100 Years of Faith
From a small mission outreach in the opening years of the 20th Century, St. Frederic’s has grown to become a vital part of the St. Helens community. Business men, community servants, school administrators and teachers, mill workers, farmers and even government leaders have all been part of our history. The turn of the Century saw three distinct communities – St. Helens, Houlton, and Milton. Today we are one growing community of both long standing families and new. We represent a diverse ethnic community of all different heritage and cultures.
Prior to 1908, the faith needs of both Rainier and St. Helens were provided services by pioneer missionaries who responded to sick calls and made periodic visits. Mass was celebrated once a month by Reverend H.J. McDevitt. He was succeeded by Reverend Henry Bruenagel who built churches in both Rainier and St. Helens.
The original church was known as St. Mary’s Hall and erected in 1911 for $1,437.00. Known as a mission church, during the years of WWI, St. Mary’s saw priestly vacancy every three years still filled from the Cathedral in Portland and also by Rev. Dr. Urban Fisher O.S.B of Scappoose. In 1916 Archbishop Christie appointed Rev. William Hampson pastor of both Rainier and St. Helens. The Catholic population declined in Rainier and the parish headquarters moved to St. Helens where the economic climate helped the Catholic population to increase. By the end of the war, there was an influx of Italian families to St. Helens. Descendents of many of these families are still members of the parish. The parish house was built in 1916 at a cost of $900. The estate of John Dolan, donated a house beside the church.
The death of Frederick Morgus in September of 1919 and the appointment of Rev. Joseph P. Clancy as pastor of the parish in St. Helens, coincided with the opportunity to erect a new Church building for the growing population of the area. The Morgus family gave a substantial financial contribution to the church, two lots where the church would stand, and the marble statue of St. Frederic, Bishop and Martyr. The cornerstone was laid by Archbishop Christie on October 17, 1920. The new church was dedicated on January 21, 1921 in memory of Frederick Morgus.
The “Roaring Twenties” saw two different fires do considerable damage to St. Frederic Church. On March 8, 1925 the first fire partially destroyed the church. It was rebuilt and enlarged and had the rectory added. The third church building was dedicated by Monsignor A. Hilldebrand on December 13, 1925. The church again caught fire on Christmas morning of 1927. The first parochial school in Columbia County opened in St. Helens in September 1928 staffed by four Sisters of Holy Names.
As the community grew, so did the parish and the school. The next 30 years saw St. Helens experience the years of the Great Depression, World War II, the Post War years and the beginning of the Korean Conflict. Society went through many changes as women took on the roles that used to be held by the men who now were off fighting for our country. This was the beginning of years of change for society, our country, our world and also our church. The building used today as the Parish Center, was erected in 1946 as the parish Convent for the sisters who taught at the growing school.
Women took a more active role outside their families and began to express themselves politically as well. Although still not allowed to take an active role in the Liturgy, women played a larger role in education and the social ministry that was emerging.
It became apparent that the church needed a place where people could gather socially. The new hall was named Buccini Hall in memory of Allessandrina Buccini, wife of Antonio, whose generous contribution helped to provide the funds for the hall to be built. It created not only a gathering place, but a facility where the children of the school could play.
In 1960, St. Helens was one of the places visited during the Presidential campaign, when John F. Kennedy, Jr. was the first Catholic to be elected President of the United States. One of his stops was in front of St. Frederic Church.
Numerous priests served St. Frederic Church over the years, some for as short a time as three months and others for several years. These priests are listed elsewhere in this brochure.
In 1968 it became necessary to discontinue the Seventh and Eighth grades of the school for financial reasons and the decline in vocations that provided the staff for the school.
During the Sixties, Vatican II brought changes to the Catholic Church worldwide. Mass was now said in the vernacular instead of Latin. The priest faced the congregation. Congregants saw the disappearance of the Communion railing, and many of the statues. And we saw the disappearance of the traditional Habit from the wardrobe of the various religious communities. Sisters often were now identifiable by a simple crucifix, a plain hairstyle, and the ring that was the symbol of their religious vows. Head coverings no longer were required by women attending Mass.
