Fr. William Holtzinger, pastor of St. Anne Parish in Grants Pass, gives a thumbs up after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. (Courtesy Fr. Holtzinger)
Fr. William Holtzinger, pastor of St. Anne Parish in Grants Pass, gives a thumbs up after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. (Courtesy Fr. Holtzinger)
In 2021, the most-read Catholic Sentinel stories included strife over vaccines and anguish after fatal tragedy. Also read and clicked often were articles on a cathedral break-in and vandalism at churches.

On the positive side, readers responded vigorously to ordination stories, were fascinated by priest reassignments, closely followed the tale of a parish that kept at its mission during the pandemic and rejoiced at the solemn profession of five Benedictine monks.

Some articles did not get quite as many hits, but are important nonetheless. Chief among those is the new spiritual movement underway in the Archdiocese of Portland to share the faith more boldly and work together with more candor and care.


In ascending order of most readership:

10. “Priests and depression”

Two Portland priests got real in August and discussed mental health challenges they and many of their peers have faced, especially during the pandemic.

9. “Archbishop joins nation’s bishops in praying for President Biden”

Archbishop Alexander Sample asked western Oregon Catholics to pray for newly elected President Joe Biden and in so doing offered a challenge, asking that the president follow Gospel mandates to care for the vulnerable, including the unborn.

8.“Portland parish intends to pray, keep watch in anticipation of possible Columbus Day vandalism”

After being hit by vandals over the summer, Holy Redeemer Parish in North Portland received a warning from the FBI that more attacks could come. The parish decided to set out coffee and doughnuts and hold an overnight vigil. All was calm.

7. “Break-in at the Portland cathedral”

In the wee hours of Ash Wednesday in February, a mentally unwell man entered the cathedral and rectory and began shouting. Police arrived quickly and took care of the man, who had thrown items out a broken window and was reportedly holding a box cutter.

6. “Central Catholic student dies in accident at Sandy River”

Christopher Kelly, a 14-year-old freshman at Central Catholic High School, died in November when a tree branch fell on him. He’d been doing Christian service with Friends of Trees as part of his school’s program.

5. “COVID-19 sweeps through retreat house”

In February, a COVID-19 outbreak hit Our Lady of Peace, the main Catholic retreat center in the Portland area. A dozen Franciscan Missionary Sisters tested positive and 100-year-old Sister Mary Cecilia Lee, 100, was hospitalized and would die in March.

4. Obituary of Franciscan Fr. Ben Innes

This friar with a sense of humor seems to have touched many lives during his short time in Oregon. One commentor said: “God broke the mold when he made Fr. Ben. Priest, teacher, comedian, friend.”

3. “Woman lost in landslide”

Jennifer Camus Moore, a member of St. Henry Parish in Gresham, was buried by a landslide in January while driving through the Columbia River Gorge. Her husband was on the phone with her when the wall of mud, stone and trees hit.

2. “2021 priest assignments announced”

It’s a June rite. Fifteen clergy were reassigned this year, as announced in a story that is an annual favorite.

1. “COVID-19 vaccine myths”

The most-read story came in May, a simple list of misconceptions and lies about the COVID-19 vaccines followed by science and truth. Clearly, shots are on the minds of Sentinel readers. The arrival of vaccines allowed worship and ministry to resume at close to normal levels, perhaps the biggest story of the year.

Facebook engagement

In ascending order, here are stories that received most post engagement during 2021 on the Catholic Sentinel Facebook page:

10. “COVID sweeps through retreat house” — Feb. 4

9. Obituary of Franciscan Father Ben Innes — March 8

8. “Break-in at the Portland cathedral,” Feb. 17

7. “Archbishop pleads for unity” — Feb. 4

Amid arguments over politics and church life, Archbishop Alexander Sample called on all to take a deep breath and focus on the salvation Jesus brought.

6. “Faced with the pandemic, one Beaverton church kept experimenting with ways to stick to its mission” — June 21

Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton got creative with technology and arrangements during the pandemic and stuck with its mission to know Jesus, grow in that relationship and go forth as disciples.

5. “A multi-faith prayer service for the people of Myanmar” — April 19

Christians and Buddhists were among those who gathered on the lawn outside St. Joseph the Worker Church to pray for Myanmar, where a military coup left citizens desperate. Zomi Catholics led the event.

4. “Largest group in decades professes lifelong vows” — Oct. 23

Five young men profess solemn vows as monks of Mount Angel Abbey. “What you are about to do taking vows is not to your credit,” Abbot Jeremy Driscoll told them. “You are being saved by God. God makes the monk.”

3. “Catholics have come a long way” — Feb. 6

Some articles get readership because they make people angry. That was in part the case for what seemed to us a sensible opinion piece noting that having a Catholic elected president is something to appreciate.

2. “Scenes from the 2021 Portland ordination Mass” — June 27

An album of Bob Kerns’ photos from the priesthood ordination really resonated with a church hungry for good news. And it got that, with two interesting men now as priests.

1. “2021 priest reassignments announced” — June 7

Staff picks

Clicks online and in social media tend to favor the immediate, the fascinating and the macabre. Here are 10 stories and trends off the beaten path of the digital world but that Sentinel staff view as important for 2021:

10. Central Catholic dynasty

The Rams won the 6A title in 2019, led in a short spring season in early 2021 and then cruised to a championship win in fall 2021. In a Sentinel pre-season story, coach Steve Pyne said success came when he stopped worrying about winning and focused on life lessons instead.

9. New campus

Little De La Salle North Catholic has become almost everyone’s favorite high school since students there show so much grit. The new campus at St. Charles Parish opens a new era for the church and talented people on the peripheries.

8. Filipino power

It’s a lay-led community with women in charge who cooperate with church leaders while at the same time advancing a new church model that everyone can like.

7. Looking back before moving forward

The 175th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Portland led to pondering roots, celebrating growth and recognizing mistakes, for example with Indigenous peoples. That’s a good platform for moving into the future.

6. On unborn life

Portland’s primary abortion clinic shut down, but a new site downtown opened almost immediately. Catholics lead the prayerful and peaceful opposition, with added drama because of a possible weakening of Roe v. Wade. But even if that happens, little is likely to change in Oregon.

5. Domestic violence

Our series on domestic violence, which escalated during pandemic, gave voice to survivors and asked questions about how the church has hurt or helped the cause.

4. St. Joe is the man

The Year of St. Joseph revealed a depth of devotion and created new fans of the quiet and steady saint who is both a model to fathers and a “terror of demons.”

3. Homelessness woes

We’ve long known that high housing costs exacerbate homelessness in Oregon, but the pandemic, stress and cheap street drugs combined to make the problem mushroom, with camps on almost every public parcel in Portland. Catholic Charities has increased its housing development, and the archdiocese is part of an interfaith campaign to get local leaders working together instead of bickering.

2. A start to synodality

More to come on this idea, in which Pope Francis wants the parts of the church to listen to one another. There has been intense interest in some quarters about a development that could bring the biggest changes in the church for decades.

1. Renewal by the Spirit

Archbishop Alexander Sample wants a church that is alive and bold. During the pandemic, prayer brought him to trust more in the Holy Spirit, he said. As a result, he has brought in consultants to help him develop new leadership models, revived communication and more participative parish life. This could have effects for years, locally and beyond.