Catholic Sentinel photos by Clarice Keating
Dancers at St. Paul Parish centennial.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Clarice Keating
Dancers at St. Paul Parish centennial.

SILVERTON — St. Paul Parish marked 100 years of living the gospel and joyfully witnessing their faith today.

Archbishop Alexander Sample celebrated an outdoor Mass, which was followed by a party with barbecue prepared and served by the Knights of Columbus and games for the kids.

“My message to you today is to ask that you build on the faith and the witness of those who have gone before you,” Archbishop Sample said to the crowd.

Today is a day to look back and give thanks, he said, but it is not a day to rest.

“This is a day to recommit yourselves to the mission of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the archbishop said. “Your work is not finished. Your work is just beginning for the next 100 years.”

St. Paul is faith home to nearly 700 families, about 40 percent Hispanic. 

Benedictines now serve the parish. Their charism to serve Christ and the society through hard work and prayer complements the parish community, which is characterized by its dedication.

Benedictine Father William Hammelman concelebrated the centennial Mass with Archbishop Alexander Sample. The priest just completed his final treatment in a round of chemotherapy to fight prostate cancer. He stood before the people of his congregation, as they blessed him and prayed for him.

Despite his illness, Father Hammelman has continued to preside over Masses, though he sometimes must grab ahold of the altar to support himself, said Annie Schaefer, St. Paul’s office manager.

“No matter how bad he is feeling, he’s been present, because that’s who he is,” she said. “Being a pastor is his passion.”

St. Paul has a long history of dedicated leaders, starting with a priest from Mount Angel Abbey who traveled six miles by horseback to offer the first Masses in Silverton in the late 1880s. Years later, a church was dedicated on Aug. 2, 1914. With a growing parish community, the bungalow chapel quickly became overcrowded, so then-pastor Father Francis Scherbring arranged for the parish to purchase a three-story wood framed structure. The building was abandoned after its construction in 1890 by a group of atheists and free-thinkers who founded Liberal University. Before St. Paul parishioners moved in, the building had been used as a temporary public high school and as a sheep barn.

The parish moved into a new church in 1947, a war surplus building from Camp Adair near Corvallis. The building was allocated as a memorial to Father Richard Carberry, St. Paul’s pastor until he was called to serve in the Army as chaplain. He died in service in 1945 and was buried at sea. The structure was disassembled, transported to Silverton by truck, and then reassembled.

At the time, Joe Hess was 12. Despite his young age, Hess was still expected to help out with the construction project. He and his friends pulled nails out of boards.

Hess was baptized in the old church, and he and his wife Myrna were married in the “new” church in 1955. They’ve been parishioners their entire lives, serving in a variety of ways.

“It’s a farming community filled with friendly people,” Myrna said. “We’re just ordinary, hard-working people. We’ve always liked it here.”

In 1921, four St. Francis Sisters arrived from Dubuque, Iowa, to run a school, which opened with an enrollment of 42. Later, Benedictine sisters handled teaching duties.

Mary Rose Brandt recalls that 8 a.m. Mass was offered every school day for the children. Unlike the Latin Masses on Sunday, portions of the student Mass were said in English so the school children could respond in their own language. Brandt remembers remarking as a third-grader that it didn’t seem to matter which language the Mass was in, her mind would wander just as easily in one as the other. 

Roger Seifer, a parishioner for more than 60 years, recalls fondly parish turkey dinners, which were prepared by the mothers and grandmothers of his friends. Those traditions have dropped off, but volunteers are still plentiful.

The parish has always been pretty low-key and friendly, Seifer said. Years ago, when he served on the parish council, that job required volunteers to be jacks(and jills)-of-all-trades: collecting money, taking care of the premises and many other duties. These days, the church’s leadership team struggles with more complex matters: Trying to raise enough funds to maintain a church in a mostly modest- to low-income community. Many believe the parish needs a new Church, but Seifer worries about taking on such a big project in the current economic climate.

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