Last Friday night, Sacred Heart Church, where I work and worship, celebrated its 125th anniversary. When Catholics started holding Masses here in 1889, Newport, Oregon was a rustic fishing village with muddy streets, horses instead of cars, and open space where stores and condos sit now.
The original church, a tiny box of a building on Olive Street, disintegrated over time, with so many holes in the roof that parishioners tried to get to Mass early so they could find seats that weren’t wet from the area’s persistent rain. That church is long gone. The church building I know was built in 1952, the year I was born, at 10th Street and the Coast Highway. Brick on the outside, wood on the inside, it has weathered well, although sometimes the building cracks and snaps, and the scarred wooden pews creak no matter how hard you try to stay still.
Things change over time. A hall, chapel and vestibule have been added to the original church building, and the construction continues. On Friday night, after a celebratory Mass and dinner, we blessed a brand new religious education building and said goodbye to the falling-down edifice known as the Ministry House.
The new building is state of the art, light, tight, smelling of new carpet and fresh paint. We paid for it with pledge drives, car washes, dinners, and can and bottle collections, along with money from the church budget and the archdiocese. It took a little less than three years from idea to dedication.
|Old Ministry House|
We’ve been watching the construction for months. Finally our religious education director Sandy Cramer unlocked the doors and we crowded in, admiring the three upstairs rooms and the big room downstairs. Father Brian sprinkled holy water all around to bless the new building. We sang, we prayed, and we listened to the stories of the new building and the old one we could see out the window.
The Ministry House goes back to the early 20th century. It first served as a convent for several groups of nuns. It has been the Knights of Columbus headquarters, a homeless shelter, a retreat house, and a home for children’s religious education classes. Parishioners remember doing lessons with the nuns, playing flashlight tag in the spooky old rooms, singing songs and saying prayers. The Knights remember solemn meetings and raucous poker games. But like the old church with the leaky roof, the Ministry House can no longer be used. Polluted with mold, mildew and asbestos, it has become so rickety it’s no longer safe. The plan is to salvage as much as possible, then let the folks from the fire station next door burn it down for practice.
We were invited to take a final walk through the old building. The lights were off. The mildew stench made it hard to breathe. Much of the furniture is gone. Yet it felt so homey. The stained glass, the comfortable couches, the bunk beds, and the old-fashioned kitchen reverberated with a century of prayers and laughter, study and meals shared while Jesus looked down from the crucifix. Saying goodbye was bittersweet, but buildings don’t last forever, and the new place will soon fill up with new memories.
Meanwhile, it’s the people who really make up a parish, and they will go on together into the next 125 years. This is my Oregon family, and I’m grateful for every one. God bless Sacred Heart.