San Martín de Porres Mission begins working with Newberg church

by Melanie Davis
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Communion at San Martín MissionRichard Jones El Hispanic News Writer Dayton, OR — Two days before Christmas, members of San Martín de Porres Mission received the present that they had been hoping for. It came in the form of a memorandum from the Rev. Patrick S. Brennan, a priest of the Archdiocese of Portland. Brennan fills several roles in the church, including pastoral moderator and judicial vicar. Brennan’s message summed up a major change in two-dozen words: “Archbishop [John] Vlazny has decided to appoint Father Jim Coleman as administrator of St. John Parish, Yamhill, with pastoral responsibility for San Martin Mission, Dayton.†The change will take effect Feb. 10, 2011, with Coleman’s return from a sabbatical. The masses under the new arrangement will begin Feb. 12 and Feb. 13. For most of 2010 the Rev. Terry O’Connell had advocated selling San Martín and blending its congregation into an expanded St. James Church in nearby McMinnville. At one point a McMinnville realtor had the Dayton property on the block for $382,000. The funds from the sale of San Martín would have gone to the estimated $2 to $3 million rehabilitation and building project at St. James Church. San Martín members objected strongly and formed an effective resistance movement, including sending María Sandoval-Cisneros to the Vatican to plead its case. Putting San Martín under the guidance of Coleman virtually guarantees that Catholics will still have a church to go to in Dayton. Brennan’s statement deftly steered a neutral path in the dispute, stating, “The Archdiocese of Portland is committed to the ongoing support and care of San Martin while, at the same time, supporting the efforts of St. James to renovate and enlarge its parish church and pastoral offices.†The face of change With San Martín’s ties cut with St. James, an assortment of guest priests will conduct services in Dayton. Most notably, Archbishop Vlazny will conduct the morning and evening Masses at San Martín on Jan. 9. A priest from the Archdiocese, Rev. Kelly Vandehey, conducted Mass the Sunday following Christmas. Vandehey’s sermon, in Spanish, dealt with the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. He stressed the importance of peace, especially in families and between brothers. He noted that in the world there are both good things and bad things, beautiful things and ugly things. He conceded that although improving conditions is not easy, people should work together within the family for positive changes. Perfection is impossible, Vandehey noted, but it is important to work toward it. He left the people in the full church to see how that applied to all ages — and to themselves. Brennan’s memorandum suggested that the change of parishes might be amended in the future. “The proposed plan should not be considered ‘long term.’ Father Jim Coleman will be asked to evaluate the financial resources of both the parish and the mission, the pastoral services that are offered in each community, and the ability of both the parish and the mission to operate according to the criteria established by the archdiocese for parishes and missions.†Closing the books San Martín began when Hispanic workers in the Dayton area felt unwelcome at any of the local churches. To practice their faith, around 1974 they began holding their masses under an oak tree in Dayton. In 1974, Father Frank Kennard purchased a repair garage so the faithful could have a roof over their heads. With voluntary donations and the labor of hundreds of the faithful, the garage became “a humble place of worship.†Four years later the people of San Martín purchased the movie house adjacent to the garage. With volunteer labor they converted the theater into a chapel. The garage became their community activity room — appropriately dubbed “Kennard Hall.†After seven years of fundraising and labor they completed their task. The people of San Martín, understandably, were reluctant to having their church sold out from under them. Then San Martín — classified as a mission — came under the oversight of St. James Parish in McMinnville. Collections taken at Dayton were sent to McMinnville. Early in 2010, Rev. O’Connell announced that he planned to close San Martín, sell the property, and improve and expand facilities at St. James. The parishioners in Dayton reacted to save what they had created. O’Connell claimed that one of the reasons to close San Martín was that collections at the mission did not cover the cost of operations. He said that collections amounted to about only $300 per week. No one in Dayton could verify that number, since no one from San Martín was allowed to witness the counting process. The leader of the Save San Martín movement, María Sandoval-Cisneros, claimed that the figure was more like $1,000. After being denied the right to witness the count, members of San Martín applied a direct tactic. They refused to contribute anything until someone from San Martín was allowed to monitor the count. The directors of St. James then agreed to allow someone from San Martín to watch. Sandoval-Cisneros says that during the last few months the San Martín collection has ranged from $1,000 to $1,500 per week. Under previous counts without an observer from San Martín, she said the count was never reported as more than $300. Moving control of the mission from the St. James parish to that of St. John, Sandoval-Cisneros said, would allow an examination of the St. James ledgers over the last four years. She expects the results of that audit will be available by late summer 2011. Sandoval-Cisneros reported several recent conflicts with O’Connell, involving children’s programs at San Martín and her right to report local events during services at San Martín. The lack of a celebration by St. James of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 struck Sandoval-Cisneros as a lack of respect for Latinos. Web sites refer to this festival as “one of the most important dates in the Mexican calendar.†According to Sandoval-Cisneros, San Martín’s community was larger than some existing parishes in Oregon. “We won’t feel that we’re completely done until we become our own parish,†she said. Noting that many people doubted that San Martín could win a dispute with St. James, Sandoval-Cisneros said, “A higher power has guided us in what we [had] to do.†Brennan concluded his memorandum on a positive note, saying, “I really appreciate the cooperation of all parties in the development of this plan. With the help of God, and the hard work of all, we can surely succeed.â€

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Photo Richard Jones, El Hispanic News The Rev. Kelly Vandehey offers communion to members of San Martín de Porres Mission. Vandehey, a priest from the office of the Archdiocese of Portland, celebrated Mass at the Dayton church the day after Christmas.