Members of Our Lady of Perpetual help gather for a 125th anniversary fiesta on the parish grounds June 26. (Courtesy Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish)
Members of Our Lady of Perpetual help gather for a 125th anniversary fiesta on the parish grounds June 26. (Courtesy Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish)
COTTAGE GROVE — Even as Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish here is celebrating 125 years, local Catholics are praying and serving with the goal of realizing the Kingdom of God in the here and now.

In June, a Corpus Christi procession wound through the streets of town. A vacation Bible school included fun and learning for dozens of children. Picnics and a feast day anniversary fiesta bound the community more closely. A group of missionaries walked the streets serving people who are homeless.

It's all part of a faith that’s alive, built on the shoulders of past generations.

The first Catholic in the Cottage Grove area was Richard Robinson, who staked a claim three miles north of town in 1847. Later, priests traveled to the area to say Mass in people’s homes, including a large house offered for worship by a non-Catholic.

The railroad reached Cottage Grove in 1872, and within a decade the area was home to a dozen Catholic families visited by missionaries several times a year. Catholics from outlying areas traveled to town for sacraments.

The Catholic Sentinel of Sept. 26, 1895, reported, “There’s quite a demand for a church in Cottage Grove, and a number of liberal-minded, non-Catholics are willing to give a site for a church. They will also make sure of its being built as the few Catholics would not be able single-handedly to do it all.”

David McFarland donated land to build the church on the corner of H Street and Birch Avenue. The church was completed in 1897 at a cost of $1,500 and dedicated on Dec. 5 by Archbishop William Gross. The unique octagonal design is credited to Father James Black and is said to be patterned after a church in Germany. Local Catholics sacrificed to pay for stained glass windows.

Well-loved Eugene priest Father Daniel Patrick Curley served Cottage Grove Catholics 1910 – 1934. At the same time, Father Edwin O’Hara became pastor in Eugene and had a vision of formation in rural America that would later make him famous and a bishop. Cottage Grove became a real life laboratory for implementing his ideas on catechism and vacation Bible school.

By 1942, the congregation was large enough for the Archdiocese of Portland to establish Our Lady of Perpetual Help as a parish. Cottage Grove Catholics supported the war effort by sponsoring emergency clothing drives and gathered canned food to send to newly liberated countries in Europe and Asia. Catholic youth sent presents and wrote letters to encourage the Cottage Grove men and women fighting overseas.

In 1954, the parish opened a school and convent, welcoming 41 students that first autumn. Parishioners had helped with construction. The school lasted 15 years, and the building became a parish center that still hosts church and community events.

The congregation had outgrown its octagonal church and in 1961 built the new 400-seat church for $60,000. The old church became the town museum.

In 1974, the bereaved grandfather of a young man killed in an accident on Interstate 5 donated money to erect a cross that rises 58 feet from the ground atop the new church.

Many Hispanic families settled in Cottage Grove and Creswell. Father James Dowd learned Spanish to better serve them.

In 1993, arson partly destroyed the parish center, but parishioners rebuilt. The new center was large enough to host fundraising dinners for local groups.

This year on June 26, church members celebrated their parish’s 125th anniversary with a special Mass to honor their patroness. Following the service was a fiesta that featured food and games for all ages.

The current pastor, Father John Boyle, was appointed in 2018. Reflecting on the church’s 125 years of existence, he told the Cottage Grove Sentinel that it’s a time of new beginnings for local Catholics.

“The world was very different when the parish was created,” Father Boyle said. “We are embracing a new world of immigrants from Latin America who have joined the church and enriched us. We anticipate an exciting time ahead.”

Sources: Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Cottage Grove Historical Society and the Cottage Grove Sentinel.