For more than 150 years, Paulists have sought to meet people on their own terms to preach the Gospel in new ways that are “compelling, but not diluted.”
So it’s appropriate that, as St. Philip Neri Parish marks its centennial, parishioners also recognize 100 years of church leadership by Paulist priests. The men who came in 1912 to the rough-and-tumble West shared the Paulist mission of evangelization and related ministries of unity, reconciliation and interreligious relations. For a century, these men have been shaping the parish from its Italian roots to its contemporary congregation, with parishioners from all backgrounds who travels from Tualatin, Tigard, Beaverton, Vancouver and other outlying areas for Sunday Mass.
Like they did a century ago, the Paulists guide St. Philip Neri and its people to reach out to the marginalized of Portland and beyond, creating an atmosphere where everyone is welcomed.
The Paulist community’s founder, Father Isaac Hecker, was known for his belief that Religious should “interpret the church to America and America to the church.”
“It’s about giving voice to the Word and letting the Gospel speak in a way people can hear and understand,” said Father Charlie Brunick, pastor.
“This is a parish by choice,” he said. “Two-thirds of the parishioners do not live in the geographical boundaries. They are individual thinkers. They come because of the message, ‘You are a person loved by God.’”
On May 26, that message was central in the hearts of those who came to worship as Archbishop John Vlazny celebrated a special centennial Mass.
Making the monumental occasion even more extraordinary was the chalice used during the centennial Mass. It is believed to be the same chalice used in the first Mass at St. Philip Neri, celebrated by Father Michael Smith, St. Philip Neri’s first religious leader. The chalice was a gift given to the priest by his parents in 1904, on the 25th anniversary of his ordination. After church staff found the treasure stored in a safe, they had the piece buffed back to its original shine to be used on this special occasion.
The Paulists, the first male Catholic religious community founded in the United States, have long been on the cutting edge of evangelization. They are the first religious community to run a film production company and a popular website for religious seekers in their 20s and 30s.
“It’s good to work in a parish where priests look for a pastoral solution, rather than looking to a rule book,” said Barbara Harrison, director of adult faith formation. “They minister to each individual.”
The parish has led powerful outreach to Catholics returning to the church, and to gay and lesbian Catholics, as well as people living on the margins of society. Father Michael Evernden, associate pastor, said they hope to foster a parish that is like “a circle facing outward,” inviting and welcoming everyone into its arms.
Rose Wolfe found her home here in 1984. She said the discovery changed her life and gave her direction and hope. This parish is a safe place to ask questions and to voice anger of past hurts, perhaps inflicted by the church, Wolfe said. She travels all the way from Happy Valley to volunteer and worship at St. Philip Neri.
“For the first time I learned what it meant to be loved unconditionally by God, and people here have nurtured me every step of the way,” she said. That loving acceptance and encouragement can make a person believe anything is possible, she said. After years of active volunteerism, Wolfe now works as a part-time administrative assistant.
Other members of the Paulist community here are Father James McCauley, associate pastor, and Father Jim Kolb, pastor at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish.
These leaders are well suited for their community in Southeast Portland. Annual spaghetti dinners and rigatoni luncheons here are remnants of a time when St. Philip Neri was a majority Italian parish in a working-class Italian neighborhood. Today the parish sits across the street from a high-end organic health food store, just down the street from upscale hair salons and trendy bars that boast dozens beers on tap.
In 1912, Archbishop Alexander Christie requested the Super General of the Paulist Fathers in New York establish a parish to be called St. Philip Neri in Portland. At first Masses were celebrated in the Graziano family home on Division Street. Mary Graziano was just three when they held the first Mass; she died just a few weeks ago after having been a parishioner her entire life. By 1913, the congregation was growing, mostly with Italian immigrants. The Sicilian women of the parish first established the Pompeii Society, to foster devotion to the Madonna of Pompeii.
In August 1913, four Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus left England and arrived in Portland to open St. Philip’s School, which would later be governed by the Holy Name Sisters. Father Smith celebrated the first Mass in the original church on Christmas Day, 1913. The current church was dedicated in 1950, and renovated in 2000.
Father John Carvlin, who was remembered as not only a “priests’ priest,” but also the “parishioners’ priest,” oversaw the construction of a parish hall in 1942. Grateful parishioners named it “Carvlin Hall” in his honor, and it is now the site of much education and ecumenism. On June 3, the parish will host a panel presentation inviting Muslim, Jewish, Catholic and Buddhist representatives to discuss how dialogue helps us live together. The discussion starts at 12:30 p.m.
This inter-religious panel, plus the centennial Mass, kicks off an entire year of centennial activities. On July 28, the parish hosts children’s concerts in the church during the Division Street Fair. On Sept. 9, people will gather for the movie “The Life of St. Philip Neri,” from noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 14 marks the parish’s annual spaghetti dinner, and on Nov. 22 parish volunteers will organize and serve a special dinner for homeless community members.
December will usher in a Christmas party and Advent retreat, and in January, the Paulist Fathers will hold a panel discussion titled “Transcendentalism: Then and Now – Spiritual but not Religious.”
Woodruff arrived at the parish as a newly minted DRE, straight out of graduate school at the University of Portland. She worked at the parish for 10 years before moving to the Archdiocese of Portland offices, where she is coordinator in the Office for Religious Education. When Woodruff took the new job, she stayed at St. Philip Neri for worship. She calls it home.
“The community is vibrant, welcoming and hospitable,” she said. “And you just come as you are.”