Sunriver mission harbors small town community feel, big hearts
Jon ReddyThat's the sentinment of the pastor, operating manager and parishioners of this small Catholic church located on one of the most popular summer and winter resort destinations in thte state.
In 1983, Catholics began meeting and holding Mass at Sunriver Community Church. When Catholics worshiping there were asked to find a new place to worship in 1999, parishioners and pastor Father Jim Radloff combined their efforts with the Episcopal and Lutheran communities to purchase the old Sunriver Preparatory School, which all three communities now share as their church.
Although frustrating at the time, says Father Radloff, the situation worked out for the best.
'The lodge didn't have a place, so we were in a quandry,' said Father Radloff. 'Sunriver preparatory school was up for sale, so we basically bought the grade school and turned it into the church.'
The three religious denominations eventually formed the Sunriver Christian Fellowship.
'We wouldn't have been able to do this on our own,' says Father Radloff. 'At the time we had 57 registered households. When the Episcopalians and the Lutherans told us they didn't have a place to worship any more either, they were extremely generous is helping us.'
The church is now owned by the Catholic church, and because of their contribution, both the Episcopalians and Lutherans can use the facility for a number of years. After the church was built, the number of registered Catholic families at Sunriver jumped from 57 to 109.
The other communities combined have more than 200 registered families.
'The arrangement really witnesses strong ecumenism,' said Father Radloff. 'In a day and age when most people are trying to divide, we have come together, and yet we have not lost our Catholic identity.'
Father Radloff is extremely proud of the mission's Care and Share program, which regularly provides food to the local needy families, which is a reality that sometimes gets forgotten, says Father Radloff.
When the program first started, only a few families collected food. Now the Care and Share program serves more than 200 families.
Both David and Marlene Guasco help out extensively with the Care and Share program. David and Marlene Guasco have been full time members of Holy Trinity for going on three years now.
David, 60, is a retired mathematics teacher from Central Catholic High School. He and his wife used to come in the summertime for vacation, and four years ago, bought a home near Sunriver after retiring.
'It started as a brown bag program to provide food for needy families and people in our area,' said David. 'When people think about Sunriver, they think of a wealthy area, but the resort is surrounded by rural poverty - there are a lot of people here that have a lot of needs.'
The first month of the program four years ago, says David, 12 families showed up to receive food. Now, more than 200 families show up.
'Our goal is to supplement food items that these people need,' said David.
A food basket contains peanut butter, beans, chili, pork and beans, canned fruit, canned vegetables, soups, tuna fish, spaghetti sauce, pasta, cereal, rice, macaroni and cheese, ground beef, margarine, milk, loaf of bread, and fresh fruit.
The mission works with the Central Oregon Community Action Agency Network and the local food bank to run the program.
The mission also collects food at the church during food drives.
Occasionally the program hands out toiletries like hand soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and laundry soap. The program also gives out books and school supplies once a year, and helps people with rent and utility assistance, through the St. Vincent de Paul Society in La Pine.
David does the inventory, and makes the run to the food bank, while Marlene organizes the 30 to 35 volunteers.
'I think this program really highlights our parish's community outreach,' said David. 'The parish donates $500 a month to this ministry and the Christian Fellowship donates $300 in fresh fruit.'
'I think a lot of tourists and a lot of church attendants here on vacation are surprised that we ask for help for poor in the area,' said David . 'It goes to people who live in trailers, in houses, in one case we had a family whose address was at the end of a road; no electricity and no running water. There's a lot of recovering drug addicts, a lot of unemployed people. We just want to help.'
Kathie Thatcher, operations manager at the mission, is proud of the Care and Share program and her mission as a whole. She does everything from janitorial to secretarial to scheduling to having a shoulder for people to cry on.
Thatcher retired to Sunriver with her husband in in 1983.
Although the church is located inside the Sunriver resort, there is no real relationship between the two. The resort does publicize the church's hours and Mass times, and are very receptive to being asked for contributions to the annual auction, says Thatcher.
Thatcher ran two businesses in the mall at Sunriver for several years with her husband - a deli and a video store which they eventually sold.
Thatcher lives just a five-minute walk away from the parish now, which is helpful to her job and availability.
'We do baptisms, weddings and funerals,' said Thatcher. 'Granted, not a great many of them, but yes, they do happen here.'
A lot of part time parishioners are heavily involved in the church, said Thatcher.
'One of our favorite out of town couples fell in love with the church and Father Jim when it first opened so they went to Italy and picked out a set of stations of the cross and donated them,' said Thatcher.
Once a year, the parish holds its Pink Elephant dinner auction. Last year the church raised $15,000 and split it between expanding the parking lot and the Care and Share program. This year the auction raised money for grounds work and Care and Share. A Bible study group meets once a week during the school year, and five or six families are involved in that, says David Guasco.
Parishioners are enamored with their pastor, Father Radloff, who was recently diagnosed with cancer and has been undergoing chemotherapy in addition to keeping up his ministry.