Here at St. Frederic’s we remember the controversy when the Stations of the Cross and the statues were painted. But we still had several traditional examples of religious art including the gold processional cross still used today and the stained glass windows.
Beginning in the 1970’s there began a period of stability in the church, where priests stayed for longer than just a couple of years and actually became part of our extended families. In 1970, we saw the first Lay ministers of Communion and Liturgy. They represented many facets of the community including business, education and politics. The Parish truly came to represent all of us as we began to serve as part of the administration of the church, having some say in what happened in our Parish home. We still had to follow the Guidelines from the Vatican, but we had a voice.
Over the years several religious orders became a part of our history and heritage. The School was staffed by The Sisters of Holy Names of Jesus and Mary from Marylhurst. With the closure of the school, St. Frederics was honored to become the first church in the Archdiocese to have a Lay pastor. Sister Eunice Hittner a Franciscan nun, was named Pastoral Assistant in 1985. She was followed by Sister Marilyn Meissner from the Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque. In recent years we have been joined by our Hispanic sisters from Mexico.
Music began to play a big role in our worship. Folk Mass, Gospel songs, clapping, and joyous song became a means of expression for all of us. By the late 70’s women started to be an active part of the Liturgical ministry.
Although the Laity assisted in the everyday management of the church as members of the Parish Council, elected by the congregation, the transition to a truly Pastoral Council that spoke for the people began. The financial management became the task of the Administrative Council.
But reality also had to be faced. As the Gothic church began to show its age, the difficult decision had to be made of remodeling the building or erecting another facility that would last for a long time. The Councils examined the costs of repair, versus replacement and made the wise decision to begin anew. The school had closed in 1974, and the Parish had three aging buildings. To make room for the new facility, the old school and rectory were demolished. And for the third time, fire took down the Gothic church, this time as a controlled burn for the Fire Department. Even in death, a purpose was served. It was a sad day, but was followed shortly on July 11, 1982, by the turning of the first spade of new construction and the beginning of a new future. The new church was dedicated on January 23, 1983 by Archbishop Cornelius Power.
Within the new church there were numerous opportunities to honor the past. The statue of St. Frederic was preserved and now stands in the sanctuary, as does the original cornerstone. Several of the stained glass windows are in the vestibule of the church and the bell from the old church, now stands in a special tower outside the front of the church, still welcoming people to worship. Two classrooms from the school facility still stand and are used for meetings and also for classes.
The new church allowed us to have a more intimate setting in which to worship. The curved sanctuary allowed us to see each other as well as the altar. Modern technology allowed for better hearing, so we could participate actively in the Mass. Altar-boys now were joined by the feminine gender and referred to as altar servers or acolytes. With the new building came new examples of Liturgical Art. Local Columbia County artist, Mary Lewis presented us with the beautiful wood carving of the Holy Family that hangs on the southern wall of the sanctuary. The tall clerestory over the altar allows natural light to accent the large fabric banners that hang during the several liturgical seasons. There are numerous wood carvings around the sanctuary including the recently acquired Stations of the Cross. And on the altar we have had numerous examples of types of crucifixes, traditional, cultural and even ultra-modern. The large stained glass windows remind us of the power of the Holy Spirit, glowing with the rich colors of the flame. And we have sculptures of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as well as Mary and even a cross created by a local icon artist.
Over the years, parish members have opened their hearts as well as their pockets to help St. Frederic’s to become what it is today. Although many fund-raising activities are no longer a part of our lives, others remain. Long-time members recall the October Turkey Dinner, Sunday Night Bingo, Mardi Gras and Sing-a-long. Other activities have replaced those events such as the Annual Bazaar and the June Raffle and Chili Feed. Buccini Hall served as the site for Meals on Wheels for many years, proving a hot meal for Senior Citizens. And also community events such as Cinco De Mayo invite everyone to join us in fellowship.
St. Frederic’s has become a more diverse community. We have welcomed and now share the heritage of our Hispanic brethren. We have had the wonderful opportunity to experience and understand the Vietnamese, Filipino, Native American, and now the African Community. We are becoming a Church rich in tradition, but are open for sharing and change.
We are St. Frederic’s Catholic Church, living our mission daily as we move into our second hundred years.