PORT ORCHARD – An old movie theater and a former chicken ranch are part of the history of St. Gabriel Parish, which celebrated 75 years with a June 24 Mass celebrated by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.
The St. Gabriel community traces its origins to World War II, which brought a steady influx of shipyard personnel to Bremerton, located across the bay from Port Orchard, according to a history on the parish website.
In 1943, Father James Buck offered the first Mass inside a former theater building in Port Orchard. But the parish, formed in 1944, didn’t own the property and the conditions weren’t ideal, according to Mike DeMinter, a parishioner who is piecing together the parish history.
Father James Buck offered the first Masses for the St. Gabriel community at an old theater and at the East Port Orchard Gymnasium. Photo: Courtesy Mike DeMinter
Women of the parish hosted a dinner in 1946 to jump-start fundraising for a permanent location. In 1947, the “Old Bunten Ranch” was purchased, property that parishioners envisioned using for a church, school and possibly even a hospital, DeMinter said.
“On the old ranch was a chicken house that was remodeled and later called ‘The Poultry Penthouse,’” DeMinter said. “It was the first rectory.”
Parishioner Ann Souza remembers hearing family stories about her parents, pioneer members of the parish, attending Mass at the theater. They sold cedar wreaths and donated the proceeds to the church building fund, Souza said. Her mother served soup for family dinners on Fridays, wanting to “contribute a few dollars every week when we could get into Mass” from their rural home, accessed via a logging road, Souza said.
St. Gabriel’s first official pastor, Father Timothy Moynihan, arrived in 1949, followed by Father John P. Donohue, who guided the young parish from 1952 to 1966. The long-awaited church building was dedicated in the spring of 1958, DeMinter said; in 1963, a new rectory was built and dubbed the “Port Orchard Hilton.”
Over the years, the parish expanded and renovated its facilities, and added a bell tower in 1983.
Today, St. Gabriel has about 800 registered households, and Father Phuong V. Hoang is pastor of both St. Gabriel and its mission, Prince of Peace, which was established in Belfair in 1982 and now has some 300 registered households.
St. Gabriel offers a variety of ministries, including longstanding ones like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Legion of Mary and outreach to veterans living at the Washington State Veterans Home in neighboring Retsil.
Youth offerings include religious education classes and events like last fall’s Make a Difference Lock-in, when the youth group fasted and brought donations for the parish food pantry and St. Vincent de Paul. The parish also has a monthly youth Mass. “It is nice to see the youth getting involved and seeing how much goes into an entire Mass,” said parishioner Annie Kudrna.
Lee Caldwell, 96, the oldest “pioneer” at St. Gabriel Parish, pauses with Archbishop J. Peter Sartain after a June 24 Mass marking the 75th anniversary of the Port Orchard church community. Parishioners from St. Gabriel’s first decade are known as “the pioneers of St. Gabriel,” according to Maria Murphree, pastoral assistant for religious education. Photo: Courtesy Maria Murphree
Souza participates in the parish’s Solo social group for people who are widowed, single or divorced. Activities range from walks and movies to Bible study. Carole Leininger joined the greeter ministry, welcoming people to Sunday Mass.
“It’s a great, warm ministry,” Leininger said. “It sets the tone for Mass, not only for me, but for the people coming through the door.”