Pro-life supporters gather in Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland in 2016. (José Ortíz-Valadares/Catholic Sentine)
Pro-life supporters gather in Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland in 2016. (José Ortíz-Valadares/Catholic Sentine)
For the Catholic Church of western Oregon, it’s been a decade in which faith and secular culture alternately clashed and engaged. The church addressed new urgencies like immigration and climate change while offering society the truth and beauty of ancient teaching and liturgy. Here are what the Catholic Sentinel judged as the most important local stories and trends of the last decade.

20. RISE OF SMALLER RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES

The St. John Society, founded in Argentina, serves at Oregon State University and Portland State University. The members rose in influence this decade with their focus on engaging young people and evangelizing. One priest memorably debated an atheist on stage at Oregon State.

The Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, a Mexican-founded congregation that established headquarters in Roy, have had a similar rise among young Spanish-speaking Catholics.

The increase among new religious communities was offset in Southeast Portland by the departure of older communities such as the Franciscans from Ascension Parish in 2014 and the Paulists from St. Philip Neri Parish in 2016.

19. HUMAN TRAFFICKING AWARENESS INCREASES

In 2010, St. Henry Parish in Gresham hosted a session on human trafficking, one of a number of such discussions in the region. Our Mother’s House ministry rose up at the Downtown Chapel, offering hospitality to women who had found themselves in prostitution. A devotion grew to St. Josephine Bakhita, a former slave, as an Oregon man named Brian Willis carried her cause to the Vatican to make her patroness of those who are trafficked. His effort succeeded. Pope Francis speaks often about the issue.

18. NEW CHURCHES BUILT AFTER BEING STYMIED

First it was the 2004 bankruptcy and then in 2008 came the Great Recession. But in the past 10 years, impediments lifted and new churches or major additions went up in Seaside, Grants Pass, Central Point, Keizer, Cornelius, and St. Juan Diego and St. Joseph the Worker in Portland.

17. MORE PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF FAITH

In 2012, a youth pilgrimage sent teens carrying a massive wooden cross across Portland from The Grotto to St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. That was just the start, as various faith marches took place from Corvallis to Portland and to holy sites like Mount Angel and the Brigittine Priory in Amity.

In 2017, hundreds of people walked from Holy Rosary Church across the river to the cathedral in honor of Our Lady of Fatima.

The biggest procession came on the feast of Corpus Christi in 2018, when an estimated 1,000 people marched from the cathedral to the Park Blocks and prayed the rosary for the world to see. Diners at sidewalk cafes watched, mouths agape. The event was repeated in 2019.

16. ROSEBURG SHOOTING

A gunman shot nine people at Umpqua Community College in 2015, including a young member of St. Joseph Parish in Roseburg. The mass shooting issue has continued to resonate, with a walkout of local Catholic school students in 2019 to call for additional gun laws.

15. YEAR OF MERCY

At the urging of Pope Francis, the whole of 2016 was devoted to mercy. Western Oregon parishes offered 24 hours straight of prayer and service and many Catholics were moved to lifelong changes.

In what was typical, St. John Fisher Parish in Southwest Portland began the observance with a simple soup supper followed by quiet reflection. Youths performed the Stations of the Cross. Parishioners stayed in adoration of the Eucharist until 7 a.m. Saturday, when there was Mass, rosary and a breakfast. Then parishioners gathered clothing donations and prepared casseroles to deliver to homeless people in downtown Portland.

Lines for confessionals lasted for more than three hours during a spring Year of Mercy event at The Grotto in Portland.

14. FIGHT AGAINST DEATH PENALTY PICKS UP

Ron Steiner moved to Salem after successfully helping abolish the death penalty in New Mexico. He relied on fellow Catholics to help work toward the same outcome in Oregon. St. Joseph Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking,” visited the state several times.

Bills in the Oregon Legislature sought to limit the practice and Gov. John Kitzhaber imposed a moratorium in 2011. Paul De Muniz, a Catholic Oregon Supreme Court judge, spoke out against executions. By 2019, the state Legislature passed legislation narrowing the situations in which the death penalty could apply.

