LAKEVIEW — A 90-year-old photo shows a daring worker clinging to the cross atop St. Patrick Church.
The scene illustrates life in this remote high-desert town and surrounding areas: a bit risky, but distinguished by humble confidence in God’s abiding care.
“That sense of needing grace is part of the whole Irish tradition here,” says parishioner Desi Zamudio, referring to the folk from County Cork who settled the area a century ago to grow crops and raise sheep.
Zamudio, who grew up in the Latino community of southern California, identifies with the Irish abandonment to God. A retired U.S. Forest Service worker, he now lives on the edge of this town of 2,500. He’s the grand knight of the Knights of Columbus and teaches religious education.
To help his students understand God’s grace, he has them hold hands in a circle and spin about. Grace, he explains, is like that balance that results when all parts of the circle are moving harmoniously.
Catholics here used to say that an archbishop was the first missionary to visit them in their remote settlement.
In July 1880, a cavalry unit was riding east from Fort Klamath. In his report, the commanding officer wrote that they came across “a tall, erect and slender man, dressed in dark clothes” walking across the wilderness with a knapsack. It was Archbishop John Seghers of Portland.
For decades after, priests from Jacksonville and Klamath Falls made additional treks into the lonely region.
By 1910, the area had a distinctively Irish flavor. For Mass, Catholics had been meeting in a house on Slash Street, but the congregation had outgrown that small chapel. A new church, named for St. Patrick, was dedicated in July 1912 with 75 people on hand, mostly native-born Irish.
A 1914 letter to the Baker Diocese offices from Father Murphy gave the consoling report that there was no drunkenness in Lakeview. According to a 1921 report in the Catholic Sentinel, the parish contributed $354 to aid the dependents of prisoners durinthe liberation conflict in Ireland.
Though the population is now more diverse, the mission of St. Patrick Parish has remained the same for 100 years.
“The purpose is to reach out to all people, especially Catholics,” says Father Anthony Mbaegbu, the pastor since 2006. “This mission is very paramount — to enable them to know God, worship God, love God and their neighbours.” Father Mbaegbu, a 46-year-old missionary from Nigeria, himself has a strong notion of grace. He says his parish, with its ranchers and farmers, is distinguished by “the realization of the existence of God, what we owe him and the importance of being in his presence all the days of our lives.” The parish exists, he explains, to provide people of all ages the means to reach God and work out their salvation. Salvation of all kinds is on the minds of people in Lake County, hit hard by the recession. Many residents work in service jobs, while others have Forest Service careers or ranches.
Father Mbaegbu gladly reports that his parish has been able to help those in need, thanks to the enduring contributions of everyone else. Parishioners have kept up parish and diocesan support to a remarkable extent. Father Mbaegbu, who served small communities in his home Diocese of Owerri, is used to traveling to missions. Churches in Adel, Paisley and Plush are part of his Oregon parish.
“The interesting thing about small communities is their ability to know each other, help each other, know their particular needs and their unshakable faith,” he says. Lakeview was established in 1876 — at that time, before the age of dams, Goose Lake was bigger and could been seen from town, and so the name made sense. Just 15 miles from the California border, Lakeview sits at an elevation of 4,800 feet, making it one of Oregon’s most elevated communities. In the summer of 2004, a magnitude 4.4 earthquake shook the town. The old brick church sustained no damage.
The parish moves to the tempo of ranch life, with meetings and celebrations taking a hiatus during the summer work season. Come fall, when labor slows a bit, the parish runs a hamburger stand for a local festival.
Zamudio hopes the growing Hispanic community of Lakeview will become more and more a part of the parish life by volunteering and contributing. The parish decided to cancel the Spanish-language Mass, wanting to avoid the development of parallel communities in favor of a unified one.
Karen Zamudio, who is married to Desi, is director of religious education and a parish council member. She is aware of her serious responsibility. With no Catholic school for 150 miles, passing on the faith is in her hands. Increasingly, her strategy is to get entire families involved in the learning.
Following the guidance of the diocese, classes may soon incorporate fun quizzes and faith-themed game shows. Karen already has incentives for students who participate; the children can earn points and then buy toys and other items from a display cabinet.
The parish lends strong support to religious education, providing the prizes, plus meals, snacks and rosaries. The parish supported a trip for confirmation students to the Baker Diocese retreat center in Powell Butte.
With a combined 40 students in first Communion and confirmation, this was one of the biggest religious education years in recent memory.
“It’s fun,” says Rachel Leal, a 14-year-old student. She enjoys learning about faith and seeing her friends.
Karen leads a team of a half dozen catechists, including two young adults who teach the high school group. Here’s a sign of the lofty morale: Last week, the grateful catechists took Karen out for lunch.
One St. Patrick religious education alum returned to be a teacher at the local high school.
There are many long-lasting ministers here. Shirley Stewart, who has been involved in church music since she was a girl, directs the choir. Suzanne Steward has been secretary for years.
The former pastor, Father Ray Hopp, has made his retirement here. He can still be seen ambling around town in a cowboy hat, a distinguished citizen. He visits hospital patients and fills in when Father Mbaegbu needs help.
The brick church building is also long-lasting. It’s one of the oldest in the Diocese of Baker. Parishioners cherish it. The flowers are always fresh, and the place is always clean.
St. Patrick’s is a community in which people would do anything for one another. The growing edge here is allowing that tight bond to leave room for newcomers. Nancy Crider, 64, became Catholic in 1972 and was baptized at St. Patrick Church. She later took a job in a Klamath Falls window and door factory and held it for 27 years. When disability hit her, she and husband Mike returned to Lakeview four years ago. They now live three blocks from the church and feel accepted. “It’s a small community, so it’s easier to get close to different people,” Crider says, adding that she appreciates the increasing racial diversity.
Crider coordinates the parish’s adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, held Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
The faithful participation in that prayer, she says, is another sign of the community’s willingness to let God guide life.