Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Fr. John Kerns, pastor of St Juan Diego Parish, addresses the huge crowd of parishioners and friends who had come for the church dedication Mass.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Fr. John Kerns, pastor of St Juan Diego Parish, addresses the huge crowd of parishioners and friends who had come for the church dedication Mass.
After eight years of worship in a rented gymnasium, the newest church in the Archdiocese of Portland was dedicated Oct. 24.

St. Juan Diego Parish, and founding pastor Father John Kerns, celebrated new digs last weekend, which provide 11,500 square feet of dedicated worship space after worship in a community college gym, Father Kerns’ living room and houses of parishioners since 2002.

The new $5 million building holds 600 people, with a design that allows for future expansion.

“It has been a long time waiting. But that makes it all the more important to us, all the more a treasure,” Father Kerns told the Catholic Sentinel in September. After Archbishop John Vlazny and Father Kerns sprinkled holy water around the church, blessing it, they concelebrated Mass with deacons Rev. Mr. Dennis Desmarais and John Riherd.  â-
A standing room-only crowd turned out on a day with torrential rainfall, also to honor Father Kerns, who marked his 25th anniversary since ordination.

During his homily, Archbishop Vlazny said the people of the parish would grow in the knowledge of love and truth revealed through Christ and his church.

After ushering in a new millennium of Christianity in western Oregon, the archbishop said, he hopes the parish will be a sign in the belief that one day God’s kingdom of love, justice and peace will be established in the hearts and minds of all people.

Relics were enshrined in the altar, which was built and donated by contractor Mike Grant, of Mount Angel. The relics of St. Philip, St. John Vianney and St. Flavia were placed in a small aperture in the altar, a practice that harkens to a time when persecuted Christians in the early church celebrated Mass in catacombs.  

Father Kerns thanked the many people who played a role in the project. Kathy Yee, pastoral and administrative associate received a standing ovation.
The ovation was for the church, Yee argued.

“Going through the whole building process was awesome,” she said. “But when we filled the church up with people, that’s when it came alive. It just lit up.”

Father Kerns said the church is a product of a community of faith.

“No pastor, no architect, no builder, no committee chair can say, ‘I built this church,’” he said. “Rather it is God who built this church through all of us: parishioners, Catholics throughout this archdiocese who supported us, professionals, friends and neighbors.”

Many hands took part in giving the church a personal and faith-filled atmosphere.

“What a collective effort it was,” Father Kerns said. “Everybody brings forward not just their particular talents and contributions, but their real personal commitment to the parish and their faith, and enthusiasm and self sacrifice.”

Portland mosaic artist Ruth Frances Greenberg designed the stations of the cross, and parishioner Greg Madden fabricated the dedication crosses.

The primary image of Mary in the new church is depicted on a tapestry by artist John Nava. Father Kerns had admired the man’s work in a similar tapestry at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey in Lafayette, so he obtained one for the new church.

A stained glass window, in the chevron window over the entrance of the church, hung in St. Mary’s Cathedral before a renovation in the 1990s. Father George Wolf gave it to Father Kerns for the new church.

The rose motif holds special significance for the people of the parish.

It’s a symbol of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the flower plays a key role in the story of the miraculous image on the tilma of St. Juan Diego. A rose can be found in a place of honor in front of the altar, near the tabernacle.

Mike Grant, of Mount Angel, built the altar and donated it to the church.

While the new church is a great blessing to the parish, Father Kerns said existing without it for so many years made one thing clear: “We realize the church is the people, especially when you don’t have any other options.”

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