At a glance

St. Peter, Newberg

2315 N. Main St., 97132

(503) 538-4312

Sunday Masses: 5:30 p.m. vigil; 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

Size: 525 registered households

Religious education: About 150 children, pre-high school

Established: 1895

By Kristen Hannum

Of the Sentinel

NEWBERG - Parishioners at St. Peter's here welcomed Archbishop John Vlazny earlier this month for the long-awaited dedication of the parish's fourth church.

'I love the new church,' says parishioner Frank Niederberger, who has seen them all. He was baptized in the parish's first church 88 years ago.

'We think the church is beautiful - open and lovely,' says parishioner Rose Buckley. 'And we have a good priest.'

Inge Riffel, another parishioner, is pleased with the new church in part for the simple reason that it has an aisle that marrying couples can walk down.

Despite the celebration over moving in, people hope that this new church won't last too long. It's slated to become a parish hall in the next phase of parish building - raising a church.

The building here is a good example of 'slow and steady wins the race,' with parishioners planning carefully and paying for projects as they come rather than taking on too much debt.

In the early '90s, the parish bought eight acres across town. After paying off the property, the parish embarked on fund-raising and planning for a church and hall. 'I think it was financially well done,' says parishioner Fred Casey. 'We didn't want to plan or build anything we didn't have funds pledged for.'

The parish is definitely on the upswing. 'St. Peter's is active and growing - it's almost as though we have a new lease on life with the move into the new church,' says parishioner Ken Dana. 'We're seeing new faces, and also old faces, who went away and are now returned. Our challenge is to keep them coming back.'

Longtime parishioner Bernice Sprogis thinks that's very likely to happen with the new church. 'It's so nice and roomy and light,' she says, adding that the chapel for daily Mass is also a plus. A dozen or more parishioners typically attend that Mass.

The new church demanded plenty of energy from an already busy parish. Dana, for instance, spearheaded the work moving the old church's fine oak pews into the new church. Parishioner Ted Riffel, a painting contractor, volunteered his services to paint the new structure. He and other volunteers did all the painting free of charge.

The parish's growth matches that of the town, which now boasts almost 18,000 residents and is the second-largest city in Yamhill County. Parishioners say that many of the newcomers are young families, who, with their children, are bringing a younger face to the parish.

Father Gage praises Matthew Floyd, the parish's new director of religious education, and all the catechists. 'They give St. Peter a first-rate religious education program, especially since the new facility offers some challenges for classes,' he says.

Floyd oversees and participates in RCIA, adult scripture class, and a Saturday morning Bible study. 'It's his first year at St. Peter's, but he's an asset to the parish,' says Father Gage.

Joan Gregor, who moved here from a mega-parish in Southern California, says that despite the growth, St. Peter's is still homey and friendly. She recently underwent surgery and would have had a difficult time heading the reception for the new church's blessing. 'I mentioned it once, and about ten people stepped up to take my place,' she says.

Gregor and others also credit Father Gregory Gage, their pastor, for St. Peter's success. 'He's such a compassionate and friendly priest,' says Gregor. 'Everyone loves him.'

'He gives good sermons,' says Niederberger. 'Short and sweet.'

'He listens to you,' says parishioner Rose Mathis, who explains that Father Gage was a great help to her in 1994, when her youngest son died after three open-heart surgeries.

Newberg's European-American history begins with Hudson Bay Company trappers, who settled the area just south of here in the first half of the 19th century. The town's first postmaster named the city for his hometown of Newburgh, Germany. The city was incorporated in 1893, and St. Peter's was established as a mission in 1895.

In those earliest years, Frank Niederberger's folks and other Catholic families worshiped through the St. Anthony chapel car, and in a town hall, when Father Donnell of Oswego (the town was not yet known as Lake Oswego) could come. The first church was built in 1908 - well in time for Niederberger's baptism in 1912. It was a little stone church that is still standing on N. Main Street.

Catholics were neighbors to the Quakers from Iowa and Nebraska who settled here in the 1870s. In 1884, the Friends founded Friends Pacific Academy, which became George Fox University, alma mater of Herbert Hoover.

Priests from Oswego and McMinnville celebrated the sacraments at St. Peter's until 1930, when Father Thomas Jackson was appointed the first resident priest. In 1956, the parish bought an unused school building; two of the classrooms were used for a church, and the rest for a school.

The Holy Names Sisters staffed the school, which was open until 1974.

Parishioners built a church in 1961 - one of the first round churches in the country. During these years, Newberg was said to have one of the highest number of churches per capita - and church attendance - in the country.

A private Christian school, C.S. Lewis, bought the old church and property.

Parishioners live in some folks' idea of paradise. The town sits amid rolling hills holding picturesque vineyards and farms. Rex Hill, Adelsheim, Autumn Wind, Beaux Freres, Chehalem and White Oak Cider vineyards and wineries all have Newberg addresses.

Pinot Noirs are the area's specialty, something that impresses long-time parishioner Mathis not a whit. 'I drink regular wine,' she says.

She and her family moved here 39 years ago, drawn by the rural life. They raised hay, wheat, beef cattle and horses.

Many parishioners live about two miles down the road in Dundee, which is especially known for its hazelnuts and vineyards.

The trouble with most paradises is that there's no work to be had - not the case here. Parishioners work such Newberg companies as A-dec (dental equipment) and Smurfit Newsprint. Others take the long drive into work in Tigard and other Portland-area locations.

Several parishioners have bought new homes in the area adjacent to the new church. Carol Winczewski says that she and her husband, Ralph, bought their home there so that they could walk to the church.

The rural lifestyle here has long attracted families.

Rose Buckley, her husband Donald and 10 children (ages 9 months to 18 years at that time) moved to Newberg in 1964. Donald had always wanted to farm, and they raised hay and cattle on their 18 acres.

The family has stayed, for the most part: six of Buckley's children still live in the immediate area, and a couple of her grandchildren attend St. Paul Parish School in St. Paul, seven miles down the road.

About 13 children from the parish that school.

St. Paul also attracts Newberg's Knight's of Columbus - for its Fourth of July rodeo, which provides a venue for one of the Knights four annual big money-raisers through their food booth.

The Knights have just brought that booth home from the Mount Angel Oktoberfest, another of the four money-earners.

Parishioner Ted Riffel, originally from Germany, donated his family's German potato pancake recipe to the Knights for serving up at the Oktoberfest. (It's to be eaten with applesauce, of course.)

The Knights also put on a monthly breakfast. Other groups take turns at that as well, leaving parishioners a well-fed bunch on Sunday mornings.

'They're a wonderful people, a blessing to my life as a person and their parish priest,' says Father Gage.

Newcomers find that the most active parishioners are typically in the Knights or in the Catholic Daughters, who, like the Knights, sponsor a scholarship program. The Daughters get together to bake and sell pies twice a year, with berry, apple and lemon meringues selling fast.

Parishioner Mathis, a good-humored woman with a sharp wit, figures that she put in her time volunteering. She has a leg that gives her trouble, and so she doesn't help with such fund-raisers anymore.

'I go play bingo, though,' she says with a laugh.