The recession leaves the filled sanctuary of St. Wenceslaus Parish at conclusion of the centennial Mass.
The recession leaves the filled sanctuary of St. Wenceslaus Parish at conclusion of the centennial Mass.
This year, Scappoose Catholics look back and remember the small group of Czech immigrant families who formed a Christian community and established St. Wenceslaus Church.

These days, the parish is much larger and more diverse, but the culture of the founding families is still honored – from the kolache sweet rolls served at parties to the spiritual traditions and open hearts.

Perhaps the most beloved tradition is joining together in faith-filled fun.
“The people of this parish, going back to 1911, they always had a lot of fun together. They danced to Czech polka every Saturday night,” said Nancy Rocha, a parishioner for 30 years who helped collect history for the centennial committee. As she researched the parish’s past, Rocha was impressed with the stories of the people who came from Czechoslovakia or the Midwest states.

“They came to form a community and never complained of being homesick,” she said. “They took to their community and to each other from the beginning, and though it was an ethnic parish, newcomers were always welcomed.”

Rocha and her husband Larry raised their five children in the parish. She said the parish continues to grow and, in the spirit of the founding families, newcomers are embraced with open arms.

The people of the parish are giving, generous and most welcoming to all who come to the door, said Father Jim Stange, pastor.

“I can hardly express how much the community lives the virtue of Holy Charity,” he said. “My vision for the next 100 years is to continue to see that St. Wenceslaus lives Church, Jesus Christ and to always welcome the stranger.”

In 1905, when John Havlik Senior and his family arrived in Scappoose from Nebraska, they began a campaign to entice other Czech families to the new settlement with the help of Benediction Father Urban Fischer, a missionary priest who served the area. They wrote letters to Czech newspapers, relatives, friends in Europe and the Midwest. By 1910, the community had grown such that it was time to build a Catholic church, placed on two acres of forested land donated by Havlik — one acre for the church; one acre for a cemetery. St. Wenceslaus, named in honor of the Czech king and saint, was blessed July 2, 1911, by Archbishop Alexander Christie.

By the 1940s, it was clear that the original church was too tiny to suit the needs of the growing community, so the pastor, Father Joseph Manik, applied for a chapel that was Army surplus after World War II. The community was awarded the chapel, but it was located in Fort Stevens, 10 miles north of Astoria. To transport the structure, the church was cut in half and reassembled in Scappoose. Many skilled workers donated hours to expand and remodel the chapel, adding a brick veneer.

To this day, parishioners of the church witness their faith through their involvement in parish life, but also the community, according to Mary Jane Weber, director of service ministry.

“These faithful Catholics are serving as teachers, community leaders, school volunteers, firefighters, and other contributors that make our community strong,” she said.

Parishioners support and operate a food bank, contribute emergency funds to neighbors in need and serve a Thanksgiving meal to the entire community. Once a month, parish volunteers provide a meal to a men’s shelter in Southeast Portland, a project started in 1998 by parish youth that has continued.

As Archbishop John Vlazny celebrated Mass during the centennial celebration Sept. 26, he smiled warmly at parishioners – including one very special woman seated in the front row. Josephine Trtek, or “Josie,” as she’s known to the parish, also marked her 100th birthday this year. Josie still lives in the Scappoose home she built with her husband Joseph after World War II, where they raised their family. Josie’s daughter Sister Catherine Trtek, one of the Sisters For Christian Community, has childhood memories of her mother and grandmother bustling around the kitchen, the house filled with enticing aromas of turkey, kolache, dumplings and pies, all for annual parish suppers attended by priests who traveled from all over Western Oregon. Those were days of Sunday services packed with cousins, aunts, uncles and other relatives from the big Czech families.

During the centennial, Josie and her daughter not only remembered parish history, but also the many family members and friends whose souls filled the church as the archbishop celebrated Mass.

“Can’t you just feel the family here today?” Josie whispered to her daughter during the celebration. 
“You could feel the joy,” Sister Catherine said. “All of our loved ones were rejoicing in that beautiful day with my mom.”

From those first few founding families to the current bustling parish of 250 families, St. Wenceslaus’ identity revolves around fostering community. Josette Hugo, celebration coordinator, has volunteered since she joined the church in 1975. Centennial organizers made a goal to build bridges and encourage newcomers to get involved. Each month, centennial volunteers coordinated special events to draw out the celebration, like honoring married couples at Mass near Valentine’s Day or celebrating Mardi Gras in March.

“We’d like to continue hosting activities in the next year so we can continue this good feeling we have had over the last year,” Hugo said.

Parishioners weren’t the only ones to get swept up in the reminiscent spirit. 

 “[Archbishop Vlazny] kept saying how happy he was to be there, how it brought back memories for him, having grown up in a Czech family,” Hugo said. 

Members of the parish were touched to have the diocesan leader help celebrate the historic day, and so he was sent home with an extra plate of kolache.

Mary Jo Schlosser, who runs the parish’s business office, feels that connection the past particularly intensely when she sees multiple generations sitting together at Mass.
“These families help keep some of our old parish traditions in place, while the ‘newer’ families bring new ideas and traditions to carry forward into the next 100 years,” she said.

It’s the youngest members of the parish who will be responsible for carrying forward the traditions. These are the charges of Elizabeth Millager, religious education coordinator.
“It is such a gift — the rich history and deep-rooted Catholic faith, which is shared between those families within our community,” she said.  “Whether part of an established family tree or one of us who have chosen to start our own roots here at St. Wenceslaus, we are all part of one body.”