done this, surely,” they thought. But after talking to a few people at the end of their pilgrimage, they realized that very few people actually have.

“It came off as a very moving experience for us,” says Tom.

Not only did they witness the diversity between parishes and people, but they also saw the diverse needs of parishioners in different parishes and how the communities responded to them.

Like few Catholics, they have a sense of what goes on across the Catholic Church of Western Oregon. The experience has helped them see how worthy the archdiocese is of support, and they will remember it in their estate planning.

The couple encourage those who have questions about being Catholic to visit neighboring parishes.

Tom and Brenda were able to witness something special — the ability to be strangers in a community and the ability for communities to welcome strangers. They received the greatest kindness and welcoming spirit, says Tom. And they think about that experience every day.