On September 28, 1885, Archbishop William Gross sent Father Louis Metayer to the small railroad town of Albany, Oregon, with instructions to establish a parish.
Father Metayer met with seven Catholic families in the Depot Hotel at Ninth and Lyon Street and celebrated Mass on Sunday, October 2, 1885. A few weeks later, he purchased an old school house from the Albany School Board for $400 and had it moved to land the Archdiocese had purchased from Thomas Monteith ten years earlier. Another $600 was paid for remodeling, and the first Mass in this "maiden" home of St. Mary's in Albany was celebrated on Christmas, 1885.
Father Metayer spent the next 12 years adding on and re‑working the old school house into an elegant and worthy church. He added more than twice the space of the original school house to the north. A steeple was added to the front. The steeple grew to a belfry and eventually side steeples and a hexagonal baptistry were added.
Modeled after an abbey church in France, the second St. Mary's was dedicated August 17, 1898. It was clearly the "Gem of the Valley" as Archbishop Gross noted at the dedication. It became the treasure of the community with its pressed fir moldings, elegant furnishings and extensive stained glass crafted by Povey Brothers of Portland. When he had first arrived, Father Metayer organized the children for religious instruction and with the Archbishop invited the Benedictine Sisters of Mt. Angel to open an academy in Albany.
On the southern half of the block an impressive structure was built. Just a year after establishing the parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Academy opened. It was a day school to serve the local children, and a boarding school soon filled with Native American students transported from their reservations in southern Oregon and Alaska.
Father Metayer died in Albany on May 17, 1905 and was buried in the cemetery at Mount Angel Abbey. He left a substantial gift to the people of St. Mary's Parish and to Albany ‑ a magnificent church and a rootedness that would blossom for generations to come.
On July 1, 1905, Father Arthur Lane was appointed the second pastor of St. Mary's Parish. His appointment carried responsibility for a vast mission territory stretching from
the Pacific to the Cascades and south to Eugene City. His arrival heralded a period of missionary zeal that found St. Mary's mothering more than a dozen Catholic communities throughout the area.
Father Lane and his assisting priests established missions at St. Edward in Lebanon (1905), St. Patrick in Lyons (1906), St. Thomas in Jefferson (1907), Holy Family in Brownsville (1908), St. Louis in Shelburn (1910), St. Catherine in Mill City (1911), St. Bernard in Scio (1913) and Our Lady of Victory in Harrisburg (1913). They also served Wellsdale, Halsey, Holley, Sodaville, Sweet Home and occasionally the ancient parish in Corvallis.
The Catholic Extension Society of Chicago provided a Chapel Car in 1909 and again in 1910 which, when headquartered in Albany, provided special services by railroad to these surrounding communities. The Society also provided financial assistance to establish most of these mission churches. The occasional novelty of the Chapel Car was a help, but the missionaries traveled on foot or by horse‑drawn buggy. By the 1920's, many of these mission churches became parishes, a few expired.
St. Mary's Parish, responding to the community's need for a medical facility, purchased from Father Metayer's estate the substantial home he had built at Ninth and Ellsworth Street. With $7,000 donated by the Albany community, a surgery wing and 17 ward beds were added to open St. Mary's Hospital. For sixteen months, it operated under parish auspices and then was turned over to the Sisters of Mercy. In 1927, the Albany General Hospital was completed and the sisters closed their hospital. It became a boarding house and was later destroyed by fire.
The priests small residence attached to the church was not sufficient for Father Lane and his assistants, so a new rectory was built in 1909 across from the hospital. It was an imposing structure and when the old rectory was remodeled into a parish hail, block 69 in the City of Albany became 'St. Mary's" ‑ an elegant and substantial collection of buildings serving not only Albany but communities for many miles distant.
Those were heroic days ...and days of rapid change. In spite of prejudice and bigotry against Catholics
so common throughout Oregon, St. Mary's was not just tolerated her members and her pastor had become respected leaders and essential cooperators in building up the community.
When Father (by then Monsignor) Lane was transferred to Portland in 1926. the missionary era came to a close. Expectations of Albany becoming a railroad center and a metropolitan city had long since passed. Parishes had been established and were now staffed by resident pastors in most of the surrounding communities. Eugene had become the center of growth in the Willamette Valley and was staffed with missionary priests. Albany settled into being a small town, serving the farms and mills in the middle of the Valley. Father Albert Carmody was appointed third pastor of St. Mary's in 1926. He guided the parish through quieter clays of pastoral care and spiritual growth. The parish grew slowly and became even more rooted in the Albany community.
