This is the second in a series of nine brief profiles and photo essays from the churches designated for Year of Faith pilgrimages in the Archdiocese of Portland.
ST. PAUL — To enter St. Paul Church here is to walk into the heart of Oregon Catholic history.
The church is what's left of what was once a busy Catholic mission in the remote Willamette Valley, an outpost peopled by native tribes and French Canadian fur trappers. A log church was built in 1836 not far from the banks of the river and fertile farmland. Settlers had been begging for a priest for years and by 1839 one was finally coming by canoe and overland from Canada — Father Francis Norbert Blanchet. A wise and resolute missionary, he would devise ways to communicate with natives and then become Oregon's first archbishop, with St. Paul as his early residence.
The mission opened a cemetery in 1839. A town meeting hall went up in 1842 and a school in 1843. Not far away, the Jesuits started a mission in 1844 and Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur came from France to teach. Eventually, the California gold rush drew many residents away. Then Portland became the major town in the region and Catholics were not always welcomed into the center of Oregon life. It all meant St. Paul remained steady over the decades, shaped by faith and small-town values.
Small town life still abides here. Before Mass, Msgr. Gregory Moys greets everyone by name as they arrive. He jokes with them before Mass begins. Then it's time for devoted worship.
St. Paul is one of nine pilgrimage churches The Archdiocese of Portland has designated for the Year of Faith: St. John the Apostle Church, Oregon City; The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Portland; The National Sanctuary of our Sorrowful Mother (The Grotto), Portland; St. Paul Church, St. Paul; Mount Angel Abbey Church, Mount Angel; St. Joseph Church, Salem; St. Mary Church, Corvallis; St. Mary Church, Eugene; Sacred Heart Church, Medford.
The church was restored after a 1993 earthquake. Walls five bricks thick with no mortar were replaced with reinforced steel faced with the original bricks, which had been made on site.
Pope Benedict called for a Year of Faith to be celebrated until Nov. 23, during a year coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
One of the several ways to grow in faith and gain a Year of Faith plenary indulgence — pardon of temporal punishment for sin — is to visit a holy pilgrimage site designated by the local bishop. There, the pilgrim must attend a sacred celebration, remain for a time in prayer and conclude with the recitation of the Our Father, a profession of faith in any legitimate form, prayers to Mary, the apostles and patron saints.
For more photos of St. Paul Church and the other Year of Faith pilgrimage sites, go to catholicsentinel.org