Oregon, Catholic Church in
OREGON, CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Oregon lies on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by Washington, Idaho, Nevada, and California. Originally part of the Oregon Country, Oregon became a territory in 1849 and a state in 1859. Salem is the capital, and Portland the most populous city. Ecclesiastically, the state is divided, with the Archdiocese of portland (until 1928, Oregon City) in the western part of the state, covering 29,717 square miles, and the Diocese of Baker (until 1952 Diocese of Baker City) on the eastern side, covering 66,826 square miles.
Early History. Jointly occupied by Great Britain and the U.S. between 1818 and 1846, Oregon was the home of explorers and fur traders, most of whom were in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company. The Catholic French-Canadians, former employees of the company, who during the 1820s and 1830s settled in the Willamette Valley, south of the Columbia River in the area called French Prairie, desired priests to serve them. At the suggestion of Dr. John McLoughlin, company director at Fort Vancouver, they petitioned Msgr. Joseph proven-cher, Vicar Apostolic of the Red River country in Canada, for Catholic missionaries, and on Feb. 28, 1836, the Holy See placed the Oregon Country under his care. Unable to accept, he forwarded the petition to the bishop of Quebec, and on April 17, 1838, Francis Norbert blanchet was named vicar-general to the ordinary of Quebec with jurisdiction over the vast Oregon territory. At the same time, another young priest of Quebec, Modeste Demers, was appointed to assist Blanchet.
The two priests arrived at Fort Vancouver on Nov. 24, 1838, and began their missionary activities among the French-Canadians and Native Americans. Pioneers at French Prairie had already constructed a small log church in 1836, in which Blanchet celebrated the first Mass on Jan. 6, 1839, after blessing it under the title of St. Paul the Apostle. This mission was Blanchet's most important one, and served as his headquarters during the formative years. Other missions established by Blanchet and Demers were Fort Vancouver, Cowlitz, Oregon City, and Fort Nesqually. In 1842 the missionaries were joined by two priests from Quebec, Anthony Langlois and John Bolduc, who labored for several years in Oregon.
Almost simultaneous with these beginnings was the activity of Pierre J. de smet, SJ, among the Native Americans in the Rocky Mountain area and the far eastern part of the Oregon Country. After his initial appearance there in 1840, he returned to St. Louis, Mo., to obtain help for the western missions. He then set out again for Oregon and arrived at Fort Vancouver on June 8, 1842, where he was welcomed by Blanchet and Demers. During De Smet's short stay at Vancouver, the three priests carefully surveyed the entire mission situation of the Pacific Northwest and decided that great possibilities existed, but that many coworkers, supplies, and finances were necessary. They further resolved to petition the bishops of Quebec, St. Louis, and Baltimore for the establishment of the hierarchy in the Oregon Country. De Smet, chosen to go East and then to Europe to procure all the help possible, departed June 30, 1842.
Beginning in 1842, a tide of American immigration flowed toward Oregon from the eastern states, increasing the population so rapidly between 1843 and 1845 that McLoughlin (who had become a Catholic in 1842) petitioned the bishop of Quebec to obtain English-speaking and American priests for Oregon. When a shortage of American priests prohibited this, it was left to European missionaries to care for Oregon. Meanwhile, De Smet reached Europe, recruited a small band of priests and nuns, and returned to Fort Vancouver in August of 1844 with five Jesuits and six Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. St. Francis Xavier Mission was established as Jesuit headquarters near the Willamette River adjacent to St. Paul, and the sisters opened schools at St. Paul and Oregon City.
First Ordinary, 1846–80. When the entire Oregon Country was erected a vicariate apostolic on Dec. 1, 1843, Blanchet was named vicar, but word did not reach him until November of 1844. The bishop-elect then departed for Montreal, where he was consecrated on July 25, 1845. Hoping to obtain more missionary help for Oregon, Blanchet spent the next years in Europe, seeking personnel and funds. During this time, he persuaded the Holy See to erect his vicariate into an ecclesiastical province, and on July 24, 1846, the Archdiocese of Oregon City and two suffragan sees, Walla Walla and Vancouver Island, were established. The creation of the U.S.'s second ecclesiastical province at this time and place was considered in some quarters to have been premature and unwise.
The new archbishop returned to his see in August of 1847 with the funds collected in Europe and with 21 missionaries, including eight priests and seven sisters. The future was promising, for the Native American missions were prospering and heavy American immigration to the area had prompted expansion of facilities at St. Paul, Oregon City, and other missions. During the next decades, however, governmental interference in the Native American missions, incessant wars with the tribes, and unfounded accusations against Catholic missionaries, practically ruined the mission work among the natives. Moreover, the discovery of gold in California prompted a mass exodus southward, including a majority of the Catholics at St. Paul and Oregon City. French Prairie almost became a ghost parish and the Jesuits and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur terminated their diocesan endeavors and went south, where the need was greater. The clergy dwindled to seven, arriving Americans were largely non-Catholic, and debts left from the building expansion remained to cripple the see for several years.
In the mid-1850s the situation improved somewhat when the archbishop's personal tour of South America for financial help aided in reducing the debt. The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary arrived in 1859 from Montreal and reestablished Catholic education; European volunteers increased the ranks of the clergy; and the city of Portland began to grow. The American Catholics strengthened the parish of the Immaculate Conception, founded by Rev. James Croke in 1851, and it became the center of the struggling archdiocese. In 1862 Blanchet transferred his episcopal residence from Oregon City to Portland. Immaculate Conception became the procathedral, remaining such until 1928, when it became the actual cathedral with the change in seat of the archdiocese. John F. Fierens succeeded Croke as rector, and Portland's Catholicity made noteworthy progress during his 30-year pastorate. The diocesan newspaper Catholic Sentinel was begun in 1869; more Catholic schools were opened and several Catholic societies were founded in the 1870s; and St. Vincent Hospital was established in 1875.
