Catholic Sentinel photos by Clarice Keating Father Gary Zerr, pastor of St. Edward Parish, (right) leaves new church during dedication wtih visiting priests.

Catholic Sentinel photos by Clarice Keating

Father Gary Zerr, pastor of St. Edward Parish, (right) leaves new church during dedication wtih visiting priests.

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KEIZER — A key that opens the main entrance to the newly constructed St. Edward Church here was attached to a large white cross. Archbishop Alexander Sample handed the cross to Father Gary Zerr, pastor, and said, “Let the doors of this church be opened.”

Father Zerr moved to put the key in the lock, then turned toward the crowd, laughing. “It’s unlocked,” he said.

St. Edward parishioners past and present gathered this afternoon to celebrate the dedication of their new church.

“I am so proud and pleased and filled with joy to dedicate this beautiful church you have raised to the glory of God,” Archbishop Sample said during his homily. “Bravo. Well done.”

The crowd erupted into cheer and applause.

The new $5 million, 11,000-square-foot sanctuary for the parish’s 1,400 families has seating for 750. Portland-based firm DiLoreto Architecture designed the structure. The contractor was the Grant Company.

The original St. Edward Church was build in 1970, and started falling down almost immediately, said Father Gary Zerr, pastor.

“Somehow we’ve kept it going through the years,” he said.

Need for more parish space was dire, said Bonnie Henny, business manager. The 128 ministries and groups that use the parish as a gathering place generated 238 meetings per month.  Most nights, all seven meeting rooms and the parish hall would be occupied; every once in a while a group would be forced outdoors into the picnic shelter.

The new church has a 24-hour adoration chapel, with a dazzling stained glass window and adjoining tabernacle.

All of the wood used in construction of the church is Douglas fir, giving the structure a Northwest feel, with abundant natural light.

The floors are heated, which will allay parishioner Shannon Mowry’s concern that the concrete floors will be too cold.

Mowry said her four children have been itching to get up into the balcony to get a bird’s-eye view down onto the new church space. Mowry also teaches fourth-grade catechism, and said her students are really excited about the life-size Jesus on the crucifix that hangs behind the altar.

“[The church] is very modern but reflects the traditional values of the church,” said Henny. “The parishioners wanted light and a Northwest feel and look, but also a traditional Catholic church. We’ve got the old with the new.”

Parishioners and church staff began meeting in 2008 during a visioning process, which was followed by a master plan. The capital campaign for the new church launched in 2011. Town hall-style meetings were held to go over blueprints and manage the budget; participation and interest were high, Father Zerr said. The groundbreaking ceremony was in March 2013.

During the dedication, Archbishop Sample enshrined holy relics in the altar, a practice that dates back to a time when persecuted Christians celebrated Mass secretly in catacombs near the remains of martyrs. The first relic is believed to be St. Edward, and the second is St. Clare of Assisi.

Mount Angel Abbey donated a set of 1929 bells, which will peal from a structure that will be installed in spring 2014 by the Lenity Group.

Engineers discovered that the old church has pretty serious structural problems, so the future of that building is unclear at this time, Henny said.

Building the new sanctuary was a spiritual journey for everyone in the parish, Father Zerr said. 

“At one point there wasn’t a paved surface anywhere here, not even a sidewalk, and most of our parishioners stayed with us through it all,” he said.

The process was stressful and challenging, said Father Zerr, and he is proud of his parishioners for their hard work and patience.

 “I am fond of remembering that the Lord was in the construction business before he began preaching, so he would have been right at home on the job site,” Father Zerr said. “But he is building a sanctuary within each of us that will last forever, and so we have tried to see each stage of the project as a mirror of the spiritual journey.”