Fr. Nilema and Archbishop Vlazny sing along with parishioners during a dedication Mass.
Fr. Nilema and Archbishop Vlazny sing along with parishioners during a dedication Mass.
It’s hard to let go of a place where so many important occasions took place — weddings, funerals or baptisms. Luckily, the parishioners of Our Lady of Victory Church in Seaside had a quarter of a century to prepare for that transition.

After nearly 25 years of fundraising and planning, the coastal parish has a brand new church. It’s ADA accessible, environmentally friendly, larger and made of materials that will stand up better over time to the brutal coastal weather.

“What everybody feels immediately, though, is the warmth,” said Chris Rose, who led the construction committee and has been on board with the project sincthe first commitment was made to build a new church 24 years ago.

“Every time I walk into the church, there’s such joy,” said Father Nicholas Nilema. “The first time I celebrated Mass there, it took me a few moments to be able to speak because I was so filled with joy. There is so much peace in this church.”

The steeple is a skylight through which warm light filters down into the pews, which are carved from natural oak and padded with spring-loaded cushions. In the old church, Rose said, there was enough light to get around, but not nearly enough to read the text in the missals.

“Anytime you have a church that is almost 100 years old, there are a lot of sentimental memories,” said Mike Davies, who helped coordinate the project. He and his wife Mary co-chaired the dedication day activities committee. “Unfortunately the original building was just not that well made and didn’t last very well over time.”

However, the new building maintains many of the old church’s beloved features.
It has the same roofing, the same steeple, the same steep angles and much of the new exterior is reminiscent of the original, Davies said. The day chapel has similar-looking wainscoting and all of the historical stained glass windows have either been re-installed or are being restored in preparation of installation in the near future.

From the beginning, Seaside Catholics were accustomed to finishing their churches at their own pace. In 1901, the first official Seaside chapel was dedicated — a 20-by-40-foot chapel with seating capacity of 150, with stained glass windows by the famous Povey brothers.

“The interior of the chapel has not yet been finished, nor painted for want of funds, but it all presents a neat appearance,” the Catholic Sentinel reported in July 1901.

The infamous fire of 1912 in Seaside burned that chapel down, along with much of the coastal town. By 1913, a new church was dedicated, Our Lady of Victory. The interior of that church remained uncompleted until 1933.

Rose, a general contractor for more than 40 years, has been involved with the project since 1986, which the parish council and pastor decided there was need for a new church. During the summer months, when out of town visitors flood the Oregon Coast, Sundays were often standing-room-only. A master plan was slow to come, and then Father George Wolf helped get the ball rolling 19 years ago by getting a church office set up. When Father Nicolas Nilema arrived 13 years ago, they hired an architect and picked up the planning process — which hit a few pitfalls, first the archdiocese getting caught up in lawsuits, then the economic collapse, which  made grant funding hard to come by. Getting everyone to agree on a concept was also slow, Rose said.

“We had to scratch and peck away until we came up with enough money for the construction,” he said.

The sale from half of a vacant lot across the street from the church helped bump up that total, and now the $2.5 million project has been dedicated.

Archbishop John Vlazny and Bishop Kenneth Steiner joined other priests and visitors to dedicate the new church last weekend. Also visiting for the event were friends from Our Lady of Victory’s sister parish in the village Mango in Tanzania, the East African country where Father Nilema was born and raised.

Father Anthony Marunda, former pastor of the sister church, as well as Angela Kimati, and Christine and Steve Mworia arrived a few days before the dedication and plan to visit through July.

It was a long road, and even those who had their doubts about the project are pleased with the outcome, Father Nilema said.

“Everybody is so happy at this moment,” he said. “This is a new beginning for the parish.”