Flag bearers lead the procession at today's centennial Mass and celebration at St. Charles of Borromeo Parish in Northeast Portland.
Flag bearers lead the procession at today's centennial Mass and celebration at St. Charles of Borromeo Parish in Northeast Portland.

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With a multicultural flair that reflects its diverse congregation, St. Charles of Borromeo Parish celebrated its centennial Mass today. Leading the procession at the start of the service were parish children carrying flags representing countries of origin for many of St. Charles’ parishioners. Readings were proclaimed in Tigrinya, a language of Eritrea, and Vietnamese. The prayer of the faithful was recited in a variety of languages: Tongan, Italian, Chuukese, Spanish, Tagalog, Polish, etc.

A Micronesian choir sang during the liturgy, and at the party afterward, the catering included Guam-style lumpia and bonelos uhang, shrimp fritters.

In his first visit to St. Charles, Archbishop Alexander Sample concelebrated Mass with Father Elwin Schwab, and other visiting priests.

Drawing from Matthew 5:16, the archbishop asked the Northeast Portland Catholics to “let your light shine so brightly before others so that they will see the good you do and give glory to God.”

“For 100 years your ancestors have been doing just that,” the Archbishop said to the crowd, adding “that’s something to celebrate.” Now it’s time to look forward, he said, and “to be a beacon of hope for a people so desperately in need of that hope.”

Fabric signs emblazoned with the words “Let us walk in the light of the Lord” decorated the walls of the sanctuary.

“Well done, St. Charles of Borromeo Parish, for your first 100 years,” Archbishop Sample said. “May God be with you, burning brightly on you for the next 100 years.”

Established in 1913, Archbishop Alexander Christie created the parish to meet the needs of the fast-growing East Portland population. The church was built in 1916 on Northeast 33rd Avenue. Fires damaged that church, and in 1950, Archbishop Edward Howard bought five acres on 42nd Avenue, big enough for a school. The Holy Child Sisters agreed to staff the school, which opened with 77 children enrolled in four grades. The current church building went up in 1950.

The school joined forces with St. Rose School in 1986 to become Archbishop Howard School, with kindergarten through fourth grade meeting at St. Rose and grades 5 through 8 through meeting at St. Charles. In 1988 the parishes agreed it would make sense for all grades to meet at one building, which would be St. Rose. Today the old school at St. Charles is used for meeting rooms and other offices.

An aerial photo from the 1950s shows St. Charles surrounded by farming fields. For the past few decades, members of the congregation have grown increasingly diverse; the pews are filled with Hispanics, Micronesians, Vietnamese, Eritreans, Filipinos and many others.

The parish’s Multicultural Ministry works to foster relationships and understanding among the many cultures that are part of the community, meeting monthly for prayer, faith sharing and to plan liturgical and social events.

Around the church are shrines for various cultural traditions – the Annunciation Icon, Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Lavang. Parish staff and ministry leaders work hard to integrate all of the different cultures into one Body of Christ, said Father Schwab, pastor. Father Schwab grew up in the parish and has seen many changes.

St. Charles also has a long history of social justice. It was one of the founding churches of the Portland Organizing Project, and has continued its association with that coalition of faith-based organizations, now called the Metropolitan Alliance for the Common Good, called “MacG.”

Joan Winchester, pastoral associate, serves on the Cully Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative that attracts jobs and services to the area. The group aims to guide growth so gentrification doesn’t displace residents in the urban, mixed-income community.

Jeanne Allen, St. Charles’ archive coordinator, and Joseph Schiwek Jr., a parishioner and Archdiocese of Portland’s archives records manager, investigated every nook and cranny on the parish campus in an attempt to organize photos and historical documents that had been tucked away over the decades. Schiwek grew up in the parish, graduating from the school in 1950. Allen has been a part of the parish for 65 years.

Much of that parish history was on display during the centennial celebration.

Among the surprises of the day was a pipe organ performance by Harley Perkins, who helped install the enormous instrument in 1978. After Perkins moved away, the organ hadn’t been played for years because no one knew how.

“He came back just in time,” Schiwek said.