German Catholic settlers began to influence this area in 1867. With the arrival of Mathias Butsch, the Catholic community discovered their leader and founder. He was so impressed with what he found that he immediately advertised through German newspapers this hidden “Paradise of the West”. It wasn’t long before the sound of German became commonplace in the settlement.
About 1880 two events coincided which gave a promise of growth and success to Mt. Angel. First, the railroad between Portland and Mt. Angel was completed. Second, a small bank of Catholic families built a church in 1881, just a few months before the arrival of Father Adelhelm Odermatt. Fr. Odermatt was commissioned by his Engelberg Abbey in Switzerland to establish a Monastery for his Swiss Community of Benedictine Monks.
Father Adlhelm told the Archbishop of Oregon City that he had chosen “the butte near Filmore” (Mt. Angel) as the new home for the Oregon Benedictines. Father Adelhelm influenced the postmaster to change the town’s name form Filmore to Mt. Angel, (the anglicized name of the Mother Abbey in Switzerland.
On November 9, 1886, the Benedictine Sisters, from Maria Richenbach in Germany purchased 23 acres of land on the edge of town and constructed their priory, the first brick building in Mt. Angel. The arrival of the Benedictine monks and sisters had a profound impact on Mt. Angel and the Northwest. The town soon became known as an important agricultural hub and a center of Catholic learning and culture.
Era of Construction
Building a church large enough for the rapidly growing community of Mt. Angel was an ongoing problem during the first forty years of St. Mary Parish. The congregation outgrew it’s original church within three years. By that time, the Abbey had completed it’s church at the base of the hill and this was soon used as a combined Abbey and parish facility. Having a parish church as part of a monastery was a tradition the Benedictines transplanted from Europe. This became the second parish church.
In less than ten years, the parish had grown to forty-eight families. Early in 1892, fund raising was begun to enlarge the Abbey church. When both monastery and church burned in 1892, the funds were used to build a third parish church across the street from the present church. After only 17 years of use, it also became too small.
On June 12, 1910, the cornerstone for this 4th magnificent structure was laid. The church was to be massive, built ornate in the Revival Gothic style with locally produced pressed cement bricks. With its soaring 200 foot bell tower dominating the town and it is seen throughout the surrounding country side for miles. Local parishioners did much of the construction under the direction of Architect, Engelbert Gier and his brother Emil. Both brothers were members of the parish, who had come originally from Texas. Our forefathers hoped to build a church of great beauty that would last for generations to come. As you can see, they truly succeeded.
On June 30, 1912, the finished church, with 26 large stained glass windows was blessed by Archbishop Alexander Christie. It was an historic day of liturgical and festive celebrations for the 280 parish families of Mt. Angel.
On March 25, 1993 at 5:34 a.m., a violent earthquake of 5.7 magnitude on the Richter scale shook the Mt. Angel area.
Parishioners arriving for the 7:00 a.m. morning Mass found a sign posted on the church doors saying that Mass would be held in the Parish Center. Father Edmund was the first one to see the interior of the church. After the clouds of dust had settled, he was amazed that none of the windows had imploded and that relatively little damage was done to the statues and altar candles. Fr. Emmanuel immediately joined him, and after a quick assessment, they realized that the church could not be used. Jerry Lauzon, Sacristan, quickly set up a temporary chapel in the newly constructed Parish Center. No one on that morning realized the extent of the damage.
After two days of Mass in the Parish Center the county emergency crew closed off use of the building. It was discovered that structural damage to the church was severe and they feared future after shocks might cause the bell tower or other parts of the church to collapse.
That weekend, members of the parish found themselves at Mt. Angel’s Oktoberfest building. The stage became the setting for the alter and Oktoberfest benches formed pews. Within this unusual setting parishioners celebrated the Sacred Mysteries throughout the Lenten / Easter season. In May, the celebration of daily Mass was moved to the Unger Mortuary in downtown Mt. Angel. These locations were used until mid-May when weekday and Sunday liturgies returned to the Parish Center.
Restoration planning began in late May 1993 and the restored and renovated church was solemnly dedicated on December 2, 1995. It was a day liturgical and festive celebrations for the more than 850 parish families of St. Mary’s.