In order to accommodate increasing numbers of parishioners, Father Carmody oversaw a church remodeling that cut back the size of the sanctuary from cathedral portions to one more suitable for a parish church. The choir stalls were removed to the sides, a less elaborate altar replaced! the original and new pews were added to increase seating. The bishop's chair however was left in the sanctuary as an antique reminder of the dreams of another time. Father Carmody was replaced in 1933 by Father
John Waters who served the parish until 1951. Father Waters was an invalid for the last three years of his life. Father Sebastian Terhaar, OSB, and later his brother Father Anthony from Mount Angel traveled to Albany every weekend to assist with pastoral care. Father Edward Hyatt was assigned to administer the parish during Father Waters illness and until a new pastor was appointed.
The Knights of Columbus Council #1577, which had been established in Albany in 1911, was joined in 1948 by Court Our Lady of Perpetual Help of the Catholic Daughters. These organizations offered a social setting for Catholics, providing a welcome opportunity for members to serve the parish and the community.
Like much of Oregon, Albany experienced rapid growth during World War II. Camp Adair, just across the Willamette River, housed as many as 50,000 soldiers at times. With them came construction workers, business people and families. The parish welcomed the swell and ministered with additional Masses ‑ four were held on Sundays, with standing room only.
Father Martin Doherty was appointed fifth pastor of St. Mary's in 1951 and guided the parish through a period of massive growth and increased lay involvement. He formed a Finance Committee of parishioners ‑ a radically progressive move ‑ who eagerly accepted responsibility of finding ways to accommodate the new needs of this expanding community. Father Doherty sought the help of both men and women on this first parish committee.
In 1952 the parish school had grown to 300 students and during that year, the parish bought the academy from the Benedictine Sisters for $25000. The Finance Committee guaranteed the loan personally. They set about refurbishing the quarters for the sisters, added four new classrooms and formed a Parish School Board to maintain accounts, collect tuition, pay bills and hire lay staff.
In 1955. the Finance Committee set about a further renewal of the parish and began a campaign to raise $100,000 for an all‑purpose building. The new building was completed a year later, and with volunteer and financial commitment from hundreds of parishioners, the parish incurred no debt. The building housed a gymnasium which served as an auditorium for 700 people, and a basement dining room and ample kitchen.
Next, the Finance Committee began planning for a new school building. In 1969, the parish purchased and remodeled a duplex three blocks from the school to serve as a convent for the sisters. Then in 1971, a new Education Center was built by the parish. It was a one‑story concrete building with four classrooms each divisible into two rooms for religious instruction. A family gathering room and offices for both the school and religious education staff were included. Two additional classrooms were housed in the basement of the parish hail.
With reforms of the Second Vatican Council in 1964, the "high altar" in the church was replaced with a free standing altar. Since the population of the parish had grown to nearly 2000 worshippers on weekends, all available floor space was filled with pews. By the mid‑seventies, seven Masses were celebrated each weekend to accommodate the crowds of faithful.
But the real changes were in the hearts and ministries of the people. The religious education program, swelled with the baby boom after the war, was involving more and more parishioners. In 1968, parishioners organized programs for children from preschool through eighth grade. In 1970 Father Mel Stead was appointed pastor. Two years later, he established a parish Education Board to oversee and coordinate the ministry of the school and the religious education program. A religious education director was hired to integrate the education program and provide coordination and training for the lay volunteers. More than 50 people were regularly teaching parish youth.
The liturgical reforms of Vatican II begun in 1965 became permanently established with another remodeling of the church in 1970. The confessionals were relocated and the communion rail removed. They were crafted into a new altar.
In 1973, three members of the parish were designated by the Archbishop to assist in the distribution of Holy Communion. These were the first of hundreds who have since accepted this ministry of service and devotion.
Other outreach efforts sprung from a new sense of community within the parish. The Marriage Encounter Movement took hold in the mid‑seventies and scores of parish couples shared weekend retreats ‑ returning to a new kind of involvement and ministry. Several other churches joined St. Mary's to form FISH Emergency Services to respond to needs of the poor in the community. A Parish Outreach program was formed to care for the needs of others following the inspiration of Mother Theresa of Calcutta.
