Clarice KeatingOnce the entrance was a place of genuflection. Today it’s a place of greeting.
Of the Catholic Sentinel
Pete and Patsy Sweet’s home was previously a Catholic church, built in 1890. It’s where Lake Oswego residents attended Mass until the small building could not longer meet the community’s needs and it was sold to another religious group.
In 1993, when an antiques dealer bought the old church, it was converted into a residence. The Sweets bought it in 1997.
“We’ve always been fascinated by historical buildings,” Patsy said, about the piece of real estate she knew would become their future home as soon as she walked through the front paneled doors and pointed-arch transom. For Pete, who stands at 6-foot-6, the high ceilings had a certain appeal. With approximately 4,500 square feet of living space, Pete and Patsy could still fit in much of their furniture when they downsized from their 7,500-square-foot 1913 home near the Multnomah Athletic Club in Southwest Portland.
Excited about the lofty ceilings, the Sweets brought home a 22-foot Christmas tree their first winter in Lake Oswego. It took five people to carry the tree in, which then had to be chopped up to get it out. They haven’t had a big tree since.
The couple has taken steps to make the church homier, renovating the basement into a media room, guest quarters and Pete’s workspace. They added an attached garage. What was once the sacristy is now a modern kitchen with Italian field tiles on the counters and backsplash. The choir loft is a bedroom.
But it’s still a spiritual place, Patsy said.
“You think about all the memories and important things that have happened here – baptisms, funerals – those spirits don’t leave,” Patsy said. “They stay in these places, happy or sad.”
The old church, on First and E streets, cost $1,570 to build according to historical records. It was tiny by today’s standards, with space to accommodate 50 worshippers. Later, when a parish school was built on Seventh and A Avenue, the parish purchased additional land anticipating a need for expansion. When the rectory was built adjacent to the school in the 1950s, the parish changed from Sacred Heart to Our Lady of the Lake.
The original church is Gothic revival style. With its steeply pitched gable roof and pointed-arch windows, it is the oldest standing church structure in Lake Oswego.
Officially, the original tower and steeple blew off during the Columbus Day storm of 1962. Unofficially, as published in the parish’s centennial history book, a parish priest tore down the bell and steeple when the building would no longer be used as a Catholic place of worship.
The current owners had a new cupola built and installed with a crane.
“It looked undressed without it,” Patsy said.
When the Sweets bought their home, which they still call “the church,” they hired an architect to design a cherry divider, which separates the open dining and living room space from the back of the house, reminiscent of an altar.
For the master bath they had potter Joel Cotter throw a 500-pound ceramic bathtub and matching twin bowl sinks.
The Sweets, originally from the East Coast, have been in Oregon for 32 years. Patsy said they like living within walking distance of the bus, library, grocery stores and other amenities, especially not that they’re retired. People often stop to talk to Patsy while she works in the garden. She loves hearing about their personal connections to her home.
“People stop and say they got married here,” she said. “Or they say, I went to Sunday School here.”