By Rick Seaman
In October 1907, a small group of Irish immigrants began gathering to celebrate mass in a temporary chapel in a building at NE Alberta and Vernon (now 14 th Place ) Streets. With financial help from relatives in the old country and friends across town at St. Patrick’s parish, the immigrant families acquired property at Northeast Ninth and Alberta and constructed the first building, which was dedicated in October 1908. The building served several purposes: the chapel was on the top floor; the parish hall was in the basement; and St. Andrew’s School, opened that year by five Sisters of the Immaculate Heart Mary from Scranton , Pennsylvania , with more than 100 pupils in four classrooms, was on the first floor.
Irish-born Father Thomas Kiernan, who was just 24, was appointed pastor in December 1907, and would serve at St. Andrew for 27 years until his death in 1934. The rectory, completed in 1911, housed the church offices and the pastor’s home.
In March 1920, a defective wiring fire in the main building destroyed the school and chapel floors. The resilient parishioners set up a large tent on the school grounds to serve as a school on week days and a church on Sundays for the next two years.
The Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in Beaverton arrived in 1921 to run the school, which they would do until the late 1960s. The school was rebuilt in 1922, with a convent on the second floor. The basement was used for church services, while the parish raised money for a new, more fire-resistant church.
Church Dedication in 1929
The current church building, designed in the French Gothic style of reinforced concrete construction, was dedicated by Archbishop Edward D. Howard in October 1929. Builder Peter J. Pfeifer, who also worked on Madeleine and All Saints Schools in Portland , said that St. Andrew was his masterpiece.
During the 1920s and ‘30s, immigrants from Germany moved into the parish. In the forties, African Americans, drawn to Portland to work in the bustling shipyards, moved to St. Andrew’s neighborhood – one of the few in Portland where non-whites were allowed to live. Later, several Filipino families settled within the parish.
A new convent on the corner of Ninth and Alberta (now the Franciscan House) was purchased in 1942. Increasing enrollment made it necessary to expand the school building in 1943 with two more large classrooms, a music department, and a library. The second floor, no longer needed as a convent, was removed at that time.
School enrollment increased to its maximum of 296 in 1958, declining after that until the school’s closure in 1985. The building became a school once more when parish members helped initiate the Jesuit-run St. Andrew Nativity Middle School in 2001.
Kiernan Memorial Hall, dedicated in August 1962, was seriously damaged by an arsonist fire in January 1975. Ten months later, a reconstructed Saint Andrew Community Center was dedicated. The community center serves many needs in the parish and neighborhood. It is funded by an auction held in the fall, a tradition begun as a building materials auction in 1973 by the late Neil Kelly
When Father Gordon Dickey began a three-year assignment as associate pastor in 1969, he found “a parish in decline” and, along with a new pastor appointed in 1970, began to turn St. Andrew around.
During the 1970s, the congregation grew beyond the parish boundaries to become a metropolitan parish, drawing members from Lake Oswego, Milwaukie, Beaverton, and as far away as Amboy, Washington to hear St. Andrew’s new pastor preach. Father Bert Griffin’s constant refrain, “God loves each and every one of us: absolutely, unconditionally, and irrevocably” drew people from many backgrounds to gather together and to celebrate their faith.
Father Griffin had recently returned from Rome , where he had earned a doctorate in Canon Law during the years of the Second Vatican Council. A man of enormous intellect, warm wit, moving eloquence, and profound faith, he attracted many people seeking a community based on love and justice. Inspired by the changes of Vatican II, Father Griffin encouraged women communion servers, guitar music, a gospel choir, and liturgical drama and dance. He introduced communion in the hand and the new reconciliation rite.
Father Griffin initiated and encouraged a number of St. Andrew traditions: the celebration of Passover Seder, adult education classes, an annual parish retreat, and the Hand-In-Hand Festival. He helped establish the parish council as the policy-setting body and annually, published the parish budget.
Commitment to Social Justice
During this period, dedicated parishioners expanded St. Andrew’s commitment to social justice through the St. Vincent de Paul Conference (Emergency Services and St. Andrew’s Clothes Closet), the Health Help Center (later absorbed into Multnomah County ’s health agency), Mental Health Help, the Community Center, and the St. Andrew Legal Clinic. Father Griffin joined the Albina Ministerial Alliance and was a founding member of two social justice organizations: Oregon Fair Share (now Oregon Action) and the church-based Portland Organizing Project.
With its many social service connections, St. Andrew became an urban volunteer destination for programs like the Holy Cross Associates and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. We are blessed that many of the young people who served in that capacity have returned to stay and raise families.
Father Griffin was transferred to another parish in 1983. He was succeeded by assistant pastor Father Jim Coleman, who served another five years before leaving for mission work in South America .
Since the 1970s, St. Andrew has received support from the local community of the Sisters of the Holy Names. The late Sister Sidney Thomison, who worked at the parish during the Griffin and Coleman years, was the energetic and compassionate face of St. Andrew to the poor and the imprisoned. Sister Kathleen Stupfel, principal of St. Andrew Elementary School during the 1980s, also served as pastoral administrator in 1990 during a period between permanent pastors.
In 1985, with the encouragement of Father Coleman, the parish held several public discussions and voted to join several other Portland churches in offering sanctuary and support to refugees from the civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador , who were all classified as illegal aliens by the US Immigration & Naturalization Service at the time.
During the 1990s, St. Andrew became home to a community of Hispanic brothers and sisters who celebrate a Spanish Mass at noon on Sundays. They are enriching the parish with many traditions, like posadas and Las Mañanitas.
Another public decision process in 1998 led to St. Andrew explicitly welcoming all members of the Christian family, regardless of sexual orientation.
St. Andrew’s most recent pastor Father Robert Krueger shared the parish’s commitment to community and social justice and to an open style of administration. He demonstrated public leadership on such issues as affordable housing and economic justice, supporting the Portland Organizing Project and its successor, the broader-based Metropolitan Alliance for the Common Good. He connected reverence for creation with environmental stewardship.
Father Krueger’s retirement in 2004 led to the selection as pastor of Father Chuck Lienert, longtime friend of St. Andrew, who for many years served as pastor of neighboring parish Immaculate Heart, and who shares knowledge of our history and mission.
Father Lienert (now Msgr Lienert) served as pastor until his retirement in 2012, at which time he was replaced by Father David Zegar.