Quick History of St Philip Neri Parish
BEGINNINGS, THE ITALIAN COMMUNITY:
Archbishop Alexander Christie saw the need. The 1910 U.S. Census revealed a population of 90,000 Portland residents and about 2000 of these were Italian immigrants and their children. Many had settled and labored in the industrial east side of the Willamette River. In 1912 the archbishop contacted the head of the Paulist Fathers in New York and requested they come to establish a new parish to serve the Italian families. Accepting this invitation, Paulist Fr. Thomas Cullen was sent to Portland to begin initial arrangements. By September, Father Guy F. Quinan arrived directly from Rome to be an assistant, followed three months later by Father Michael F. Smith, who was named the first pastor (1912-1914).
During their first year in Portland, these founding priests were provided with residence and chapel on the second floor of the Graziano family home on Division Street. In that house the parish began with a few dozen worshippers at Masses and a first Baptism conferred on the Graziano’s baby daughter.
Plans were set in motion to build a permanent church with a grade school for the budding community. A half block of property was purchased on Hickory Street and on June 1, 1913, the cornerstone of the original church and school facing 16th Avenue, was blessed by Archbishop Christie. It was dedicated to honor St. Philip Neri, Apostle of Rome, and one of the patron saints of the Paulist Fathers. Four Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus arrived from England that August, and were already registering the first children by September 15th in a makeshift chapel. By year’s end both church and school were ready for occupancy. First Mass was Christmas Day 1913.
RECTORY, CARVLIN HALL:
The founding priests continued to inhabit the second floor of the Graziano house because there was no rectory. The second pastor, Rev. William T. Cartwright (1914-1919) remedied that and sited rectory construction on Tamarack. Carvlin Hall was added in 1942 and named for the beloved pastor Fr. John Carvlin, who shepherded his flock during the difficult years of World War II.
As for the school, in 1928 the Holy Child Sisters turned it over to the Holy Names Sisters who were better positioned to increase staff to match the steady growth. In 1947, more classrooms were added as school enrollment surpassed available space. A convent was constructed on Division St. in the mid-1950s on property previously owned by Anthony Graziano. It would house the teaching Sisters and alleviate their need to commute by streetcar.
Seeing that the parish had outgrown its worship space, a larger church was proposed by pastor Fr. Joseph F. Troy in 1945. He contacted the renowned Portland architect, Pietro Belluschi, who designed the current building. Ground was broken on the Feast of Christ the King in 1949 and one year later, the new church was consecrated. The plain exterior of the building was later faced with brick to coincide with the same being done on the convent walls. Carillon bells used for the Oregon Centennial Celebration were mounted in the bell tower in 1960. By the next year the unadorned concrete sanctuary walls were brightened by geometric designs; a new red and gold baldacchino enhanced the main altar. The Memorial Chapel was redecorated and included a Pieta carving.
SCHOOL REMODEL , OFFICES & CENTER:
Sadly, the early 1970s saw parochial schools dwindling due to financial strains and loss of personnel. The once thriving elementary school, still staffed by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, was forced to close in 1973. As one door shut, another opened. The former school building was remodeled to house the parish offices and debut the Paulist Evangelization Center. Formally dedicated in January 1979, it served as a mission of outreach, reconciliation, and ecumenical relations with the wider community.
In 2004, the church’s interior was redesigned to reflect Vatican II’s call for greater lay participation and for local liturgies to be closer to the people. The main altar was moved to the center of the expanded sanctuary and front pews were angled to better embrace the Table of the Lord. A large skylight directed natural light to the new altar and ambo. The tabernacle was moved to the left front shrine as a place of devotion and quiet prayer. The wall behind later painted in a fresco design envisioned by parishioner and artist Jack Portland. Mary’s traditional statue placement was moved directly across to the right-hand front shrine. Several religious icons by parishioner-artist Mary Katsilometes were framed in a border behind Mary’s statue.
2013 commemorated the parish’s 100th Anniversary.
CHANGE OF ADMINISTRATION:
In 2016, after ministering to the parish 104 years, the Paulist Priests consolidated staffing into fewer parishes around the country and withdrew from Oregon. Parishioners honored and celebrated their century of service and sent them off with heartfelt thanks. Pastoral care for the parish was assumed by the Portland archdiocese.
Archbishop Alexander K. Sample assigned administrator Rev. Nazario Atukunda to manage parish affairs for two years until he was replaced by pastor Monsignor Richard Paperini. Monsignor retired in 2020 to a muted farewell, just after the initial Covid pandemic infections began to rise and which would affect all aspects of ordinary life including church attendance.
In July of 2020, Archbishop Sample appointed Rev. Andrew Thomas to his first pastorate at St. Philip Neri.
St. Philip Neri today continues to be a place of peace and quiet, a place of service and a place where all of humanity can find a connection, a belonging. This is reflected in the parish mission statement: Committed to the mission of Jesus and dedicated to be welcoming to all, we the community of St. Philip Neri, strive to reach out to reconcile, and to promote unity for all of God’s creation through worship, education, and service toward the common good.