The Sentinel dispatch on the 1915 bazaar at St. Anthony Parish in Forest Grove (Sentinel archives)
The Sentinel dispatch on the 1915 bazaar at St. Anthony Parish in Forest Grove (Sentinel archives)
An early instance of a western Oregon parish Christmas bazaar comes in November 1877. Father Louis Verhaag, pastor of St. Francis Parish on Portland’s east side, returned by steamer from San Francisco laden with items to sell for the benefit of the parish. The Sentinel reported: “The ladies of East Portland will doubtless devote their best energies for success in the undertaking.”

Across the Willamette on Dec. 3, 1878, the women of St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Portland held a bazaar, their cause being construction of a new cathedral.

The women raised almost $5,600 by selling chances on a long list of donated items including napkin rings, shawls, rugs, vases, a sewing machine and a bowl of goldfish. The Sentinel printed the names of every prizewinner. Father Bertram Orth, who would later become archbishop of Vancouver Island, won a box of handkerchiefs. He may have been teased by his friend Father J.F. Fierens, who scored a gold watch and chain with his ticket.

In late 19th- and early 20th-century Oregon, parish bazaars became annual fall traditions, often including dinners and card parties.

In 1883, St. Lawrence Parish in Southwest Portland held a November bazaar with entertainment, refreshments and a hot lunch. Admission was 25 cents. The venue was a set of rooms at First and Salmon just above the offices of the Daily News.

In early December 1904, the ladies of St. Lawrence were still organizing what they called a “fancy sale” and bazaar.

“The sale was a successful one, in fact the most successful so far held,” the Sentinel reported. “Great credit is due the earnest, energetic workers who participated in it, and by their untiring and honest efforts

achieved such handsome results.”

The benefits were not so luxurious in fall 1915 when the ladies of St. Anthony in Forest Grove held a bazaar to support their parish, which was only eight years old at the time. The Sentinel correspondent, likely one of the organizers, proclaimed the dinner excellent, but lamented that attendance was not up to average.

“There were, as usual, circumstances which militated against us, such as the weather, which prevented many out-of-town people from

coming, and various other attractions which were scheduled for that night,” she wrote.

A 1917 bazaar at St. Joseph in Salem saw many women pitch in to make $100 for the church. Misses Susie Sparrow and Gertrude Hartmann wowed the crowd with their “dainty sweets.” One guest was Lt. Frank Davey, who was to leave for training in San Francisco before shipping overseas to war.

In fall 1929, just days before the stock market crashed, the women of Our Lady of Sorrows in Southeast Portland offered a bazaar dinner “which will of course be up to the fine standard, in quality, quantity and service” of Our Lady of Sorrows parish dinners of the past. The bazaar’s last evening included cards and dancing.

The same weekend, St. John the Baptist in Milwaukie promised “the greatest bazaar in the history of the parish,” with a 50-cent chicken dinner and prizes for the oldest couple, the largest family and the participant who traveled the farthest to attend.

By the middle of the 20th century, the events trended away from raffles and gaming to showcases for artisans. Knitting, crocheting and quilting became the order of the day. These crafty bazaars had their origins in earlier events held by women religious.

In 1872, the Sisters of Providence, who had just started a Portland hospital, held an Advent bazaar of handmade items to raise money for the care of orphans. An 1877 Sentinel reported on the Sisters of the Holy Names sewing busily for a bazaar to be held at the Oregon State Fair and benefiting the sisters’ various schools. The Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon long held a Christmas bazaar at their impressive motherhouse in Beaverton.

At some parishes, like Visitation in Verboort and St. Francis in Roy, the bazaar meals grew bigger, sometimes overshadowing the sales. In 1956, Immaculate Conception in Stayton served a large turkey and ham dinner for $1.25 apiece, 75 cents for children. The fare was spaghetti at St. Rose of Lima in Northeast Portland.

In October 1975, Holy Trinity in Beaverton held a “Country Square Bazaar” highlighting a quilt the altar society women had crafted.

By the 1990s, the Sentinel listed upward of 40 parish bazaars each fall. In recent decades, the number of bazaars has waned. As altar societies close and younger women embrace full-time careers, there is less volunteer power.