St. Helen Mission photo by Leisa Keyser
Fr. Fred Anthony presides at St. Helen Mission.
St. Helen Mission photo by Leisa Keyser
Fr. Fred Anthony presides at St. Helen Mission.
BROWNSVILLE — Neal Karo thinks it's easier to be an active Catholic in a small church than in a big one.

He and wife Susan are lay caretakers of St. Helen Mission here, faith home of 70 people in a town of 1,700 souls.

"In a big parish, you can just go in and sit down for Mass and then leave," Karo says. "In a small church, if you want something done, you need to get up and do it."

On top of that, everyone knows everyone else and so it's easier to ask for help.

Everyone at Holy Trinity sings during Mass and, afterward, about three quarters of worshipers attend a social. Volunteers take Communion to those who are sick.  

St. Helen may be small by city standards, but it's growing. A decade or so ago, attendance dwindled to a half dozen. This past Easter, there were 126. Karo credits the liturgical music and faith formation for children, both of which have reputations that have spread by word of mouth. Young families are joining. There are eight altar servers.

Presently, Holy Trinity has more children attending than does the mother parish, St. Helen in Sweet Home.

This is a rural bedroom community for those who work in Eugene, Albany, Corvallis or even Portland.

Simply changing the Mass time has made the mission more appealing to local Catholics. Liturgy is now at 11:30 a.m. Sundays instead of Saturday afternoon.

"Time of Mass is critical," says Karo, a retired appliance and electronics repairman.
Holy Trinity is a mission of St. Helen, a parish established in 1953. The first Brownsville mission closed about the time of the Second Vatican Council. It re-opened several decades later at the town recreation center and then in the large old Presbyterian church downtown. Catholics later rented the Lutheran church in a residential neighborhood, the present site, and built a church hall. It took some convincing before the Archdiocese of Portland signed off on a project to build on Lutheran property, Karo says with a chuckle. It was a moot point by 1992, when Catholics purchased the church.

Father Fred Anthony, administrator in Sweet Home, comes to preside at Masses. At times, other priests like Fathers John Betts and John Henderson come to cover. In addition to Sundays, St. Helen has Mass at noon on Wednesdays. Five to 10 worshipers attend.    

Keeping a small town church going is not easy. "It takes someone who is dedicated to doing it," Karo explains. "You need a spark plug. I guess that, here, Susan and I are it."
Karo hopes for continued growth, but would not want to lose the beauties of smallness.