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6/9/2017 1:01:00 PM
The parish once known as St. Mel
WikimediaChruches of St. Mel and St. Patrick in Ardagh, Ireland.
Chruches of St. Mel and St. Patrick in Ardagh, Ireland.

JUNCTION CITY — The first Catholic church in Junction City was named after St. Mel, a fifth-century evangelizer in Ireland who was a nephew of St. Patrick.

Two main rail lines were supposed to meet here, but never did. Later, two major highways did conjoin in the town.

Sentinel articles from early years of the 20th century show that Catholics in Junction City went to Harrisburg to worship. In 1913, that included Junction City Mayor John Murphy, who donated a handsome statue of the Sacred Heart.  

But in 1916, Murphy and other Catholics must have been bursting their buttons with pride when the archbishop made his way to town to bless a former Methodist church that had been purchased and outfitted with the help of the Chicago-based Catholic Church Extension Society.

“Low blessing of St. Mel’s Church, Junction City, Ore., last Sunday, was attended by the entire population, Catholic and non-Catholic, of the little town,” reported the Sentinel of June 8. “His Grace, the Most Rev. A. Christie, Archbishop of Oregon, officiated at the service at 10:30 A.M. He was assisted by the Rev. W. Hampson, pastor, and the Rev. G. A. Van Nevel, of Milwaukie. The church was tastefully decorated for the occasion.”

Father Hampson had served on the Catholic rail car and had seen the need for a church in Junction City.
In its early years, the church welcomed meetings of the Christian Family Association. Holy Names Sisters came from Eugene to teach Sunday school.   

In 1927, the archdiocese closed St. Mel because of difficulty in finding priests to staff it. From then until 1959, local Catholics attended church in Monroe or Harrisburg. In 1959, Masses started in the Junction City Grange Hall and donations were taken up to build a new church. By 1961, another archbishop came to bless the new and current church, named for St. Helen.

There were dreams of a parish school that were filed away when changes hit in the 1960s. In 1987, a parish hall was built next to the church.  

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