In 1870 the streets in the parish were no more than wide, muddied trails; and where there were sidewalks, they were made of planks. Known as the “Mother of Churches,” this parish had the first east side church in Portland. On the north it was bounded by the Columbia River and to the south by the town of Milwaukie.
In 1876 the first Mass was celebrated on Christmas Day in the new church, and St. Francis of Assisi Parish had its true beginnings. The pastor would make his rounds, visiting parishioners throughout the week, and return back to St. Francis Church for Sunday Mass. From this original parish, after many divisions took place, there are now 29 parishes taking up the same place as was once the original St. Francis parish. St. Francis has actually been housed in four churches. The property for the parish was either bought or donated from James B. Stephens in 1860. By Christmas of 1876, the first St. Francis Parish was celebrating its dedication, by Archbishop Blanchet, and first Mass in the new Gothic Church, 30 feet wide by 50 feet long, on the church’s present site between 11th and 12th, Oak and Pine Streets.
The first pastor, Father Verhaag, was concerned with meeting the parish debts. It was written of him that, “he frequently staged parish benefits which were supported by large numbers of his friends in West Portland and to encourage attendance, arranged for the Stark Street Ferry to run until midnight and hired hacks to carry his guests from the ferry landing to the Parish Hall.”
Although St. Francis was well established by 1880, in January, a sudden windstorm completely demolished the church building. The storm also ruined part of the rectory. The second church was dedicated in November of 1881 by Archbishop Seghers. It was erected on the corner lot facing south, instead of east like the church today. This church served the parish for 30 years.
In 1886, the Sisters of the Holy Names erected a school building, Academy of the Holy Names, later known as St. Francis Academy, and 24 pupils enrolled. This was the first boarding school and first parochial school in East Portland.
In 1911, the third church was dedicated by Archbishop Christie. The congregation took nearly eight years to actually plan and fund-raise for this church. It had two towers, surrounded by gold crosses outlined in incandescent lights, which could be seen throughout the city when they were lit on special occasions. The church cover half a block on the Pine Street side of the parish property.
In 1945, St. Francis School and Convent were purchased from the Sisters of the Holy Names by the Parish.
The mission of the Church has not changed in over 2,000 years and continues today