Father Radloff has gotten a great deal of help from Father Remi Nwabichie (associate pastor) from Nigeria.
Father Remi, who has been helping out at Holy Trinity over the past three or four months, returned to Nigeria last month to update his visa and will be returning in October.
Even with Father Remi and the help of another Nigerian priest, Father Kieran, Holy Trinity holds just one Mass on Saturday night.
'Father Remi and the Nigerian priests have been great,' said Jim Dillman, president of the pastoral council at Holy Trinity. 'I've learned a lot from them, they've opened up a whole world to our parish, it truly has shown us the universal part of being 'Catholic.''
Dillman's duties involve meeting monthly to discuss the pastoral aspects of the parish, issues relating to the church, spreading the gospel to the congregation, and the implementation of institutional and GIRM changes.
Dillman vacationed here seven or eight times with his family and decided to move to Sunriver from Costa Mesa, California to try it out.
He was involved in Catholic schools and parishes in California before coming here.
'We wanted a slower pace of life,' said Dillman. 'It's nice to live in an area where when you pour yourself a glass of water and you don't find small little things floating in it.'
Dillman has three children, a daughter 28, still in California, and two sons, one 18, one 17.
The Dillmans live in Bend, but make the commute to the small Sunriver parish because of its close-knit feel.
'I love the small town feel,' said Dillman. 'St. Francis is a great parish, but I prefer the small parish atmosphere. There are times when 70 to 80 percent of the people in the pews I know personally during the tourist off season.'
Carol Patton is the liturgical coordinator for the parish. She helps Father Radloff work with the pastoral council and coordinate the lay ministries at the parish.
She coordinates the hospitality committee, the sacristans, and eucharistic ministers, or as the new General Instruction on the Roman Missal calls them, extra ordinary ministers of holy communion.
Patton has also been working on getting the new GIRM integrated into the parish.
A member of the parish for almost 12 years, she's been liturgical coordinator for almost four years.
'We are a wonderful small community,' said Patton, who moved to Sunriver with her husband Larry in 1992. 'Because we are small, we get real good involvement - we have to have real good involvement.'
Because of the community's transient tourist population, says Patton, at any point in time in the community, 30 or 40 people can be missing.
'A good percentage of churchgoers leave in October and we don't see them again until April,' said Patton. 'Our extended community is our visitors and tourists who are very nice, too.'
Church attendance blossoms from May to Labor Day and holidays in the winter.
'We try and make our visitors feel very welcome,' said Patton.
The biggest challenge for the parish, says Patton, is fundraising. Since Holy Trinity is a small transient community, the flow of offertory is never completely steady, but parishioners come up with creative ideas like this month's Pink Elephant Auction.
'Going from 300 attendees at Mass to 70 or 80 is a pastoral and financial challenge,' said Patton, a former nurse manager at St. Vincent Hospital in Portland. 'The neat thing is that most of us that are a permanent part of the retirement community here, so we have the time and the talent to put into the parish, if we weren't we would be in big trouble.'
Patton has also been impressed with the leadership of Bishop Robert Vasa, whom she calls 'very down to earth.'
'He is such a nice man,' said Patton. 'You can go in and talk to him anytime.'
Madeleine Bednarek has been a full time parishioner at Holy Trinity for the last four years.
She was a former parishioner at St. Matthew Parish in Hillsboro before building a retirement home and moving to central Oregon.
Her biggest time commitment to the parish has been through the Care and Share, where she helps with the shopping.
'It's scary how much poverty is in the area,' said Bednarek. 'Even people with jobs at the lodge don't make a lot of money.'
Bednarek, 63, is originally from New York City, moving from Long Island to upstate to New Jersey, to Virginia, to Tigard, Hillsboro and finally Bend to retire with her husband who died after battling Leukemia more than six years ago.
Bednarek helps out as a cantor, and is very impressed with the involvement of the community - the Sunriver Christian Fellowship, and the Care and Share program.
'The combination of our congregations has been very nice,' said Bednarek. 'We are lucky to able to work with them the way we have.'
'Fr. Remi is phenomenal,' said Bednarek. 'He came here on sabbatical and jumped right in while Father Jim was on sabbatical in the Midwest. He did a wonderful job.'
The demographics of the parish are mainly retirees, says Bednarek, but certainly there are other families. Holy Redeemer Parish in La Pine has more children in the area that they serve.
Father Radloff says that of the four parishes he ministers to, Holy Trinity is the most utilized. In addition to Holy Redeemer and the Sunriver mission, Father Radloff also serves Our Lady of the Snows Church in Gilchrist and Holy Family Church in Christmas Valley. His priestly ministry covers more than 10,000 square miles. He puts about 24,000 miles a year on his car.
'Holy Trinity is not a place that's just used on Saturday night and Sunday morning,' said Father Radloff. 'It's utilized all the time - all different celebrations, prayer services, bell choir, choir practices, Kathie Thatcher has an incredible job of juggling all the activities.'
'How wonderful is it that Catholics can provide such a community place,' said Father Radloff.