13. PASTORAL LETTER ON FAMILY LIFE

In fall 2016, Archbishop Alexander Sample wrote a pastoral letter on family life. He was responding to media missteps in reporting on the teaching of Pope Francis. Some outlets, for example, claimed that divorced and remarried Catholics could be welcomed to Communion without an annulment. The archbishop, admiring families as a “true and living icon” of divine life, wrote that conscience cannot legitimize actions that counter divine commandments. The archbishop also rejected the notion that under certain conditions there can be exceptions to absolute divine prohibitions.

He taught that human frailty does not exempt people from divine commands on the inviolability of marriage.

12. ABUSE A BIGGER STORY ELSEWHERE

Because the Archdiocese of Portland went through its own abuse revelations and bankruptcy starting in 2004, the pain of clergy sex abuse was less keen here than in other parts of the country. Oregon’s Jesuits did deal with accusations and paid out $166 million in settlements in 2011.

One tragic problem was the case of Father Ysrael Bien at St. Francis Parish in Sherwood who apparently used gear to spy on people in a parish bathroom. Also, a Holy Cross Brother who briefly was president of the University of Portland was named in the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report.

“I get angry when people say these instances are in the past and when they ask, ‘Why are they bringing these things up now?’” Archbishop Sample said at a Mass of penance and healing in summer 2018. He had been meeting with abuse survivors. “No one can know the pain and the burden that these precious children of God carry every day.”

At the end of 2018, the archbishop met with about 50 young Catholics in Mount Angel and fielded their questions about abuse. “I will do everything in my power to protect children and young people and hold accountable those who would dare harm the innocent,” he said.

11. THE CHURCH JOINS SOCIAL MEDIA

The Catholic Sentinel joined Facebook and Twitter in 2013, followed soon after by the Archdiocese of Portland. “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use social media,” said Father William Holtzinger in 2017. Pastor of St. Anne Parish in Grants Pass, he was ahead of the curve in social media especially in his efforts to reach youths. Now, most parishes have social media accounts. The Sentinel makes multiple posts daily, including video. The archdiocese has a lively presence, with many videos. It’s a communications revolution.



10. RISING HOME PRICES


Like everyone else in western Oregon, Catholics dealt with soaring housing costs this decade. In 2011, the Sentinel reported on the rise of homeless people living in vehicles in Oregon. “With the poor labor market and low wages and, ironically, increasing rent costs, people are being squeezed out of housing,” said Terry McDonald, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County.

Meanwhile, parishes like St. Henry in Gresham and Holy Cross in North Portland started providing for homeless families. A Catholic Worker house in Eugene offered meals and friendship for those who could not afford a house. St. Anthony Parish in Tigard opened a severe weather shelter.

Catholic Charities launched a tiny house program in North Portland for homeless women and in 2017 developed the 106-unit St. Francis Park Apartments, a Southeast Portland haven of affordable rent.

9. CATHOLIC SCHOOLS HOLD THE LINE

In parts of the country, Catholic schools are closing down. Though Star of the Sea School in Astoria, St. Mary School in Albany and Marylhurst University in Lake Oswego closed during the decade, enrollment rose a bit in western Oregon. Jesuit High, Valley Catholic, Central Catholic, La Salle and Visitation in Verboort put up new buildings. De La Salle North Catholic has found a new home at St. Charles Parish in Northeast Portland. Classes there are to start in fall 2021.

Technology surged in schools across the archdiocese, with tablets and laptops going from rare to required during the decade. Students became digital natives.

As the decade came to a close, committees serving the Archdiocese of Portland crafted a strategic plan for Catholic education. The hope is to reach out to Catholic families who don’t use Catholic schools, put schools where the population is highest and seek to make education affordable for all.

Also, Catholic schools began to welcome students with disabilities. As early as 2011, St. Agatha School in Southeast Portland started a center for learning support. In 2012, Central Catholic and La Salle began programs to welcome students with learning disabilities. “It used to be, ‘We can’t serve that child.’ Now we are finding ways to do it,” Debbi Monahan, principal of St. Clare School in Southwest Portland, said in 2016.

