For a century, they’ve conquered fears, survived and thrived
For a century, they’ve conquered fears, survived and thrived
ROY — When he was a boy 60 or so years ago, Allan Vanderzanden’s father asked him to help repair storm damage atop the bell tower of St. Francis Church here.

The skinny lad climbed staircase after staircase, haltingly ascended ladder after ladder and finally reached the dizzying penultimate height. He dared not go to the railing at that level; it was too terrifying. The cars looked like toys.

But his father had scaled still higher on a ladder lashed to a lofty pillar, with nothing but air behind it.

“Then a voice came from above,” recalls Vanderzanden. “‘Bring me a hammer.’ It was not God.”

After a pause, the shaking boy seized the tool and edged to the ladder to answer his father’s call. The first step exposed him to the great drop. He took a breath, swallowed his anxiety and climbed.

“To this day,” Vanderzanden says, “I am sure that if I could find that ladder, I think my fingerprints would still be embedded in it.”

The parish on Sunday celebrated its 100th year, holding Mass in the stucco country church amid rolling farms and woodland. From the start, this has been a place where people overcome their fears to get things done.

The parish was established in 1908 under the official guidance of Father Ferdinand Kettenhofen, an assistant in Verboort. But the driving influence came from 40 farm families, many of whom had risked stability in Belgium and Holland to make a new life in America.

The three-story combination church and school would cost $2,500. A convent went up and in 1912 the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon moved in. The women would lead the school for almost nine decades.

Father Francis Springer was appointed pastor in 1913. His arrival marked the start of rapid growth within the parish which lasted until the late 1920s. Even by 1920, it was evident that a bigger church was required which would allow , rough lumber from Cedar Canyon and finished lumber from Mountaindale. The cornerstone was laid and sealed in October 1920. The church would be named St. Francis in honor of the pastor.

One of the stained-glass windows in the Italian Renaissance revival house of worship was paid for by the Catholic school children of Roy.

Growth continued as farm families increased and expanded. That meant a bigger school was needed by the 1950s. Farmers lined up in their trucks to haul away dirt while digging a church basement. When it came time to pour the foundation, the men showed up with their wheelbarrows. The building is still strong, straight and true.

Young Allan Vanderzanden, one of 13 siblings, was in fourth grade when the new school was completed. He recalls spending the better part of a week in procession, carrying book after book and desk after desk from the old building to the new. Soon, he helped his father and a neighbor deconstruct the old school, board by board, to be used for farm buildings.

A steak and ham dinner began in 1968 to help support the parish. The meal has continued.

Baptisms at the parish peaked in the early 1970s at about 30 per year. For the past decade, they have averaged about 18 annually.

After Father Kenneth Steiner, St. Francis pastor from 1976 to 1978, was made an auxiliary bishop, Father Stephen Breitenstein arrived and began 20 years as pastor. At the end of his pastorate, Father Breitenstein donated a modular building to add classroom space.

The school teetered on the edge of closure in 2004, with only about 60 students slated to start the term. But by sheer will, generosity and that Roy courage, local families kept the place open and enrollment has been increasing.

“This is a day to remember those on whose shoulders we stand — those who kept our evangelizing mission alive,” Archbishop John Vlazny said at the centennial Mass Sunday.

Pondering vocation and evangelization, the archbishop said many people are afraid, thinking themselves unworthy of what God has given them.

“On this anniversary day, God assures each of us that our individual lives are genuine treasures,” he told the congregation. “Not one of us is a mistake.”

In the choir loft, the adult and children’s choirs joined forces, singing for Mass with gusto and beauty. White ribbons hung on the pews and flowers festooned side altars. Vintage altar cloths were immaculate and crisp.

In the pews before Mass, parishioners could be heard whispering: “A lot of years, one hundred . . . “ and “Special day, isn’t it?” and “Oh. I smell incense.”

Pauline Gobel, 91, became a parishioner in 1956 when the family came from Nebraska and bought a dairy. It did not take long for her to see what kind of community this is.

Her 13-year-old son was stricken with a brain tumor in 1961. The pastor went with the family on hospital visits to Portland and people brought food and showed genuine and abiding concern. The church was full for the boy’s funeral in 1961. It was the same when her husband died in 1999.

“I love this parish,” says Gobel, who has taken care of the altar linens since 1962. “The people are just so special.”

