This is the seventh in a series of nine profiles and photo essays from the churches designated for Year of Faith pilgrimages in the Archdiocese of Portland.
CORVALLIS — One of the oldest Catholic parishes in Oregon is in a town with a Latin name that means "heart of the valley." St. Mary Parish was founded in 1861 in settlement originally called Marysville, probably after Mary's Peak, which French fur trappers had named after the Virgin Mary.
The horseback missionary, Father James Croke, offered Mass in the vicinity for the first time in 1853. Father André Poulin, ordained in Montreal, was the first pastor. His parish covered a massive area extending all the way to the coast and the California border. A few zealous families and soldiers from Fort Hoskins donated to build the 24-by-40-foot church, which was dedicated by Archbishop Francis Blanchet in February 1861. Corvallis was a crossroads of trails that linked people to the Pacific, the Columbia and the California gold fields.
The city grew and a new church went up in 1912. The current church was dedicated in 1968.
A college town of 55,000 souls, Corvallis in recent decades has been a place where young people have discerned the call to priesthood and religious life.
"We put something in the water," joked Father John Kerns. He served as parochial vicar at St. Mary's during the late 1980s. Even today, the St. John Society, an Argentinian order that does campus ministry, is convincing people that Jesus is what will fill the emptiness in their souls. Father Steve Clovis, pastor of St. Mary's, presided recently on a day set aside to pray for peace in Syria.
"It is appropriate that that we begin our day of prayer and fasting at this Table to be fed by the Lord and to pray for Mary, Queen of Peace, to intercede on behalf of her son, to make soft the hearts that are hard and to bring peace where now there is unrest," Father Clovis said.
Pope Benedict XVI called for a Year of Faith to be celebrated until Nov. 23, during a period coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. One of the several ways to grow in faith and gain a Year of Faith plenary indulgence — pardon of temporal punishment for sin — is to visit a holy pilgrimage site designated by the local bishop. There, the pilgrim must attend a sacred celebration, remain for a time in prayer and conclude with the recitation of the Our Father, a profession of faith in any legitimate form, prayers to Mary, the apostles and patron saints.
The Archdiocese of Portland has designated nine pilgrimage churches for the Year of Faith: St. John the Apostle Church, Oregon City; The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Portland; The National Sanctuary of our Sorrowful Mother (The Grotto), Portland; St. Paul Church, St. Paul; Mount Angel Abbey Church, Mount Angel; St. Joseph Church, Salem; St. Mary Church, Corvallis; St. Mary Church, Eugene; Sacred Heart Church, Medford.