8. PRO-LIFE MOVEMENT GAINS STEAM

Planned Parenthood opened a large new clinic in 2010 in Northeast Portland, energizing the local pro-life movement. The annual pro-life rally moved from Salem to Portland, drawing as many as 3,000 to Pioneer Courthouse Square. Many of the demonstrators were teens and young adults, reflecting a national trend in which young people are turning away from the abortion rights movement. “Abortion basically is murder,” 14-year-old Chloe Lisicak, a Central Catholic High School student, said during the rally in 2010.

“We are the generation that has lost millions,” said Jennifer Friend, a 26-year-old teacher who attended the 2013 rally in Portland. Archbishop John Vlazny told the crowd that the principles of human rights and the discoveries of science have brought more and more young people into the pro-life movement.

But pro-lifers were frustrated at the Oregon ballot box and state Legislature this decade. In 2012, a petition circulated to end public funding for abortion in Oregon. The idea would return and fail annually, until it reached the Oregon ballot in 2018 but was defeated by a 2 to 1 margin. Also in 2018, lawmakers approved a bill that requires health insurers to cover abortion on demand for anyone. It adds up to the most permissive abortion law in the nation.

7. CLIMATE CHANGE

Oregon has long been a leader in environmental consciousness, and the Catholic Church here is no exception. In 2010, the University of Portland hosted a summit on water — its care and conservation. That same year, the school would be among the first in the nation to ban single-use water bottles in an effort to reduce plastic waste.

In 2015, U.P. hosted the annual Earth Care Summit, at which 350 people came for a day of prayer and learning about caring for God’s creation. “This is not just about polar bears. It’s about people in poverty,” said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Climate Covenant.

In 2014, Jesuit High School in Portland won U.S. Department of Education recognition for reducing environmental impact and educating students on sustainability. In 2015, the state honored Jesuit for its environmental work. That same year, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales met Pope Francis to discuss climate change. The pope’s encyclical on the earth and humanity was issued soon after.

Also in 2015, the archdiocese hosted the Social Action Summer Institute, which brought Catholic leaders from around the nation to discuss climate justice. That same year, St. Philip Neri Church in Portland hosted an anti-coal rally.

In 2017, two Oregon Catholics — Gary Battles and Kirsten Meneghello — had lead roles in the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which seeks to lobby Congress on climate change.

In 2019, Catholic students were prominent in school walkouts calling for action on climate.

6. NEW AUXILIARY BISHOP

He’d been appointed vicar general of the archdiocese in spring 2013 and then Father Peter Smith was named an auxiliary bishop in 2014. “I didn’t get here on my own,” Bishop Smith told the congregation at his installation. “I got here because of all of you and many more besides.” A key leader in many areas at the pastoral center, he also is an international liaison with charismatic Catholics.

5. GROWTH OF THE HISPANIC COMMUNITY

At a meeting of the Encuentro movement in Salem in early 2018, Archbishop Sample said that 50% of Catholics in western Oregon are Spanish-speakers. He then listened to delegates, pledged his support, and watched as many promised to become missionary disciples.

As early as 2012, a workshop revealed that parishes in the archdiocese were moving from single cultures to what the U.S. bishops called “shared.”

A mission opened in 2014 to serve Hispanics in east Salem, one of many areas where the growth in the Catholic population was primarily among Hispanics. Across the archdiocese, many confirmation classes were made up chiefly of Hispanic youths.

4. EVANGELIZATION

In the summer of 2015, about 70 members of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Portland came to the Lloyd Center shopping mall not to find deals but to be plain dealers. Before mall security shut down the project, the Catholic crew made the rounds letting shoppers know that God loves them. It was one of many acts of evangelization over the decade.

Evangelization — bringing others to Christ — has been a priority since the turn of the millennium at least. Now, the idea is getting new life.

“In this archdiocese moving forward from here, we are going to be all about evangelization,” Archbishop Sample said in November 2019. He offered a set of concrete action items for parishes, including teaching by showing Jesus, not just talking about him, and praying so deeply and often that people “fall head over heels in love with Jesus Christ.”

