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St. Henry Catholic Church puts final touches on new multipurpose center and plaza

PMG PHOTO: ANGEL ROSAS  - Parishioners celebrate the completion of the Madonna Center and Dr. Hill Plaza. 
It has been a long road, but St. Henry Catholic Church has finished construction of its multimillion dollar welcome center and accompanying plaza.

The parish celebrated the completion with a tour of the Madonna Center and the Dr. Michael Hill Plaza following Mass at the church, 346 N.W. First St. Sunday, Aug. 8.

The plaza is the first thing parishioners encounter before entering the church. Intended to encourage mediation, the pavilion is filled with flowers, plants and benches.

As guests make their way to the welcome center, the cement walkway along the plaza displays a condensed version of the Beatitudes inscribed in gold as described in the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament.

The Madonna Center's main entrance is flanked by sculptures of the Virgin Mary. On the left, a sculpture of the Lady of Guadalupe, a venerated image that has substantial meaning for many Hispanic Catholics. The piece is made of volcanic stone and was shipped from Guadalajara, Mexico.

To the right, a sculpture of the Madonna with Baby Jesus in her arms. The piece was donatedPMG PHOTO: ANGEL ROSAS  - The Beatitude Prayer Walk leads guests to the entrance of the Madonna Center. 
to the church from the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist at Bridal Veil.

The craftsmanship of the interior of the Madonna Center is apparent. The building contains restrooms, kitchen, pantry and a long serving table for meals.

The center will also allow 250 more guests to join in during popular services, such as Christmas and Easter Mass.

"I am amazed that we were able to get this accomplished," the Rev. Charles Zach said. "But it has worn this priest out."

Zach is referring to the many hurdles he and church leaders went through to finish its ambitious plan.

The inception of the project came in 2016 when church leaders agreed they were not fully providing for the needs of parishioners. From that realization sprang an idea to create more space for its growing congregation and to attend to much-needed repairs.

The church went to work realizing its plan to build a new multipurpose room and overflow area.

A feasibility study for the center and pavilion put the cost at an estimated $3 million.

Despite the financing and the tremendous amount of work, Zach was dedicated to seeing the task through.

"We build churches that are going to be huge foundations," Zach said. "We wanted to build something that endures, something that gives glory to God."

Zach said it was a challenge to hold the church community together during the COVID-19 pandemic, which also created difficulties for funding the ambitious project.

It took about three years of fundraising to pay the cost of construction.

"We reached out to everyone we could," Zach said, adding that a surprising amount of donations came from friends of Dr. Michael Hill, many of whom are not Catholic.

Hill was well known in Gresham for his dentistry, his service on the Gresham-Barlow School Board and for his water-color paintings.

In addition to financial hurdles, the project would still have to overcome inclement weather, the pandemic and other needed renovations.

"It was always two steps forward and one step back," Zach said.

The winter snowstorm pushed construction back about six weeks. Along with the looming threat of contracting COVID-19, construction also slowed because of a labor shortage.

PMG PHOTO: ANGEL ROSAS  - Bishop Peter Smith of the Archdiocese of Portland blesses the new Dr. Michael Hill Plaza Plaza at St. Henry Catholic Church, during a dedication ceremony Sunday, Aug. 8."We have spent almost half a million dollars, which we hadn't anticipated," Zach said. "We found out there were some problems with the (church) building, then the city had its own conditions that added to our expenses."

With the pavilion and welcome center complete, Zach's 13-year tenure in church administration at St. Henry has come to an end.

"This is my last year, and this is my swan song," he said. "I'm ready to hand off the baton to another pastor."

Zach is proud of the finished product and is thankful for those who made it possible. And he said he is happy to have a building that matches the devoted congregation that the church has amassed over the years.

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