Archbishop Alexander Sample met with members of Our Lady of La Vang Parish in Northeast Portland last month, sharing his belief that the parish would do well to move to a location near I-205 and Sunnyside Road. Parishioners agreed. (Kristen Hannum/Catholic Sentinel)
Archbishop Alexander Sample met with members of Our Lady of La Vang Parish in Northeast Portland last month, sharing his belief that the parish would do well to move to a location near I-205 and Sunnyside Road. Parishioners agreed. (Kristen Hannum/Catholic Sentinel)
The question-and-answer period at Our Lady of La Vang Church in Northeast Portland earlier this month was meant to be a time when members of the Vietnamese Catholic community could air concerns about a possible move to a larger church, one that could accommodate their numbers.

Instead, the first parishioner to speak pledged $10,000 toward the price of the new church, specifically New Hope Church in Happy Valley, eliciting cheers from the assembly. When the next person to talk, Thao Ho, pledged $50,000, the cheers became a roar of approval.

Extraordinarily, Ho is Buddhist. “But I am married to a Catholic, and I volunteer at the church,” she explained later. Ho teaches the Vietnamese language to the parish’s children, and she said that the classrooms at the Our Lady of La Vang campus were small and cold in the winter.

Archbishop Alexander Sample had come to Our Lady of La Vang Aug. 3 to discuss the logistics of the purchase of a new property with the community. He had previously sent a letter to parishioners that outlined the reasons for a move.

Both in his letter and at the meeting, Archbishop Sample noted that the parish’s vitality and growth were why they should buy New Hope. “You’re land-locked here,” he said at the meeting.

By the numbers, his letter noted that New Hope, just off I-205 near Kaiser Sunnyside, has:

• 123,866 square feet of usable space compared to Our Lady of La Vang’s 60,000,

• 11.3 acres versus 3.3 acres,

• 2,270 seats in the main sanctuary versus 575 seats,

• 934 parking spaces versus 154.

Those parking spaces, he said, were critical. Father Ansgar Pham, Our Lady of La Vang’s pastor, is sometimes the target of ire from neighbors because of parishioners parking on the streets.

New Hope, about nine miles south of the current Our Lady of La Vang Church, also has 25 large classrooms, 20 offices, 12 large bathrooms, a commercial-grade kitchen and cafeteria and a church hall that can hold 1,100 people. Not to mention a basketball court.

Left unclear at the meeting was the cost of the purchase, which was still being negotiated. It would, however, be less than the other two properties that the parish had considered: the K-Mart building at Northeast 123rd Avenue and Sandy Boulevard, which could have come to as much as $38 million, and the empty lot at Northeast 82nd Avenue and Siskiyou Street, a former landfill that would have cost about $31 million and has environmental risks.

“I cannot reveal the price,” Archbishop Sample told the crowd. “But I must say, my dear people, that as I learn more about the New Hope property, the more I see that this is a gift God has delivered. It meets all your needs. … I have personally visited the facility and could not help feeling this was the perfect home for Our Lady of La Vang.”

A slideshow projected on the lemony yellow walls of the current sanctuary showed New Hope’s parking lot, kitchen, floor plan and sanctuary. The image of the sanctuary brought gasps of pleasure from the people.

“I’m confident that this space can be made sacred according to Catholic tradition,” Archbishop Sample said.

One man did question the move during the question-and-answer period, all of which was conducted in Vietnamese with a parishioner sitting next to the archbishop quietly translating for him. Archbishop Sample was one of just a handful present who spoke no Vietnamese.

The worried questioner hoped the community could retain the current church, perhaps for daily Masses, for all the elderly Vietnamese Catholics who live nearby. Father Pham gently but firmly told the man that would not be feasible, but that transportation options to the new location could be explored.

The current church was dedicated in 1999. At that time, then-pastor Father Vincent Minh estimated there were 5,000 to 7,000 Vietnamese Catholics in the metro area. Before the church was built, the Vietnamese Mass was celebrated in the Holy Child Academy gymnasium. Today, eight Sunday Masses are needed to seat all the parish’s faithful.

For their next move, the parish plans to borrow from the Parish Funds Trust, a legal entity that the Archdiocese of Portland formed in 2009. It offers bridge loans — money that allows parishes like Our Lady of La Vang to make a purchase or improvement before all its pledged donations have come in.

By the end of the meeting at Our Lady of La Vang, the mood was ebullient. Thanh Tong, a spokesman for the youth group, pledged $5,000 from his crew, a promise that brought the archbishop out of his seat to shake the young man’s hand.

Archbishop Sample told the crowd that he was excited to see their enthusiasm, in part because they would need it over the coming years as they repay the loan. “It seems like the parish is ready to move ahead,” the archbishop said, thanking those who had already stepped forward with large gifts and all those who would donate funds both large and small. “This is your parish community, coming together for the future — for your children and grandchildren. … So do you want to do this?”

The people cheered.

The meeting ended with parishioners singing the Hail Mary prayer in Vietnamese, a blessing from the archbishop and a tumult of laughter and conversation as people made their way to their cars, many of them parked on the streets.