The new plaza at St. Henry Parish in Gresham includes a path inlaid with the Eight Beatitudes of Christ. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
The new plaza at St. Henry Parish in Gresham includes a path inlaid with the Eight Beatitudes of Christ. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)

GRESHAM — The soul of Father Augustine Meyer surely was extra blissful Aug. 8. One of his dreams for St. Henry Parish here was fulfilled.

Father Meyer, who died of cancer in 1971 after 20 years as pastor, had intended to build a vibrant parish center next to the church he completed in 1964. But funds ran out.

It took more than 50 years and several false starts, but Father Charles Zach and his intrepid community of faithful have gotten the job done. And it’s paid off.

The sparkling new $4 million, 7,000-square-foot building has room for celebration, fellowship and spillover from the church during busy Masses. It can seat 250. To get into church and leave, one must go through the welcome center first. That’s intentional.

Jeanne Chambers, head of preschool and elementary faith formation, said that before, many parishioners walked out of church to their cars and drove home. That should happen less now.

“I think it’s setting it up for people to see each other more and develop a better faith community,” Chambers said.

Parishioners agree. “It brings the parish closer together,” said Andre Von Arx, a parishioner since the 1970s.

The walkway leading to the center is no mere concrete path. Inlaid are the Eight Beatitudes of Jesus, so that anyone coming or going knows just what a disciple needs to do. The 10,000-square-foot plaza is another place for gathering. The plaza was dedicated to Dr. Mike Hill, a parishioner and philanthropist who died in 2017.

“We have built something so we can further evangelize and socialize,” Father Zach told the congregation a few minutes before they gave him a thunderous standing ovation. He was surprised when parishioners presented a plaque with his photo that will hang in the center’s vestibule. He defers credit: “Look at what the parishioners have accomplished,” he said. “This was a team effort of the body of Christ.”

Father Zach thinks the new center delivers a message to the wider public: “These people are serious about their faith.”

Also in the vestibule are two images of Mary. One is a bas relief Madonna that came as a gift of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in Bridal Veil. Because of it, the building is named the Madonna Welcome Center. The other image is a life-sized depiction of Our Lady of Guadalupe carved into 700 pounds of volcanic stone.

The old vestibule was small and dark, said Ron Welsh, who graduated from the parish school in the early 1960s and has remained. He is the church organist. Welsh said Father Meyer, a gregarious man who would come shoot baskets with schoolchildren, envisioned more community space for the parish. The priest also loved Mary, so the Marian theme would delight him, Welsh said.

In the crowd were Stewart and Bernadette Hathaway, who were married in 1965 in the church Father Meyer built. “He would be so happy,” Bernadette said.

From groundbreaking, the project took 10 months, with Henry Fitzgibbon of Soderstrom Architects and R.A. Gray Construction.

The exterior includes a bioswale and trellises that will be covered with fragrant jasmine. The interior has a large high-definition screen where the overflow crowd can see what is going on in the church. 

“This is a great day for this parish community,” Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith said at the start of Mass. “So many years you have worked for this, and now it is done.”

Bishop Smith added to the joy parishioners were feeling, chatting with them for hours after Mass and having fun with the many children on site. At one point, he put his crosier in the hand of one youngster and placed his miter on the head of another.

edl@catholicsentinel.org

 

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