An image of Jesus in the dome soars above altar at Sacred Heart Church in Medford.
This is the fifth in a series of nine profiles and photo essays from the churches designated for Year of Faith pilgrimages in the Archdiocese of Portland.
MEDFORD — Smoke from nearby forest fires is dissipating from this Southern Oregon town. It's been tough to breathe. But members of Sacred Heart Parish here did not complain. Mostly, they prayed for firefighters.
That's the Southern Oregon spirit. Selflessness was on display in the region in 1869, when Holy Names Sisters cared for smallpox victims in nearby Jacksonville, not much regarding their own safety.
Jacksonville was the big town back then and Medford mostly a blip on the map. In 1890, the first mission church in Medford was dedicated by Archbishop William Gross. Named St. Michael, it was a mission of St. Joseph in Jacksonville.
By 1908, St. Michael was an independent parish. Railroad placement, a shift in population and economic circumstances meant Medford was now the big town in southern Oregon. That year, a new Catholic church was built in Medford, called Church of the Holy Nativity. It seated 150 people. Within 20 years, a larger church called Sacred Heart had been built.
Now, more than 2,400 households call Sacred Heart and its mission in Jacksonville their spiritual homes. The parish has a major charitable impact on the area, working closely with St. Vincent de Paul. There is round-the-clock adoration of the Eucharist, Bible study, Communion brought to the sick and homebound, a Catholic discussion group and a Catholic grade school.
The calendar is packed with meetings like those of the Secular Franciscans and the quilting group. Weddings fill the weekends.
An increasing number of parishioners are Spanish speaking. Two of the seven weekend Masses are in Spanish. Two cultures meld on occasion. Case in point — the recent nuptials of Gilberto Omar Gonzalez Gallo and Paula Carolina Ruiz Torres. The rite pulled families from both the English and Spanish speaking communities.
Pope Benedict XVI called for a Year of Faith to be celebrated until Nov. 23, during a period 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.