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Our History

    Established in 1891
  The General History as told in the Church Centennial Book

The Catholic people of Tillamook did not have a church of their own until about 1891. From about 1860 to 1890 the area was served by several priests from Grand Ronde. Mainly Father Adrian Croquet who came when he could say Mass, administer the sacraments and perform weddings and funerals. In 1890 David Fitzpatric and his father William wrote to Archbishop Gross seeking the establishment of a church in Tillamook. On August 28, 1890 Archbishop Gross arrived at Tillamook, then he visited Garibaldi and Netarts. Claude and Estelle Thayer, non-Catholics, donated the land for the church for one dollar. The first church was located at the corner of Pacific and Tenth, where Tillamook Pharmacy now stands. It was 24 by 46 and 16 feet tall. There was a bell tower on top, and there were four small rooms in the back. Two of these rooms were used for living quarters for the priest. The church was completed in 1891. It was later moved to a site behind St. Alphonsus Academy on Fifth and Miller.

Father L.P. Desmarais, the first resident pastor arrived the first week of March, in 1891. He said the first Mass on Sunday, March 15, 1891. He stayed for one and a half years, leaving the first part of August in 1892. He returned for a short stay in August 1893. The parish was again served by Grand Ronde from 1892 to 1895.

In September, 1895 Father Joseph Schell took up residence. he was very active at promoting parish development, especially Catholic school and a parish hall. Then in September, 1897 six sisters from Scranton, Pennsylvania arrived to arrange for the opening of the schools. It was to be called St. Alphonsus Academy. The sisters intended to open both a grad school and a high school. Father Schell had purchased a three story building from Dr. W.J. May. Dr. May had erected the frame structure three years earlier as an investment which never materialized, although it had some previous use as a school. Classes were begun on October 4, with 40 students enrolled in the grade school and 6 non-Catholics in the high school. By the end of the year, the high school enrollment had increased to 12 non-Catholics and 3 Catholics.

Because of its shape, St. Alphonsus Academy soon acquired the nickname of "The Cheese Box". According to reports, "it was a great, gaunt cub-sixthy feet long, sixty feet wide, and sixty feet high, with three floors." The Tillamook Headlight reported: "They (the Sisters) would also be teaching night school at St. Alphonsus Academy for those not able to attend day classes." Apparently the parishioners were also very active in developing other aspects of the parish at this time. For the Headlight also reported: "The improving of the grounds of the new Catholic cemetery on the old Tittle place is pretty well completed, and is being performed in a substantial manner."

When the Sisters undertook a journey westward, September 6, 1897, Mother Mary wrote: "Thanks to Our Lord who suffered so much for us; there is no natural pleasure so far in our trip to Tillamook. How it is going to end I can not say." Finally on September 17 the Sisters began the journey from Forest Grove to Tillamook. "Left Forest Grove, Thursday, 6:00 a.m. for Tillamook, a distance of over 65 miles over the Coast Range Mountains. The scenery is grand, sublime...the grandeur, the greatness of these mountainsd are ever reminding us of the incomprehensible power of God... The life was almost frightened out of us as they drove the four horses at a most furious rate when they descend the mountains. We arrived at Tillamook at Tillamook at 7:00 p.m., well-battered and bruised."

In 1902, While Father Burri was pastor, the rectory was built by Mike Melchior, father of future pastor Hildebrand Melchior. In the same year John Sheets acquired property for a parish cemetery near the old blimp base. This cemetery which is still in use today, needed to be cleared of its heavy forest growth by men of the parish using horses.

When the Sisters left in the summer of 1903, a new order of Sisters took over operation of the Academy. The Sisters of St. Mary in beaverton were asked to take over the school. Every member of that community was thrilled with the possibility of being one of the fortunate missionaries. It was difficult to get to Tillamook, for the fourney meant either two days travel by stage over dangerous mountain passes, or the taking of a small, unreliable steamer at Astoria. The trip by sea involved crossing the Columbia River Bar (one of the worst bars in the world), traversing some 50 miles of unpredictable open sea, and then uncertain entrance at Barview in Tillamook Bay.

On November 7, 1905, the west end of the block between Fifth and Sixth Street was acquired by Father L.A. LeMiller. This acquistion would benefit the future expansion plans and development of the parish.

In 1917 the Benedictine Fathers of Mt. Angel took over the care of the parish.

To be continued ....

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