The sanctuary was painstakingly remodeled from what had been a setting for a lively Protestant megachurch, with, at times, rock music playing for the crowds, to a space appropriate for Catholic worship, including stations of the cross. (Courtesy Thi Pham)
The sanctuary was painstakingly remodeled from what had been a setting for a lively Protestant megachurch, with, at times, rock music playing for the crowds, to a space appropriate for Catholic worship, including stations of the cross. (Courtesy Thi Pham)

HAPPY VALLEY — Archbishop Alexander Sample joined the people of Our Lady of La Vang Parish to celebrate the first Mass in their new suburban home, the former New Hope Church, Sunday, Sept. 13.

“Wow,” he said, clearly pleased by the parish’s accomplishment and sharing his joy and admiration. “From the beginning of this whole process the hand of God has been on this parish family,” he said.

Their new, $13.25 million campus has:

• 123,866 square feet of usable space (versus 60,000 at their former location)

• 11.3 acres (versus 3.3 acres)

• 2,170 seats in the main sanctuary (versus 575)

• 934 parking spaces (versus 154)

This first Mass, in normal times, would have been the dedication Mass[KS1] . Because of the pandemic, however, worshippers in the immense sanctuary and the parish hall were scattered, socially distanced and masked. Hundreds more watched from home as the Mass was livestreamed from the parish website.

“You here represent the rest of your parish family,” the archbishop said, noting that “these are unusual times.”

In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, smoke from Oregon’s massive wildfires shrouded the church’s exterior. Just a couple thousand feet away at Clackamas Town Center, refugees from the fires packed the mall’s parking lot.

The Vietnamese Catholic community had outgrown its previous sanctuary near St. Rose Church in Northeast Portland. Neighbors complained as Our Lady of La Vang parishioners parked their cars on the street. The parish’s classrooms, used both for catechism and teaching the Vietnamese language to the families’ American offspring, were crowded and uncomfortable.

“The capacity was too small,” said Father Ansgar Pham, pastor, who recalled how parishioners would have trouble finding parking and then would have to stand for Mass.

The first properties that came up for consideration were as much as $38 million, unfeasibly expensive.

“With the help of the archdiocese, we found this place,” the priest said. “This is a matter of providence.”

After the New Hope property was located, those gears of providence began to move.

In August 2019, parishioners came to a town hall meeting about possibly purchasing the property. The gathering was meant to describe the property to the congregation and give nay-sayers a chance to speak out. When it came time for questions, however, the majority of speakers instead pledged donations for the new property.

“Parishioners saw the same things I saw,” said Father Ansgar.

Our Lady of La Vang’s parishioners and leadership raised funds for their new church and borrowed from the archdiocese’s parish trust fund. They took ownership of the formerly Protestant space June 1 — and the physical work began.

Several parishioners are professionals in the construction industry, and four of them took on various renovation tasks. One was in charge of renovating the small chapel, another the sanctuary, another the kitchen, and a fourth the school.

“The parish paid only for the equipment and material,” said Father Ansgar.

Those in-kind donations were part of what made the purchase of the new church possible.

Our Lady of La Vang, usually the largest Catholic parish in the archdiocese (St. Joseph in Salem has garnered first place some years) with 1,759 registered households, is set to grow larger with the new church. Father Ansgar said 78 more parish families have registered since the parish revealed the plan to buy the New Hope church. “Many of them are living around here,” he said. “And they wanted to be part of the Vietnamese Catholic Church.”

In his remarks at the Mass, Archbishop Sample praised Father Ansgar and urged parishioners to thank him for his leadership.

For his part, Father Ansgar thanked a number of people from his parish and beyond, including Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith; the trustee members of the Parish Fund Trust; Delia Wilson, director of property and risk management; Jo Willhite, chief administrative officer for the archdiocese; and Michelle Braulick, archdiocesan director of finance; and all the volunteers from the building committee for their role in bringing the parish’s hopes for a new church to fruition. Without their help, he said, “we certainly would not be settled in this new church today.”

“This is a true miracle,” said Bishop Smith, also present at the first Mass. “A gift from God to the Vietnamese people.”

kristenh@catholicsentinel.org

Thi Pham contributed to this story.