Archbishop Cornelius Power blesses the casket of Archbishop Edward Howard with incense in January 1983 at St. Mary Cathedral.
Archbishop Cornelius Power blesses the casket of Archbishop Edward Howard with incense in January 1983 at St. Mary Cathedral.
He was born 140 years ago this month and when he died in January 1983, his Friday night sendoff became Oregon’s most-watched Catholic funeral.

Bishops from all over the west came to St. Mary Cathedral in Portland, where 1,600 people jammed the holy building. Protestant and Jewish leaders sent delegates. Gov. Vic Atiyeh and Portland Mayor Frank Ivancie attended. KOIN televised the event live and other secular stations and newspapers provided coverage.

After all, you get to know a lot of people when you live to 105 and are a good man. Archbishop Edward Howard was the leader of the Archdiocese of Portland from 1926 to 1966.

Observers said that Archbishop Howard would have liked his funeral, which expressed the grand and diverse scope of the archdiocese he led for 40 years.

A committee of funeral organizers took care to include all members of the local church.

Gladys McCoy, an African American Catholic and Multnomah County commissioner, delivered a reading, as did Maria Marin of the fledgling Hispanic vicariate. Holy Names Sister Marie Steiner sang Psalm 23.

The eucharistic gifts were carried to the altar by John and Jin Pak of the Korean community, Tuan and Minh-Ha Tran of the Vietnamese community, and Kefle Mairam Eyob and Haregu Paulos of the Ethiopian Catholic community.

Eulogies were delivered by Msgr. Edmund Van der Zanden, Sister Mary Fidelis Kreutzer of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, Jo Bonk of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, and Mark Perkins, a student at Archbishop Howard’s beloved Central Catholic High School.

“You have been more to us than a founder. You have been family,” said Perkins, adding that students customarily rubbed the nose of a bronze bust of Archbishop Howard, hoping for luck before exams.

“You’d be surprised how shiny your nose has become,” Perkins said.

Camera crews in the cathedral

The whole liturgy took place with floodlights and camera crews in the house of worship. Bob Riler, the archdiocese’s communications director at the time, said worshippers quickly forgot about the media setup and were deeply engaged in the funeral liturgy.

“It was really quite wonderful,” recalled Father Joseph McMahon, who led the archdiocese’s liturgical commission at the time and retired recently after decades as a parish priest. “It was one of the first chances we had to show in a really large way the revised ritual for the funeral Mass.”

Emerging from the Second Vatican Council, priests wore white at funerals, not the black of an earlier time. The theme was not mourning but celebration of a life well lived and the passage to eternal life with a merciful God.

It was the first time many Protestants had seen the revised funeral Mass. One minister commented on the Gospel procession, in which the book is held aloft as it is carried to be read. The man was surprised and delighted at the reverence extended to the Word of God.

Archbishop Howard’s casket was secured at an angle on the steps leading to the altar so all in the congregation could see.

Sister Jean Frolick lead a 120-voice choir made up of parishioners, priests, seminarians and religious from around the archdiocese. Music used was from local composers Sister Jean, Owen Alstott and Randall DeBruyn of Oregon Catholic Press. It was the first time many people heard the modern settings for the final commendation.

“It was a terrific celebration,” Father McMahon said. “It had such a positive tone. He had lived his life spectacularly. One of the blessings, or outcomes, was that it showed what a funeral could be. A lot of people could see how the order of Christian funerals was designed to be done. People were moved.”

Father Scott Vandehey served as a pallbearer. He had been one of the last priests Archbishop Power ordained.

“When I think of him, I don’t think of royalty, but I do think of a princely man,” said Father Vandehey, who recalled that the funeral was in keeping with the great archbishop’s identity.

During a homily about his predecessor, then-Archbishop Cornelius Power said Archbishop Howard wondered if God had forgotten to take him. But when the time came, the venerable prelate was prepared.

“He was ready for the meeting with the God he had served so well and with childlike trust,” Archbishop Power said. “His bag was packed; it was full of his good works.”