Archbishop John Vlazny and Bishop Kenneth Steiner celebrate the 100th Anniversary Mass in North Plains.
NORTH PLAINS — Rose Coussens, 87, has been a member of St. Edward Parish here for 75 years. She recalls her dairy farmer father taking her from North Plains to St. Mary's Academy in Portland during milk delivery runs.
St. Edward has long been the center of not only Coussens' spirtuality, but also her social life. That's the case with many residents of this region with its lush fields. "It was our main deal," Coussens says of the parish. "People visited after church. That was their main time together."
Most were farm families who milked the cows early on Sunday morning before coming to Mass, having fasted. Any food and fellowship after worship was precious. When someone was ill, the parish would have tea parties to help them pay medical bills. Needy families always got gifts at Christmas — and still do.
Even though the farmers now worship side-by-side with high tech workers, St. Edward is still a hub of community and generosity.
Each year during the Annual Catholic Appeal, parishioners tend to give twice as much as their goal. In one weekend last year, this community of 400 donated $5,000 for Haitian earthquake victims.
The parish has long held many successful events, including an annual bazaar, breakfasts and an auction. Parishioners meet periodically at local restaurants for fundraising dinners to support religious education, youth ministry and subsidies for Catholic schools.
The tone of service is set at the front door of the church. There stands a wood statue of St. Edward, the English king known for his goodness. He is hefting a beggar. Coussens' father arrived in 1905 or so from Switzerland. Remi, her husband of 65 years, traces his Oregon roots to 1920, when his father arrived from Belgium.
The old St. Edward's was too small for their nuptials in 1945. "You went to Communion and when you came back, you'd probably lost your seat," Coussens says. "That was real togetherness."
So they wed at St. Matthew in Hillsboro. But St. Edward has always been their faith home. They have lived about two miles from the church their entire married life. The couple ran their own dairy farm for decades, with 230 cows. She recalls cattle runs from North Plains down through canyons to Sauvie Island.
Planning for a parish started in 1910, when a priest in Roy requested a church for the new town of North Plains, then with population 200. St. Edward was established as a mission the following year. The next task was building a house of worship.
One parishioner traveled farm-to-farm in a horse-drawn buggy to ask for donations to the construction fund. A church was completed in 1915 and dedicated by Archbishop Alexander Christie. It seated 85.
In the early days of the parish, worshipers came to Mass by wagon, horse, foot and even train. Priests traveled from Forest Grove or St. Mary’s Boys Home. The Sisters of St. Mary taught religious education.
In 1929, the Catholic Extension Society sent a chapel car to North Plains to give a mission.
In 1953, Father William Delplanche, grandson of a Verboort pioneer, was assigned as first resident priest and St. Edward became an independent parish.
In 1964, Father Louis Urbanski was ordained and offered his first Mass for the people of St. Edward.
The faith family grew, and by the 1960s a new church was needed. The current St. Edward, with a capacity of more than 500, was dedicated in 1966 by Archbishop Howard. It cost $130,000.
A new parish hall went up in the early 1980s and it has been used heavily ever since.
These days, parishioners like their rural home, and at the same time would like to see their faith community grow. It has a mix of English- and Spanish-speakers. Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Steiner, pastor here since 2002, loves parish life. He wouldn’t feel right outside it, he told the Sentinel last year.
Bishop Steiner says the mission of the parish parallels the mission of the archdiocese. It’s about evangelization, with a special focus on youth, multicultural ministry and faith formation for all ages.
“They are really wonderful people and very generous people,” he said of the members of St. Edward's. Bishop Steiner has double duty as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in nearby Roy, a community he also admires. He often reminds worshipers at both places that the Church is the people, not the buildings.
As when Bishop Steiner was pastor in Corvallis, so in North Plains there has been an increase in vocations. One young man from the Hispanic community is studying to become a Missionary of the Holy Spirit and a young woman has joined a community of Dominican Sisters in Ann Arbor, Mich. Another man is in seminary to become a diocesan priest.
Admiration for St. Edward's even comes from outside Catholic circles. Brenda Lyon, youth minister North Plains Christian Church, has served on committees and boards with many parishioners.
"It's really a joy. They are a blessing to be with," Lyon says. "I feel blessed to be here when they are celebrating their 100th."