Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
The congregation at the centennial Mass of St. Frederic Parish received a challenge to live their faith publicly.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
The congregation at the centennial Mass of St. Frederic Parish received a challenge to live their faith publicly.
ST. HELENS — In 1998, Father Joseph Beno stood beneath the new bell tower at St. Frederic Church here and tugged the rope. No one knew if the old bell reclaimed from a previous church would work, but it soon sent clean tones across the rooftops of this town of 10,000 along the Columbia River.

That's been the goal here for 100 years — sending forth the beauty and goodness of the Gospel.

"Being a Jesus and me Catholic is not enough," Archbishop John Vlazny told the congregation gathered June 5 for a centennial Mass. "Jesus invites us to show our faith by the way we live our lives."

After Mass, Archbishop Vlazny helped plant a tree on a corner of the parish grounds, sign of the faith's potential to grow in the public sphere.

Lewis and Clark spent the night just downstream in 1805 in a land peopled for generations by the Clatskanie tribe. By the start of the 20th century, the traveling Father Hugh McDevitt would visit the growing settlement once a month for Mass.

In 1911, Archbishop Alexander Christie trekked downriver from Portland to bless a small new wooden mission church. In 1916, the church was designated a parish just before the Catholic community grew with an influx of Italian immigrants.  

The community needed a larger church, so built a tudor beauty in 1920. It was partially damaged by fire twice but was rebuilt each time intrepidly.

Four Holy Names Sisters began the school in 1928. The student population flourished before and after World War II.

In 1960, a campaigning Sen. John F. Kennedy made a stop in front of the school, where he shook hands and chatted with parishioners.

In 1985, when Father James Crunican was pastor, St. Frederic became the first parish in the Archdiocese of Portland to have a non-ordained pastoral associate. The first was Franciscan Sister Eunice Hittner and the second was Francisan Sister Marilyn Misner, who became an institution, serving in the position for 18 years.

The current church was dedicated in 1983 and stands between the St. Helens Police Department and Al's Transmissions — solidly a part of town life. It includes pieces of the old church: a statue of St. Frederic, the original cornerstone, several stained glass windows and, of course, the bell. Two classrooms from the old school are still used for meetings and classes.  

Business leaders, teachers, civil servants, mill workers farmers and government leaders have all been part of the parish history. They opened their hearts and their pocketbooks to keep the ministry flowing, hosting turkey dinners, bingo, Mardi Gras, sing-alongs, raffles and a chili feed.  

St. Frederic has again welcomed immigrants, this time Latinos, who provide the community with much of its youth. A Spanish Mass began in the late 1990s, when Father Elwin Schwab was pastor. Also in the parish are Vietnamese, Filipino and Native American Catholics, as well as a current pastor from Tanzania, Father Joseph Barita.  

"This is a great moment in our lives," Father Barita told parishioners.
At the meal that followed Mass, hundreds of historic photos lined the walls and filled albums. One display included a girl's first Communion dress worn in the parish through the years.

Others showed a 1956 wedding and a nun preparing to fly a kite with school children in 1971. Several albums included photos of youth retreats, including an altar boy picnic from 1943 and a 1990s overnighter with teens acting out skits.
On the other side of the room, priests' vestments from the past hung in a row.

Outreach is a long tradition here. The parish's St. Vincent de Paul Society offers food to people in need. Many parishioners voluneer at the local senior center.
Since 2005, the Hermanas Misioneras del Rosario de Fatima from Mexico have ministered from St. Frederic, especially in aiding the poor and teaching religious education.

Dennis White, recently honored by the statewide Knights of Columbus for his service as a Knight, calls the parish a "source of spiritual guidance." White tells people he meets that attending Mass is not an obligation, but an opportunity.  
In a talk during the anniversary meal, White exhorted parishioners to get involved so that the parish can make a difference in the community.
"I challenge all of you to take up the call," White said.