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7/23/2010 1:48:00 PM
Mission church in Mill City marks 100 years
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Fr. Irudayaraj Amalanathan during communion at St. Catherine of Siena Mission 100th anniversary mass.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Fr. Irudayaraj Amalanathan during communion at St. Catherine of Siena Mission 100th anniversary mass.
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Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Many people came to the St. Catherine of Siena Mission in Mill City for the 100th anniversary celebration.
Archbishop Vlazny's homily for centennial Mass in Mill City
This weekend, together with our fellow citizens, we are celebrating the birth of our nation.  Ours is a large, extensive and diverse land.  The magnitude and diversity from the very beginning have been hallmarks of our great Northwest country.  At the beginning of the 20th century some still described this area as an abundant wilderness “with fewer Catholics than snakes or cows.”  There was a scattering of remote towns, most of them without churches, sometimes occupied by stray Catholics who had not seen a priest in many years.  “How to serve them?” was the question of the day.  

It was at this point that the idea of using railroad chapel cars was proposed.  These chapel cars would provide facilities and a priest who would preach “missions” in some of the scattered communities here in the Pacific Northwest.  The first chapel car was built in Chicago back in 1907.  It was called the “St. Anthony”, blessed in Chicago and finally arrived in Portland in September, 1909.  It was in the spring of 1910 that St. Anthony paid a visit to Mill City and the first Catholic services were finally offered here.  By the next year a new church had been built and the first Mass in that church was celebrated on May 14th of 1911.  The Catholic Extension Society out of Chicago which had provided the chapel car, also made a donation of $554.61 towards the building of that first church.  I am pleased to acknowledge that in later years my own parents supported the Catholic Extension Society and in some way I find that as a meaningful connection between my ministry and their missionary spirit.

Today we celebrate 100 years of a bona fide Catholic community here in Mill City.  In the past the parish was served at various times by priests from Albany, Sublimity and Jordan.  Beginning this month our connection is with the priests in Stayton and Jordan.  We are grateful for all, clergy, religious and laity, who have carried on the work of building the kingdom of God here in Linn County.  We also mark the 99th anniversary of the dedication of our church by Archbishop Alexander D. Christie on July 4, 1911.  

We Americans traditionally have looked upon ourselves as a God-fearing people.  But it has become quite evident that this 234 year-old nation is having a hard time giving God his proper place as the source and center of our lives.  When something like this happens over any length of time, eventually someone or something else will take up that center space.  As we celebrate this great national holiday, we are forced to recognize our present national dilemma.  We admit that we are indeed one nation “under God,” but, at the same time, we try to resolve some of our most critical problems without God’s help.

Those of us who call ourselves Catholic or Christian are essentially followers of Jesus Christ, believers in his teachings and his values, fellow travelers along the path of life.  Like the 72 disciples in today’s gospel, we have accepted some responsibility for the mission of Jesus.  It was because of that sense of responsibility that our forbearers established this community and built this church here in Mill City.

When Jesus sends his 72 disciples off on mission, he instructs them in advance not to expect success in all of their endeavors.  He tells them, in fact, to expect failure, to expect that not everything will go their way when it comes to their mission.  Should they experience a lack of response to their message, he said they should “shake the dust from their feet” and move on.  Nobody likes failure.  After conducting 5,000 experiments, Thomas Edison was approached by a young journalist who asked him why he persisted when every attempt had ended in failure.  Edison responded, “Young man, you don’t understand.  I have not failed at all!  I have successfully identified 5,000 ways that will not work.  That puts me a lot closer now to one that will.”  Failure does not have to be seen as the end of the world.  It is all a part of the learning process.  

Sometimes we are reluctant to become involved in the life and mission of the church because of our fear of failure.  After all, church values are not always popular and we know how at times we become discouraged or weary.  This is part of life.  It should not be a cause for giving up.  When things go wrong, like Edison and other great people before us, we simply have to shake the dust from our feet, move on and try again.

When all is said and done, the kind of success we seek is God’s success.  At the root of all our responsibilities as followers of Jesus Christ there must be a willingness to allow God to be God, to acknowledge God as both the source and the center of our lives.  This challenge becomes difficult because it requires that we give up trying to be God ourselves and we must learn to accept our place as simply His disciples.

A number of years ago there was an interesting film entitled Pearl Harbor.  In the movie we meet the brilliant Japanese admiral, Yamamoto, who spent months meticulously designing and rehearsing every detail of the attack of the Imperial Japanese Navy on Pearl Harbor.  On that fateful December Sunday morning, the admiral directed his staff to send out a clutter of false and confusing messages to mislead the American monitors that were intercepting them.  An admiring staff officer congratulated him for his brilliance.  Yamamoto, on the other hand, feared that the attack would only awaken a “sleeping giant.”  He responded, “A brilliant man would have found a way not to fight a war.”

Jesus encourages all of us, free citizens of the world’s greatest nation, to use our talents, our hopes, our “brilliance” for the purpose of establishing the peace of Jesus in our community, and for protecting the rights of the most vulnerable among us, especially the unborn, the frail and the elderly.  Too often our attachments to power, possessions and pleasure get in the way.  That is why Jesus invites us to “travel light.”  We must never let the triple “p” – power, possessions and pleasure – replace God at the center of all we are and do.

