McMinnville, OR — Eight months ago the small Iglesia Católica San Martín de Porres in nearby Dayton was on the verge of being sold — in effect eliminating the site where a few hundred Hispanics choose to worship. Like the storyline of a dramatic movie, the church has dodged bullets and ticking clocks, barely managing to hold on to the building that local workers built with their with their own hands and maintained with their dollars.
In the early summer of 2010 a McMinnville realtor had listed San Martín for sale for $382,000. After a mass visit of about 100 San Martín parishioners to Archdiocese headquarters in Portland, San Martín’s buildings were removed from the market.
One of the key actions involved a dramatic last-minute flight to Rome to deliver a petition to the Vatican. María Sandoval discovered that the petition needed to be hand-delivered to the Vatican only two days before it was due.
A hastily planned flight saved San Martín for the moment.
On the last Friday in October, Sandoval and Lucia Rocha gave a group at Linfield College in McMinnville a brief history of the San Martín de Porres mission and the struggle to save it.
In September, the Yamhill Valley News-Register reported that part of the pressure was lifted when Evergreen Aviation founder Del Smith put up a substantial amount of money to sustain San Martín de Porres. “I simply made a donation to where they could have peace and prayer and all live in harmony,” Smith told the News-Register.
A huge hangar at Evergreen Aviation provides the current home of the legendary “Spruce Goose” seaplane. Rocha has been an employee of Evergreen Aviation for four years.
Nonetheless, San Martín will remain a satellite of St. James Catholic Church in McMinnville.
That means that a large question mark still hovers over the Dayton church.
Is San Martín, with a few hundred parishioners, too small to justify its existence, as Father Terry O’Connell of St. James claims?
Jeff Peterson thought not. “I see Methodist congregations of 14 people they’re trying to keep open.” Peterson works with McMinnville Cooperative Ministries, a coalition of Lutheran and Methodist churches.
On the first day of November, Bud Bunce told El Hispanic News that San Martín is now continuing on a regular basis. “The property is no longer for sale,” he said. Bunce is the spokesman for the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon.
About 10 minutes before the end of the San Martín program at Linfield, one couple who identified themselves as members of the counting committee at St. James Catholic Church in McMinnville made a brief appearance to challenge Sandoval. The couple accused Sandoval of questioning the integrity of St. James officials.
Sandoval, an administrative law judge, said she had never suggested any dishonesty in the counting of donations from San Martín. Sandoval said she simply wanted to know how much San Martín members are sending to St. James each week.
“We need someone there when they count the money,” Sandoval said, “and we are being told, ‘No.’”
After St. James failed to disclose financial information to San Martín parishioners, Sandoval reported that they are now dropping a paper slip into the collection plate. The note says, in effect, “I’m withholding my donations until someone from San Martín is there when the money is counted.”
Sandoval noted that while San Martín members were counting their weekly offerings, they found they were donating up to $1,000 per week — all of which went to St. James. After St. James denied them the right to count their own donations, St. James officials said the offerings from San Martín ranged from $200 to $250 per week — and never more than $300. This disparity opens the question of whether San Martín members are carrying their share of operational costs for their church.
Photo Richard Jones, El Hispanic News
María Sandoval and Archbishop John Vlazny engaged in a friendly 10-minute discussion in front of the Portland Archdiocese building on May 29, 2010. The Archbishop told Sandoval and the parishioners of San Martín that he would not approve the sale of their church in Dayton, Ore.
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