Catholic Sentinel photos by Gerry Lewin
Elena Pena and her mother Antonia  Vasquez during prayer at the celebration Mass.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Gerry Lewin
Elena Pena and her mother Antonia  Vasquez during prayer at the celebration Mass.
INDEPENDENCE — As St. Patrick Church here celebrated 100 years of ministry, parishioners took a chance to remember history and look toward the future.

Edie and Ernie Vanderzanden know that storied past better than many in the parish — they’ve been part of the church for 65 years. When they first arrived in the small town, the Vanderzandens were surrounded by farmers when they sat down for Mass. These days, the demographics are much different.

“It’s changed like day and night,” Edie said. “It’s by and large a community of all different types of families now. Some are professors at the college, some are retired, and some are business people.”  

Another change: Today 60 percent of the church is Hispanic. Msgr. Carl Gimpl and other ministry leaders struggle, like many other parishes, to bring the English- and Spanish-speaking groups together. Their tactics seem to work.

“I don’t think we were ever as close as we are now,” Edie said. “The love and friendship of our people and the caring. it’s a joy to go to Mass.”

The welcoming attitude of the parish is evident as soon as a newcomer walks through the doors, Edie said. They are greeted warmly and get an offer during Mass to have prayers said for family or friends.  

It’s also apparent to non-Catholic members of the community, who are invited in for the annual Irish dinner, rummage sale and bazaar.

“I hope they perceive us as friendly, loving Christians, not just Catholic, but Christians,” Edie said.

Together parishioners follow the mission of the church to worship and work “to grow in love and acceptance of one another and be apostles as Christ teaches.”  

In 1910, Archbishop Alexander Christie bought a church in Independence from a Southern Methodist congregation. The parish had been established two years earlier. That Methodist, then Catholic, church was Independence’s first church building.

For a period, St. Patrick’s was mother church to missions in Falls City and Dallas. It then reverted to mission status and was served by the church in Corvallis and then by St. Joseph Parish in Salem.

In the old days, priests from St. Patrick or those responsible for the church served the Catholic students at the State Normal School in Monmouth. Today, priests say Mass for the students at Western Oregon University.

Parishioners built their new church in 1963, and more recently, a parish hall.

“Our parish takes pride in Mass,” Msgr. Gimpl said, adding that members are also likely to talk up the religious education program. It’s the youngest members of the parish who are leading the way in bringing together the English- and Spanish-speakers.

“We are working at getting the two communities working together, to get to know each other,” the priest said.

In the decade she’s been a part of St. Patrick, Vivian Vandehey and her husband Elmer have noted the closeness among the 350-or-so registered families in the parish. She recalls being a newcomer, the warm greeting and immediate invite to get involved in the parish’s active Altar Society.

Vandehey has served on the finance council and also helped with bookkeeping in the parish office. The Vandeheys property adjoins the church, so Vivian and Elmer often walk over to help when something comes up at the church.

“It’s been a very positive relationship for my husband and I,” she said.