GRESHAM — Many cherished memories were made here. As St. Henry Church celebrates its centennial this year, parishioners and staff look back on 100 years of lives touched through ministry and service.
Worshipers from the church’s present and past gathered Jan. 13 for a Mass and reception to mark a century since the first public service was held in a hall over the Gresham Drug Store.
One special visitor, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Kathleen Lannak, traveled all the way from Scranton, Pa., to join the fun. She was one of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters who staffed the grade school, built adjacent to the church in 1953.
As they did in tiny elementary school, now-grown students flocked to their former teacher. Sister Kathleen, who taught in Gresham from 1965-’71, remembers how devastated she and her colleagues were when the Immaculate Heart of Mary community announced it would pull all religious serving at St. Henry due to a personnel shortage.
“My memories and emotions about this place are fond,” she said. “It feels like it was just yesterday.”
But much has changed since the 1960s parish she knew.
Those days, in a town of 3,000 people, pews were predominately filled by farming families. Students didn’t bat an eye when their teacher invited her cocker spaniel mix, Freckles, to sit in (and snooze through) her classes.
“As they filed into the room, they would say ‘Hi Freckles,’ then ‘Good morning, sister,’” she reminisced, laughing.
Members of St. Henry’s founding families were present at the celebration. Chris Bloom’s great-grandfather was the patriarch of the large Fehrenbacher family. She and her husband Steve are now part of St. Mary by the Sea Parish in Rockaway, and their daughter, Carole Bloom, attends Mass at St. Henry.
Other founding families were the Wands, Lamperts, Seidls, Dollowitchs and the Olbrichs, whose family business made the bricks used to construct the original St. Henry church. That building, blessed by Msgr. Alexander Christie at the end of 1913, was where the first sacrament of confirmation was conferred in Gresham. Bernard and Al Olbrich are the only parishioners still living who were baptized by St. Henry’s first pastor, Father Henry Bruenagel.
Today, the bustling parish of approximately 1,500 families draws Catholics of all ages from East County. Archbishop Edward Howard consecrated the “new” church in 1964.
Bob and Mary Beth Tobiassen have been part of the parish for 20 years, and they say the delightful clergy assigned to their parish play a role in its welcoming atmosphere. Take, for instance, Father Zach’s excellent homilies and his sense of humor. He donned a silly hat with blinking lights during a Christmas service, which everyone got a kick out of, she said.
“If you want to participate, there’s something for all ages,” Mary Beth said.
Archbishop John G. Vlazny celebrated the centennial Mass, which fell on the solemnity of the baptism of the Lord.
“Many significant milestones have been celebrated throughout these 100 years by the people of St. Henry’s,” the archbishop said. He reminded congregants to remember their past, which shaped who they are today, but to embrace their individuality as they look toward their future. Jesus, he reminded, was called upon to be his own man, not to follow the crowd.
The centennial, Archbishop Vlazny said, is a time to renew baptismal commitments and pray for an openness to the Lord’s call in the lives of all.
“In doing so, we pledge ourselves to take advantage of all the wonderful resources from our past, but also to bring new energies to our efforts to be rid of age-old biases that undermine our future greatness,” he said.
Across First Street in the parish hall, the many ministries of the church had a chance to share their good work. Retired classrooms were transformed into mini museums, and each of the parish’s active ministries set up info booths.
One story, displayed in the music ministry space, followed the parish’s “Organ transplant committee,” which assembled in 1995 when the keys on the church’s old Conn organ stopped working. Choir members Jerry and Clara Bank, and Russ and Marion Bridenbeck organized a variety show, dinner-mystery theatre and a beer and pizza sing-a-long to raise enough money to buy the parish’s Allen Renaissance organ in 1998.
Volunteer Barbara Adams welcomed visitors into the music ministry space.
She comes from a music family, and many from her clan are part of the ministry. Her son Noah, 14, played drums at the centennial service.
“This is a real community church,” she said. “A lot of people who attend Mass here live in this area. I walk to church, and many of these people are also my neighbors.”
Norm Ragnone, a retired defense department engineering administrator, has become official parish photographer. He has been part of the church since the late 1960s, and can usually be capturing on film first Communions, archbishop visits and other significant events. Many of his photos were on display at the centennial celebration.
Dozens of people helped organize the grand centennial celebration, and St. Henry’s 100th anniversary party doesn’t end with the Mass. On Feb. 9, the Knights of Columbus host a Valentine’s Day dance, followed by a Ladies Tea on Feb. 10. The following month, Catholic Daughters hold their St. Patrick’s corned beef dinner on March 16. May 12 will be the parish Mother’s Day Mass, and on May 19 everyone will gather for a Pentecost Sunday ethnic foods potluck. A Father’s Day breakfast will be June 16, and the yearlong celebration closes with St. Henry’s Feast Day Mass and picnic on July 14.