CAVE JUNCTION — Lorraine Saffer has shaken the hands of a half dozen archbishops during their visits to this small town in the woods near the Oregon-California border. It all started in the early 1950s, when Archbishop Edward Howard blessed a simple white house of worship after Catholics had met for Mass in local homes for years. Saffer, 80, was a teenager then, daughter of a local farmer.
Now she's the matriarch of St. Patrick of the Forest.
Archbishop Alexander Sample, who visited Monday for the 150th anniversary of the mission, made it clear to Saffer and the other 105 housholds here that St. Patrick's remoteness from Portland does not mean it's forgotten.
"The good people of Cave Junction are just as much a part of my flock as the people who worship next door at the cathedral," the archbishop said during his homily.
On Sunday, parishioners held a celebratory potluck and a delegation of about a dozen made the trek to old St. Patrick Cemetery in Allen Gulch, the site of the original church where the first Mass was held on March 17, 1864. Mass at that site, 20 minutes uphill from town, faded when mining went bust in the 1890s. But the Catholic community endured, with home Mass celebrated for decades by priests from Grants Pass. St. Patrick of the Forest is still a mission of Grants Pass.
The first task on the anniversary is to look back with gratitude to God and the people who sacrificed to form the faith community, Archbishop Sample reminded the congregation. Next, he said, the parish should look forward to dream and plan for what God has in store.
"You are the living presence of Jesus Christ in this community of Cave Junction," he explained. "Each and every one of you has his or her unique role to play in the organism that is this parish community."
Saying it is a blessing to be part of a small community where it is impossible to get lost, the archbishop asked parishioners not to be discouraged by their size. He did imply they should not be satisfied, reminding them of the reading from the Gospel, in which Jesus asks the fishermen to put out into the deep, resulting in a great catch.
Citing Pope Francis, the archbishop said the church cannot focus inward on itself but must spread the good news. "Let's carry on what Christ has entrusted to us," the archbishop said.
The current church is located a few blocks off the Redwood Highway, with timbered hills rising on each side. The mission has 106 registered households. A handful of large families mean St. Patrick is bustling with children on Sundays. Maranda Stiles, who left to start college at Southern Oregon University, says most youths from St. Patrick's stick with their faith in college.
The anniversary sparked enthusiasm in parishioners in a town that has suffered the bust of both mining and the timber industry. Almost 90 people, including parishioners, lost jobs last year in a lumber mill closure.
"It's a lot of good news in a time with a lot of not-so-great news," said Jeff Stiles, who was distributing St. Patrick holy cards to guests as a gift from his family. "We have a tight community."
The extraction economy has not worked out so well for Cave Junction, says Sharon Locke, chairwoman of the pastoral council. She hopes something else will come along. Taylor Sausage, run by a family that includes parishioners, is the only business in the area that pays family wages. The Rough and Ready Mill is slated to open again to work on smaller logs, employing 68 people. Through it all, the Catholic community has remained steady and supportive, Locke said.
"The people from this parish have always been one big family," says Bob Busch, a member of St. Anne Parish in Grants Pass who has been visiting St. Patrick's for more than 60 years.
Cindy Miller, a parishioner for two decades, says she hopes the young people will continue being active far into the future.
For their part, youths respect and appreciate the parish community.
"It's a good part of my life," said Alyvia Miller, Cindy's 11-year-old granddaughter.
Monday evening's Mass was followed by cake and punch and a visit from St. Patrick, played by Michael Strong. The two bishops enjoyed meeting each other.
Father Bill Holtzinger, pastor in Grants Pass and Cave Junction, thanked organizers. Steve Shirley and the rest of the pastoral council organized the big event, which included a large banner on the side of the church with the archbishop's photo.
On hand were Father Jose Campos, Father Stephen Fister and Deacon Bob Chapin of Grants Pass and Father Adam Kotas of Crescent City, Calif.