1851: A Catholic Heritage
The first Catholic church in Portland was constructed in 1851, near NW 5th & Couch Street on a half-block of land costing $600. The Church of the Immaculate Conception was said to accommodate only 250 persons, with a congregation estimated at 500! This church was the first remnant of the Catholic faith within St. André Bessette’s present parish boundaries.
1919-1920: The First “Downtown Chapel”
The first location of the present-day St. André Bessette Catholic Church was opened in 1919 on NW 2nd & Couch Street. Known then, and still commonly referred to today as the “Downtown Chapel” was established to serve soldiers and sailors returning from abroad at the end of World War I. P.J. Hanley, a war veteran himself and employment agency operator, served as the first director of the chapel. It is believed that this chapel only remained open for less than two years, as listed in the 1919 & 1920 Portland phone and address directories.
1935-1939: The Second Location
After a lapse of 14-15 years, a second chapel was opened at SW 3rd & Ankeny Street to assist with the growing number of men who were out of work due to the Depression. Lay and clergy volunteers aimed to create employment opportunities and provide basic needs to those families experiencing extreme poverty and homelessness.
1939-1943: Third Time not the Charm
The chapel opened a third location at NW 4th & Burnside Street which was later considered “a mistake”. The downtown office workers and hotel patrons that the new location was meant to serve were reluctant to cross the busy Burnside Street for Mass and services. Furthermore, with need for employment and social services waning during World War II, the third location was closed.
1943-1971: The Fourth Location
The Archbishop dedicated a new chapel in Downtown Portland, at SW 5th & Burnside Street, in response to the larger number of Catholics living and working downtown. $30,000 was raised for renovations and the new space housed The Catholic Maritime Club (later known as the Portland Seamen’s Center), a shower room. and a reading room. This fourth location also welcomed the Downtown Chapel’s first bell, which is still housed in our present location.
1971-Present: Finally, A Home
The chapel’s then-Pastor, Fr. Louis Weis, was described as “incredulous” when he was informed that that U.S. Bank wanted to build its new 40-story headquarters at the 5th & Burnside Street location. The bank’s offer to help fund the renovation and remodeling of a new location, however, was difficult to turn down, so the fifth and final move for the chapel to its current location at NW 6th & Burnside – the site of the Old Glenwood Hotel – occurred in 1971.
The relocation took place amidst the changing face of the Old Town during the 1960’s and the rebuilding was as turbulent as the times. The former Glenwood Hotel was entirely gutted, leaving only the four outer walls standing. By the time construction was complete in 1973, costing a total of $525,000, the new location included a drop in center, showers & washing machines, an auditorium for gathering, a renovated kitchen, and a information, referral and service center to better assist the rapidly increasing number of transient, unemployed & homeless men arriving to Portland each day.
Since 1971, the chapel has had many names – St. Vincent De Paul, Downtown Chapel Roman Catholic Parish, and now St. André Bessette Catholic Church. Additionally, St. André Bessette has had the pleasure of welcoming Pastors Richard Berg, C.S.C. and Bob Loughery, C.S.C., as well as Associate Pastor Ron Raab, C.S.C. to guide the chapel’s liturgies. Fr. Steve Newton, C.S.C. joined the chapel as Pastor in 2010 and was tasked with taking the initial steps toward a viable parish plan, including the launch of The Open Doors Campaign in 2012. Most recently, Fr. John Patrick Riley, C.S.C. was named Parish Administrator in the summer of 2013 and continues to lead the community towards a strengthened, mission-driven, and sustainable future.