Bernard Van Domelen, 77, is the youngest son of one of the couples who helped found the parish. He still lives where he was born, a farm about three miles from the church.

As a boy, young Bernard would get up early and walk to church to serve Mass with Father Joseph Saal, a Bavarian and a “great guy.” Van Domelen remembers lighting the furnace under the school, one of his chores. He often wonders how the big wooden building never burnt to the ground.

He was one of 11 children, then married a girl from Verboort (despite a rivalry between Roy and that nearby town) and had seven children of his own. Now, he is still a sacristan and proud of his roots here.

Lynda and Jim Hertel’s six children are (or will be) fifth generation students at the school.

Jim, a machine shop worker, grew up at the parish and Lynda, 36, moved in from Beaverton when she married him.

“It’s a family,” Lynda says. “That’s the best way to describe St. Francis. I can’t think of a safer place for them and a better place to have them get closer to God.”
Libby, the Hertel’s fifth-grade daughter, says Franciscan Sister Mary Peter Duyck, one of the teachers, “shows faith, not just tells it.”

The venerable households of St. Francis Parish are close-knit but welcoming.
Maureen and Norm Okerstrom moved into the area three years ago to start a late-in-life career as hazelnut farmers. Early on, they ran into Pauline Gobel, who said, “You’re new,” and introduced them around. Before long, the Okerstroms found themselves invited to Gobel’s house for her famous pie.

Karen Kiss, 42, is the mother of two children in the school and another who has graduated and moved on to Valley Catholic High. For her, and for others, the parish and school are inseparable.

Over the past 15 years, Kiss and other young families have formed a community in the cry room, watching each other’s children grow.

“The reason we have stayed is because of the environment,” says Kiss, a parishioner for 16 years with her Intel engineer husband. “It’s a small parish. It’s easy to get to know people.”

Meanwhile, parishioners dream of a parish hall and of a youth program, both under discussion.

All say they want the population to grow. It could happen. Roy and Banks totaled about 600 people for decades, until the 1980s. But the area has increased lately. It now counts about 1,500. Many parishioners work at Intel rather than on the family farms.

For its size, St. Francis Parish has been a home of a great many priests and Religious.

On hand Sunday were Fathers Scott Vandehey, Kelly Vandehey and Jeff Meeuwsen and Benedictine Brother Teresio Caldwell — all “Roy boys.” Past priestly vocations are Jesuit Father Pius Moore, ordained in 1915, Msgr. Edmund Vanderzanden, ordained in 1938, and Father William Delplanche, ordained in 1939.

At Sunday’s Mass, a corps of Sisters of St. Mary sat in the front pews.

Sister Charlene Herinckx — who grew up in the parish, professed vows in 1974 and was principal of St. Francis School in the late 1990s — read the prayers of the faithful.

Other St. Mary Sister vocations include Sister Theresa Ann Bunker, professed in 1957 as Sister Frederick Marie; Sister Bernice Hertel, professed in 1951 as Sister Mary Gertrude; Sister Mary Elizabeth Ann Vanderzanden, professed in 1944; Sister Mary Ermelinda VanDomelen, professed in 1940; Sister Mary Ludmilla Vanderzanden, professed in 1935; and Sister Mary Eusebia Vandehey and Sister Mary Barbara Vandecoevering, both professed in 1934.

Father Todd Molinari, pastor from 1999 to 2002, attended the centennial and was warmly greeted by his former flock. Another former pastor, Bishop Steiner, said he wishes he had never left.

“I am glad to celebrate anything older than me these days,” he quipped to the parishioners who still love him. He’s now pastor in nearby North Plains.

By the standards of eternity, a century is not so long, Bishop Steiner explained. But looking at all that has happened at the parish in 100 years, it becomes clear that it’s enough time to do plenty of good.

“Prayers and wisdom kept the parish going in times of peace, war, prosperity and recessions, but always times full of God’s grace,” the bishop said.

“It is encouraging to see how both the older and the newer members of the parish have shown their appreciation for what the church and the school mean to them,” says Father Michael Hemming, pastor since 2002. He saw the work that went into the centennial celebration.

Father Hemming, who has lunch at the school most days, is an example of the bravery it takes to be a disciple, Archbishop Vlazny said Sunday. Injured in a serious auto accident in 1999, the 67-year-old priest limped up to the archbishop in 2002 and said he wanted to get back to work. That’s when he got the assignment to Roy.