Catholic Sentinel photos by Clarice Keating Mila Maskell reads during the centennial Mass.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Clarice Keating 

Mila Maskell reads during the centennial Mass.

Today, faithful gathered at St. Clare Church in Southwest Portland to celebrate 100 years since the parish's creation.

To mark the occasion, Archbishop Alexander Sample celebrated a centennial Mass. Father Steve Stobie, pastor, and Father Charles Wood, former pastor, concelebrated.

The Mass was a time to focus on the deep gratitude to the God who has gathered and watched over the parish for the past 100 years, said Pastoral Associate Pia de Leon in a centennial reflection.

“From our innocent infants to the revered seniors and all ages in between, St. Clare community is a testimony that his body of Christ was never for us to possess but for us to care for and to share with humility, patience and dedication to our future – to the people of the next 100 years.”

During his homily, Archbishop Sample echoed that message of gratitude.  He thanked those who worked to lay the foundation upon which the parish now builds. That development has been spiritual as well as structural, he said. 

“This is your home – the place of worship where you gather to celebrate the mysteries of faith, through good times and bad,” Archbishop Sample said, and today St. Clare’s parishioners’ “eyes and hearts are fixed on what is yet to come.” 

In 1909, St. Clare’s first pastor, Franciscan Father Capistran Damek, served Mass in the home of the Walsh family. Father Damek had spent many years stationed in the Pacific Northwest, helping parishes build and expand, and after a few years he would pick Capitol Hill for the site of a new parish – St. Clare.

Construction started on the three-story wood-framed church soon after the community was declared independent from St. Anthony Church in Tigard, where it had formerly been a mission. Father Damek celebrated the first Mass on Aug. 23, 1914, in the partially finished building. Only the chapel floor was complete.  

Those who served at St. Clare in its early years were hardy souls. Sister M. Virginia was one of two Franciscan sisters who came from New York to teach at the parish school. They arrived before the convent and school were finished, and slept on the floor and ate only what was donated to them. The women Religious kept warm using wood-burning stoves, fueled by lumber they chopped themselves.

In 1921, the Sisters of Charity from Dubuque, Iowa, replaced the two Sisters from New York, but Franciscan priests continued to serve at St. Clare. Father Loren Kerkof introduced congregational singing after the Vatican II changes. The first altar girl served in 1975. She had written to Pope Paul VI for permission, but didn’t hear back.  Nevertheless, Father Peter Krieg let her serve.

Eventually the old wood church was replaced with the current church, which was built in 1950.

The Franciscan spirituality’s emphasis on hospitality led to one of the Archdiocese of Portland’s first inclusive floor plans in the new church, where parishioners could see one another during Mass, as well as the liturgy. 

Today, that welcoming environment was immediately apparent to the parish’s newest members, Alicia and Sean Brady. Their two children, ages 4 and 6, are enrolled at St. Clare School.

“St. Clare’s knocked our socks off,” Alicia said. The couple discovered a school and parish that were as vibrant as they were welcoming. Alicia and Sean were immediately asked to become involved in church ministries.

“My husband and I believe strongly that your faith is something that is practiced and not just held within you,” Alicia said. “We saw many opportunities to meet people and to feel like we were contributing, not just to the parish, but also to the greater community as well.”

Janet Patella, 64, was baptized at St. Clare and has spent her entire life tending to and loving the parish. She has fond memories of carnivals, barbecues, and rolling hundreds of meatballs for spaghetti dinners. Her parents, Vito and Violet, ran a nearby grocery store and flower shop, and Patella’s father delivered groceries to the convent. 

The parish has a long history of following St. Francis’s tradition of service, supporting local and global social action. For a time, immigrants and refugees were invited to live in the lower level of the rectory, while the parish offices were squeezed into the building’s upper floor.

After 79 years of Franciscan leadership, St. Clare became a diocesan church in 1992, however the Franciscan influence is still evident in the parish’s vibrant ministries.

In a book written by Sheila Cullen, “Remembering St. Clare Parish: Ten Voices from Her First Century,” Edward Weber remembers helping with carpentry and cabinetry during various construction projects over the years. He assisted with repairs, too. Lending a hand is central to what it means to be a Catholic, in particular a Catholic at St. Clare, he said.

“You can’t just sit there,” Weber said. “You know, you’ve got to be active in the parish. “

Father Steve Stobie, pastor of St. Clare, has fond memories of being a student at the parish school. He remembers the 1960s expansion project, when he was awed by bulldozers, trucks and cranes operating amid dust and gravel.

“There was nothing so amazing to a fifth grader than the day the workers had to employ a giant high lift crane to place the roof beams on the massive structure that appeared to me at the age of 10 to rival the great pyramids of Giza,” Father Stobie wrote, in a reflection of his childhood at St. Clare.

Parishioner Jim Shand has spent decades organizing the parish’s archives, serving as unofficial historian. His grandparents, the Borsches, were among the founding families of the parish.

In Shand’s research for the parish’s 75th anniversary, he discovered during a visit to the Franciscan Province in Santa Barbara, Calif., that St. Clare was considered a peachy assignment because the congregation was always so friendly. 

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