3. WELCOMING TRADITIONAL FORMS OF WORSHIP

The pontificate of Benedict XVI and the arrival of Archbishop Sample made western Oregon a place where the extraordinary form of Mass, chant and sacred polyphony got a warm official welcome. A handful of parishes began offering Mass as it existed before the Second Vatican Council as one option. Most of the Masses the archbishop celebrates are the ordinary form, but he notes that many young people are drawn to the dignity and reverence of the extraordinary form, the Mass as it existed from the Renaissance to the 1960s. An annual conference on sacred liturgy began in western Oregon in 2014 to promote chant and the extraordinary form.

In 2018, the archbishop issued the Archdiocese of Portland Liturgical Handbook. Full of theological reflection, the book does not demand the extraordinary form but does seek dignity.

“The archbishop is seeking an elevated sacred liturgy that brings our minds into a higher realm,” said Msgr. Gerard O’Connor, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Worship. Msgr. O’Connor said the handbook is based largely on the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, whose leaders never envisioned the death of the traditional rites.

At the start of 2019 Archbishop Sample released a pastoral letter on sacred music for Mass, seeking to highlight sanctity, beauty and universality. “Only music which possesses all three of these qualities is worthy of Holy Mass,” Archbishop Sample wrote, explaining that ancient or modern music can qualify but that Gregorian chant is the preferred music for Roman Catholic worship.

2. IMMIGRATION

The ever-present American question — Who’s in? — rose to the fore in the local church in the past decade. Catholic Charities was welcoming refugees in 2010 and the nation and state were debating immigration reform. The bishops, including Archbishop John Vlazny, insisted that immigrant families should remain united.

Archbishop Sample spoke forcefully at a rally in support of driver’s licenses for immigrants in 2014 and visited a migrant labor camp in 2015. Parishes like St. Ignatius in Southeast Portland and Holy Cross in North Portland welcomed refugees from Africa. Meanwhile, the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in Beaverton began using part of their old school to teach English to new migrants.

One of the most dramatic moments came on Jan. 29, 2017, at St. Peter Parish in Southeast Portland. Eight men dressed as hunters interrupted Mass, haranguing the congregation for being made up of immigrants. The following Sunday, more than 300 people of all faiths formed a human shield in front of the church during Masses. “I didn’t expect this outpouring of love for us,” said Father Raúl Marquez.

In 2018, as federal spending cuts meant fewer refugees were coming to Oregon, Catholic Charities focused on helping refugees who are already here.

In the summer of 2018, an active volunteer at St. John the Baptist Parish in Milwaukie was detained by immigration officers, and in spring 2019, a well-known Northeast Portland Catholic married couple moved to Canada because attorneys could not find a clear path to resolve the pair’s immigration status.

In the archdiocese’s Vocations Office, staff worked to help immigrant seminarians get their papers in order. It turns out God does not care about immigration status when issuing the call to priesthood.

1. ARCHBISHOP ALEXANDER SAMPLE ARRIVES

He came in January 2013 and his first words were, “Praised be Jesus Christ,” a sign of his unabashed faith and piety, something that caught Oregon secular media off guard. “It is my prayer and hope that together we can gaze on the face of Jesus Christ and show forth his light to the generations of the new millennium,” he told nonplussed reporters.

At his installation in spring 2013, held at the University of Portland sports dome, the new archbishop was in more Catholic company — about 3,000 faithful. “We need a new Pentecost, a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit to set our hearts on fire for proclaiming Jesus Christ,” he said. “We must move beyond the days of doubting and questioning our Catholic faith. How will we ever convince the world of Jesus Christ if we ourselves are not convinced?”

The archbishop made a plea for unity among Catholics in western Oregon during a series of regional welcome Masses, a theme he would continue until the present. That — and teachings on sacred liturgy, family life and the dignity of the human person — would add up to the most influential event of the decade for the local church.

At an assembly of parish leaders in 2016, Archbishop Sample announced his pastoral priorities: catechesis and faith formation, divine worship, young adult ministry, vocations, marriage and family life, and works of mercy.

The archbishop’s personal care for his mother, Joyce, who died in 2017, and his frequent but quiet visits to homeless sites and prisons are seen by many as potent Christian examples.