The size of the archdiocese was reduced considerably on March 3, 1868, when the Holy See created the Vicariate of Idaho, making the eastern boundary of Oregon the boundary of the archdiocese. In 1878 increasing disability led Blanchet to accept a coadjutor, Bp. Charles seghers of Vancouver Island; in 1880 the archbishop resigned, and three years later died in Portland, after 64 years in the priesthood.
Seghers and Gross. Seghers succeeded to the see on Dec. 20, 1880, but directed its affairs for only a short time, resigning in 1884 to return to Vancouver Island. In his brief term, however, he had made many missionary journeys in Oregon and helped the Benedictines establish an abbey at Mount Angel. On Feb. 1, 1885, Bp. William gross, CSSR, of Savannah, Ga., succeeded Archbishop Seghers.
In his 13 years as metropolitan, Gross directed many efforts of Catholic expansion, especially in education. In 1886 he founded the Sisters of St. Mary for teaching in diocesan schools. Before his death on Nov. 4, 1898, he had succeeded in bringing to the archdiocese additional religious help, including the Christian Brothers, Dominican Sisters, Sisters of Mercy, and Sisters of the Good Shepherd. He directed the relocation in 1898 of St. Mary's Procathedral from the business section of Portland to a site in a residential area.
Twentieth-Century Developments. Alexander Christie, of Vancouver Island, was appointed Feb. 12, 1899, as fourth archbishop of Oregon City. His 25-year episcopate coincided with a revival of commerce and immigration in Oregon, and he met the challenge of increased population by establishing new parishes, churches, schools, and other institutions. Significant among these was Columbia University, later renamed the University of Portland, which opened in 1901. Another boundary change of the archdiocese came in 1903 when the Diocese of Baker City was erected with jurisdiction over Oregon territory east of the Cascade Mountains. Christie's last years were marked by the controversy over the so-called oregon school case involving a state law of 1922 designed to force all children up to 16 to attend public schools. The archbishop died on April 6, 1925, the same year that the U.S. Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional.
On April 30, 1926, Bp. Edward D. Howard, auxiliary bishop in Davenport, Iowa, was appointed to succeed Christie. Since parishes, population, and religious and educational institutions had increased greatly during the period from 1875 to 1925, the new archbishop dedicated himself to organization and consolidation of diocesan functions. Although Bp. Blanchet had moved the episcopal residence to Portland in 1962, the diocese was still known officially as the Archdiocese of Oregon City. It was during the time of Archbishop Howard that it became officially designated as the Archdiocese of Portland. He supervised the erection of chancery offices, established new parishes, promoted the liturgical movement, centralized the school system under a superintendent's office, created the Catholic Charities organization to coordinate all social and charitable works, established new schools, notably Central Catholic High School in Portland, developed the catechetical ministry through the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and made a concerted effort to encourage vocations to the priesthood. Howard's administration was marked by a threefold increase in the Catholic population from 61,036 in 1926 to 186,560 in 1963, with the number of clergy increasing from 174 to 430, and the addition of 23 parishes.
In 1966 at the age of 89 Archbishop Howard retired (he died at the age of 105). Howard had attended all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council but it was the task of his successors to implement it. Some of the resistance that they encountered in the Archdiocese of Portland was also felt in the diocese of Baker. The two dioceses collaborated in a number of endeavors, and in the 1970s they formed the Oregon Catholic Conference as a Catholic public policy organization for the state.
Education. Catholic education in Oregon had its beginnings at St. Joseph's College, an elementary school for boys, in St. Paul on Oct. 17, 1843. The next year the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur started a girls' school in St. Paul and later in Oregon City. Loss of population and teachers during the Gold Rush forced the discontinuance of all Catholic schools by 1853. Archbishop Blanchet personally went to Quebec in 1859 to recruit 12 volunteers from the Sisters of the Holy Names. With the advent of new religious groups in Portland during the Gross, Christie, and Howard administrations, both elementary and secondary schools increased. Catholic education developed more slowly and differently in the Baker because of the vast area and scattered population. The Baker diocese relies more on parish religious education programs rather than on a Catholic schools, in the years after Vatican II the number of schools declined in both dioceses.
Catholic higher education began when Gross convinced the Benedictine Monks to open Mount Angel College in 1887 and a seminary in 1889. The college was discontinued in 1946, but Mount Angel Seminary continued to serve dioceses and religious communities. The Holy Names school, St. Mary's Academy and College in Portland, empowered to grant degrees in 1893, became the first Northwest liberal arts college for women. In 1910 the school moved near Lake Oswego and in 1930 was renamed Marylhurst College. Closed in 1974, the college re-opened that fall as a private, nontraditional, coeducational college for adults, becoming a university in 1998. Columbia University opened in 1901 as a boys' prep school, and in 1902 the Holy Cross priests bought the campus. Fully collegiate in 1927, the institution became the University of Portland in 1935. The school became coeducational in 1951.
Although Catholics are the largest single religious group in Oregon, they are a distinct minority. In 2001 Catholics numbered 324,020, about 10 percent of the state's population of 3.2 million.
Bibliography: l. m. lyons, Francis Norbert Blanchet and the Founding of the Oregon Missions, 1838–1848, Catholic University of America, Studies in American Church History 31, 1940. e. v. o'hara, Pioneer Catholic History of Oregon, 4th ed. (Paterson 1939). w. b. bauman, Catholic Contributions to Oregon History (Mt. Angel, Ore. 1959). c. b. bagley, ed., Early Catholic Missions in Old Oregon, 2 v. (Seattle 1932).
[f. m. campbell/