Following the direction of the Vatican Council, a new kind of lay leadership was called for. In April, 1983 Father Walsh called a parish meeting to begin the process of forming a Pastoral Council. The Council's purpose would be planning and developing the ministry of the parish. The first Pastoral Council was elected by the parishioners on May 1, 1983 and soon set about the task of developing a mission statement and plan for the parish.
In the Pastoral Plan for 1984‑85, the Council identified the need to begin addressing the condition and adequacy of the parish facilities. A Master Plan Committee was formed and developed a plan which included: structural improvements and additional seating in the historic church, remodeling and expansion of the education building, relocation and remodeling of the rectory/office and construction of a new church to respond to the expected parish growth into the twenty‑first century.
The Master Plan was accepted by the Pastoral Council and approved by the Archbishop and restoration work began on the church in 1986. A capital campaign "Enabling the Second Century" was undertaken in November 1987, with pledges of over $700,000. A Building Committee was formed and Phase II, the enlarging of the education center was begun in the summer of 1988. In Spring 1989, a contract was signed for moving the rectory built by Father Lane in 1909. The momentous move was made at daybreak on a rainy July day.
In September of that year, the Pastoral Council gave the go ahead to begin developing the plans for a new church. It was to include complete remodeling of the parish hail and a sanctuary addition to accommodate 500 worshippers for Mass. The plan was to use the historic church for weddings, baptisms, funerals and other religious events.
October 29, 1989 was just another Sunday. As Albany Catholics had done for eighty nine years, we filed into our old familiar church, greeted friends to celebrate the ‑ mystery of new life out of death. We (lid what we had always done.
At 7:47 that Sunday evening, the smoke detectors in the church sounded the alarm. Things changed for nearly the whole community.
By 8:15, flames were visible from the hills of North Albany and hundreds of people gathered to watch, horrified, as St Mary's collapsed in a blaze of destruction. All of Albany stopped in disbelief.
It was just a building, but it had stood for so many years, so many generations. Thousands of people who had never been in the church processed by that Monday morning in dismay. Many wept openly as they saw the smoldering ashes of a landmark ‑ their home, that survived through four generations. And now it was gone. Parishioners gathered. Some just stood and looked. Many were in tears. Others comforted them.
The building was gone, and the memories for each baptisms, weddings, funerals ‑ came flooding back. Children and adults silted through the debris outside the fire line for tiny pieces of stained glass and ancient nails ‑ treasured keepsakes of their faith home. With their voices these people of St. Mary's said, "Of course we will rebuild." But in their hearts could not imagine how such a home could be replaced.
Together, we lit candles, processed back to the ashes of the past, sang "We Shall Rise Again". Slowly, we realized that only faith truly makes rising possible. It became the rallying cry, and eventually we began to see the truth in what we celebrated each Sunday: new life from death.
The Albany Fire Department, the police and the district attorney engaged in the largest fire investigation in the history of Albany. A week later, a transient was arrested for arson, and later convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison. The fire was senseless and without anger. The act of a troubled drunk without awareness or concern for the tragedy a single act would have on an entire community. St. Mary's Parish turned to build the future, to tend to the business details. There were insurance concerns, immediate decisions about what to salvage and the overriding issue of where our congregation would gather to celebrate the mystery so essential to our lives.
That Sunday, Masses were celebrated in The Forum at Linn Benton Community College. Among the TV cameras and reporters, parishioners wept and sang, struggling to assure one another that even this disaster could be an opportunity for hope.
And from the beginning, it was. Parishioners who had heretofore nodded pleasantries were literally crying on each other's shoulders. Those who never met because of their routine ‑ were uniting like old friends. It was a reason to find our faith family ‑ in a new way.
By the following weekend, St. Mary's gymnasium ‑ though damaged by water and smoke ‑ was prepared for Mass. It was cold, poorly lighted, uncomfortable, but it was home. And one of our few surviving pieces ‑ a golden‑gilded angel, the tip of her left wing broken off in her fall ‑graced the altar.
