Catholic Sentinel photo by Jose Salame
 Jonathan and Sandy Cuello serve at St. Joseph Parish in Salem.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Jose Salame
 Jonathan and Sandy Cuello serve at St. Joseph Parish in Salem.
This is the third in a series of nine brief profiles and photo essays from the churches designated for Year of Faith pilgrimages in the Archdiocese of Portland.

SALEM — Each Sunday at St. Joseph Parish here shows what the Catholic Church is made of.

There are 10 weekend Masses. They come in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Thousands of worshipers fill the large sanctuary, which is just a few blocks from Oregon's Capitol. An adoration chapel is open around the clock and meeting rooms are abuzz with youth groups, adult faith formation and charitable projects.  

Often over the decades, St. Joseph Church has been a place where marches to the Capitol steps have begun in prayer for unborn children, people who are poor or immigrants.

A bustling parish school has abided, setting the sound of playing children to ring around downtown Salem.

Everything that happens in the Catholic Church happens at St. Joseph Parish in abundance. But the faith venture started small.

In 1853, six years before Oregon became a state, an Irish missionary named Father James Croke rented a building on the corner of Church and Chemeketa streets. In 1858, the archdiocese purchased two lots for $100 and by April 1864 dedicated St. John Church on the slight rise known as "Piety Hill." The wooden building, valued at $3,000 seated 300 worshipers.

In 1865, the Holy Names Sisters purchased six lots next to the church and by 1873 had built the grand Sacred Heart Academy.

In 1889, a new church was dedicated on the corner of Chemeketa and Cottage Streets, current site of the parish. Renamed for St. Joseph — Oregon City already had a St. John Church — the building lasted until the present house of worship was dedicated on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1953. In 1957, workers added a bell tower to the church, but that came only after considerable controversy from city officials because of height restrictions.

The building is one thing. The community is another. Those who worship at St. Joseph have included governors and legislators, blue collar workers and immigrants. All present themselves as equals in the sight of God.

Pope Benedict XVI called for a Year of Faith to be celebrated until Nov. 23, during a period coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

One of the several ways to grow in faith and gain a Year of Faith plenary indulgence — pardon of temporal punishment for sin — is to visit a holy pilgrimage site designated by the local bishop. There, the pilgrim must attend a sacred celebration, remain for a time in prayer and conclude with the recitation of the Our Father, a profession of faith in any legitimate form, prayers to Mary, the apostles and patron saints.

For more photos of St. Joseph Church and the other Year of Faith pilgrimage sites, go to