The historical development of the Catholic parish of Baker City, is analogous to that of the town itself. Time with its vicissitudes, and emigration with its attendant at fractions has molded it into the shape and proportion it has assumed today. It is interesting to take a retrospective view of events proceeding the present state of the parish.
Starting in the year 1862, the reason for doing so being based upon the fact that the cradle of Baker City’s Congregation was located even then at Auburn, 12 miles south west of here, where some 1500 men were located in the search of gold, a number of whom were Catholics. In November 1863, Father Meplie, a chaplain in the United States army, was placed in charge of them. Services were at first conducted in the residence of O. Mooney, but a year later a frame structure was put up by Messrs. W. H. Packwood, Sr., John J. Dooley and the late I. B. Bowen, for church purposes. An unexpected change occurred shortly after, the Boise Basin excitement scattered the maters of Auburn, and the present town site of Baker City having been laid out, and the county seat being removed to it, a large number of Auburn’s inhabitants moved here and became the pioneers of Eastern Oregon’s metropolis. At about this same Rev. Father L. It. Dieleman was put in charge of the Catholics residing in this section. He made his home in Canyon City, and from there earnestly endeavored to bring the consolations of religion to the scattered Catholics living in Eastern Oregon and Idaho. In this manner he visited Baker City repeatedly on has trips to and fro. There being no church edifice, services were held in different private residences. The number of Catholics keeping pace, however, with the progress of the town. The need of a church building was keenly felt. Dr. J. M. Boyd, now a resident of Spokane, made a start in this direction by donating a tract of had, comprising a whole block. J. W. Virtue, J. J. Dooley, I, B. Bowen, deceased. E. P. Cranston and others made liberal donations of cash with which a church building was erected au the fall of 1871. Rev. Father Dielman through whose moral influence the church was erected, not only officiated in it first, but also became the first pastor. In 1873 he was called away, and it ran into the following year before he was replaced by a steady pastor in the person of Rev. R. DeRoo. However neither the Catholics of Baker City, nor of the mission attached to the parish had been neglected, as from time to time Fathers Vermeesh, Verhaag, Orth and Bronsgeest came to attend to their wants. On Father De Roo’s arrival he soon discovered that a pressing need existed for a parochial school, and after some endeavors, he succeeded in April, 1875, in obtaining four Sisters of the Holy Names from Portland. They held school and conducted an academy in the building, which was transformed last fall into the present St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. They were succeeded in September 1885, by the Sisters of St. Francis, who have since built it new academy and created a hospital. In 1886 Father DeRoo went to Pendleton and was replaced by Father Charles Wensierski. This priest. however only remained until the following year, when he was succeeded by Rev. Father O. Heinrich, who had the good fortune to remain at the helm of the parish until 1893 when he was ordered to take charge of a parish in East Portland. After his departure Farther B. J. Beutgen administered to the parish until Father Verhaag became its rector. He, and the largest number of the parishioners were old acquaintances, as he had repeatedly visited them, and even in 1883 had charge of the parish for a short time. Immediately upon his arrival he was confronted with the want of room as the seating capacity of the old church had grown too small. He deliberated on what to do, whether to start a new structure or transform the annex in the rear, which had been used as a residence for the pastor, into a sanctuary. Deciding on the latter, he soon had the change made and a new parish erected without hardening the congregation with a single debt. At present there are at least ninety families in the city limits in charge of Rev. Fathers Verhaag and Van Roc. The want of a larger place for worship is again keenly felt, and the erection of a new church building is under advisement.
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