Deanna Valenzuela speaks to parishioners at the farewell gathering at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Veneta. (Helen Davis/St. Catherine of Siena)
Deanna Valenzuela speaks to parishioners at the farewell gathering at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Veneta. (Helen Davis/St. Catherine of Siena)
VENETA — On the afternoon of Sunday, June 26, members of St. Catherine of Siena Parish here gathered to thank, celebrate and say goodbye to three individuals who have left a lasting mark on the parish.

Despite the heat, spirits were high as a catered meal of salads, fruit, nacho chips, various meats and mixed juices was shared at centerpiece-bedecked tables in the parish hall and outside on picnic benches set up beneath canopies. Fathers Ron Nelson, Raj Pandi, and Stephen Kenyon of St. Mary Parish in Eugene, who will begin overseeing St. Catherine’s, came to say hello to those they hope to get to know well. Voices mingled and hummed as people conversed and snapped photos to share on the parish’s Instagram page. A steady trickle of partygoers ambled outdoors upon finishing their meal and made themselves comfortable on the outdoor benches to await what came next while trying their best to stay cool.

Once everyone had eaten their fill and the hall was empty of diners, the program began and the guests of honor — Father Theo Lange, Deanna Valenzuela and Barb Puryear — were properly feted.

After being pastor for five years, Father Lange will serve at Shepherd of the Valley Parish in Central Point. He will be greatly missed, as he had become more than just a priest to those who worship here. He had become a friend whose penchant for silliness was almost legend.

Valenzuela, who is retiring after more than 20 years as pastoral assistant, music minister, administrative council member, tribunal representative and much more, was presented with a straw hat festooned with ribbons bearing the names of the various ministries she served in, and was later given a handmade quilt of St. Catherine and a memory book parishioners filled out as a way of saying thanks for all she did, always with a smile. As of this autumn, she and husband Julio will begin wintering in his native Nicaragua and then will return to the states to travel about in a fifth wheel trailer.

Puryear, who served St. Catherine in various capacities such as liturgy minister, lector, eucharistic minister, and altar society, is stepping down after many years of helping make the parish what it is. She will remain a member of the parish but will now be enjoying more free time to take part in other pursuits. To show their appreciation, the lectors Puryear oversaw gathered before the microphone and took turns reading for her one last time.

A big portion of the program was devoted to parishioners taking the microphone and sharing memories. There was much laughter as well as a few tears as various exploits were recalled, many of them Father Lange’s.

The reminiscing was followed by the performance of several hula dances, a pair of songs performed by twins Jessica and Joshua Jesiah on the violin and the cello, and then the presenting of a pair of portraits of St. Catherine to Valenzuela and Puryear by Father Lange himself. Father Lange blessed Valenzuela and husband Julio as they prepare to embark on their new chapter.

The program ended not long after with a prayer. Parishioners, as they made their way to their cars to go home, tried to imagine what St. Catherine’s will be like without the three who gave so much, so unselfishly. It was a bittersweet afternoon, but congregants know that things will still be good, there will still be giving and there will still be laughter.

After all, it’s the St. Catherine’s way.

Davis is a parish ambassador for the Catholic Sentinel.