Committees began dealing with the broad array of issues confronting the parish. The Administrative Cabinet began a desperate search for a temporary building large enough to house the community of 1200 families. An Inventory Commitee began the lengthy process of detailing the contents of the church and determining replacement value for items nearly one hundred years old.
The Building Committee began to design a new church and facilities that would respond to the needs of a growing parish. After Mass in that old gymnasium, parishioners were asked to share their dreams, feelings and desires for the new church. Butcher paper stretched across the walls and parishioners took pencils and pens to record their ideas. Almost unanimously, they reflected the deep need for warmth, wood, stained glass and community.
By Christmas week, the Administrative Cabinet negotiated an agreement with Heritage Mall to use the former Sears store in downtown Albany. Within hours, hundreds of parishioners built a sanctuary, rented and arranged folding chairs, developed a space for hospitality, and decorated 'St. Sears" for the birth of our Savior. It seemed so strange, so unlike midnight Mass and the mellow wooden walls and stained glass, but it was St. Mary's." It was the same people lifting our voices and believing that in a humble manger, Christ was born.
The Sears building gave the parish space to gather and to share the plans for the future. Soon an Interior Resource Committee was formed to determine the style, feel and interior treatment of the church. These parishioners spent hours studying church documents on art and architecture, brought in consultants and discussed the implication of liturgy and buildings. AR parishioners were invited to share their concerns and thoughts about their new home.
A church that would be not only a reflection of modern church teaching, but a place that would be an expression of our unique community of believers.
A Listening Committee worked with program staff, volunteers and users of the parish buildings. They determined the spaces needed for other parish programming and made recommendations to the Building Committee.
In Spring 1990. the Pastoral Council and the Building Committee secured approval of the Archdiocese. Construction could begin when funds or pledges were in place. The parish had already engaged in a capital fund campaign in November 1987 for implementation of the Master Plan, so parishioners were still paying °" pledges of over $700,000. The Pastoral Council agreed another capital campaign was needed. The 'St. Mary's Rebuilding Campaign" began in May 1990. Plans for the new church complex were shared with parishioners and distinctions were made between what needed to he done immediately and what portions of the plan would be accomplished as funds became available. Parish members responded with heroic generosity. An additional $500,000 was pledged or donated.
In June 1990 the Archdiocese and insurance companies reached a settlement ‑ St. Mary's received $1.7 to assist in the rebuilding. It was enough to complete the entire plan. Excitedly, we moved ahead. A contract was signed with Dale Ramsey Construction of Corvallis to begin work on the Family Life Center, a portion of the new church complex.
By building this portion first, without the interior wall separations, the parish could use the space for weekend Masses and the school would have an indoor space for rainy day recreation. Ground was broken on September 16, 1990.
The gypsy existence of our parish family continued as we moved again in September 1990. The first Sunday of that month, parishioners dismantled St. Sears ‑ we took down the sanctuary, picked up the 400 stacking chairs we had purchased and hauled them off to storage.
The next weekend, parishioners gathered in the cafeteria at Memorial Middle School for Mass. For five months, we rented the space from the school district. We set up chairs and an altar each Saturday and took it all down each Sunday. It was not comfortable, but that cafeteria was consecrated each week by a congregation who found "church" not in a place anymore, but in each other.
Finally, on February 10, 1991, amid balloons and banners gloriously proclaiming "We Shall Rise Again" we returned home. Not yet to a church, but to the shell of our family center. It looked like an airplane hanger ‑ but it was home. As the Building Committee focused on finalizing a contract for the new church and gathering area, an Art Committee was formed to select artists for the new church.
On September 13, 1992 the day finally arrived. After nearly three years of making do with a gymnasium, an empty department store, a school cafeteria and an "airplane hanger", St. Mary's had risen from the ashes of October 1989 and in splendid brilliance welcomed her children home. "...each week.., a congregation found 'church' hot in a place anymore, but in each other." --
Father Patrick Walsh stayed on as pastor of St. Mary’s until June of 1994. Father John Betts assumed his role as Pastor in July of 1994. Father Betts remained as pastor until he needed to take an early retirement for health reasons in June of 2010.
Father Andrew Thomas was appointed as the new pastor of St. Mary’s. Father Andrew was installed as Pastor by Archbishop John Vlazny on August 22, 2010. This mass also marked the beginning of the celebration for St. Mary’s 125th Anniversary.