Our nation will once again be more comfortable as a people “under God” if we truly do accept our place “under God.”  As we celebrate this centennial Mass today, we also celebrate our freedom as a nation and as a people of God.  We acknowledge that the only kind of freedom that makes sense is a freedom which acknowledges our dependence upon God for all that we are and all that we do and all that we have.  As individual disciples and believers, we ask the Lord to help us remove so much of the stuff of life that comes between us and him and to become His agents for peace.  When we count our blessings, let us recall their source.  When we see God’s hand in all things, then we will be truly free to extend God’s blessing of peace to other folks as well.  Happy anniversary, one and all!

MILL CITY — The St. Catherine of Siena Mission centennial celebration officially began July 3 as seven Protestant pastors climbed narrow steps up a church tower to ring the bell 100 times. They were led by long-time St. Catherine of Siena bell ringer, Joe Yost, who has served in that role for more than 30 years.

Then the centennial Mass began.

Titled “100 Years of Praise and Service in the Santiam Canyon,” the two-day celebration welcomed Archbishop John Vlazny and past, present and future pastors of the mission church located 30 miles east of Salem. Members of local Protestant churches shared in the celebration by volunteering to landscape the grounds, perform in the bluegrass/gospel dinner band and serve guests during the sold-out chicken barbecue.

John Gottfried, a retired insurance claims worker, is "extremely proud" to have been part of the centennial celebration.

Gottfried recalls the first time he saw St. Catherine Church nine years ago. It leaned significantly, despite buttresses applied by engineers working on Detroit Dam in 1948. Wood was rotten, the roof was a shambles and the floor was dropping.

"It looked like it would be not much longer in this world," Gottfried says.

He joined the committee to save the lovely little church and, in so doing, preserved the area's Catholic history.

Founded in 1887 as a lumber town, Mill City has experienced the dramatic ups and downs of the forest products industry. In 1910 when St. Catherine of Siena was constructed, the town consisted of wooden sidewalks and gravel streets. More than 200,000 board feet of Douglas fir were being cut each day by workers who made 20 cents an hour. It was these workers who carried up the hill on their backs the tongue and groove fir slats that line the interior of St. Catherine of Siena Mission today.

It was in 1910 that the Catholic Church Extension Society sent a rail car equipped to be a chapel to Mill City. Within a year, the society was donating for a church to be built in town.   

A century later, the centennial committee was formed and determined that the historic hilltop house of prayer should not be allowed to continue its decay and fall to the ground. Fund raising immediately began, and lead gifts by the Freres and Frank lumber families jumpstarted the effort. More than $450,000 was raised in 18 months and included large and small gifts from donors in Oregon and across the country.

“The timing was critical,” said centennial celebration committee member Michele Pfohl. “We began when the Archdiocese of Portland came out of bankruptcy and ended just before the economy tanked.”  

For Pfohl, the project had a deeper meaning even beyond historic preservation. It restored a Catholic presence in her town.

"Our mission is growing," Pfohl reports. "That was the hope. I am really, really proud that we have been able to do the renovation and bring it full circle to be a healthy, happy mission."

People here were nervous. The mission church at Detroit, farther up the canyon, did close.

During the six month construction period, Mass was celebrated in the nearby Presbyterian Church of Mill City. That highlights the close ecumenical ties in this town. One Presbyterian man still comes to St. Catherine's and mows the lawn free of charge. A common commitment to community service makes the ecumenical friendships even stronger as joint groups serve the needy with food, clothing and other services.   

St. Catherine's holds 70 people. For the centennial, 100 were jammed in, with an overflow of 100 outside watching on a screen. Not all the worshipers were Catholic.  

Visitors over the weekend commented on the “simple beauty and elegance” of the newly restored mission. The celebration, which included afternoon concerts, archive displays, church tours, and an ice cream social, ended with an evening performance by Sister Nancy Murray, who portrays St. Catherine of Siena. This feisty 14th century nun challenged popes and laity to love of God and love of neighbor — both evident among those gathered over the weekend to celebrate 100 years of praise and service.

In his homily on that Independence Day weekend, Archbishop John Vlazny told worshipers that these days Americans are hesitant to give God his proper place in their lives.

"Our nation will once again be more comfortable as a people 'under God' if we truly do accept our place 'under God,'" he said. "As we celebrate this centennial Mass today, we also celebrate our freedom as a nation and as a people of God. We acknowledge that the only kind of freedom that makes sense is a freedom which acknowledges our dependence upon God for all that we are and all that we do and all that we have."  

Parishioner Lynda Harrington has been the chief organizer, a role at which she is a master.

"She got us all working together," says Maryann Meredith, a centennial project organizer and member of St. Catherine's since 1994.

Meredith's dream is that more young Catholic families move into the Santiam Canyon.

"Job opportunities are limited, but there is so much potential," she says. "And a church can't live on its older people."

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