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St. Anthony prepares to unveil 90th birthday gift

Historic church will break ground in August on new community center


How do you celebrate turning 90?

Some might have a quiet dinner with family, others might hold a party.

St. Anthony Catholic School on Pacific Highway is celebrating by building a new community center.

The school, which turns 90 this September, will break ground on a $4.5 million community center later this year.

The new community center is the latest addition in a long line of improvements and renovations at the Catholic church and school since they were founded.

St. Anthony School first opened its doors on Pacific Highway in 1922, though the school was started in the church's sacristy 10 years earlier.

Birthday festivities began last week at the school's annual alumni reunion, and more festivities are expected, including a special mass with students in the fall and the groundbreaking of the new community center in August.

The new center is the first phase in a campaign to improve the church and school facilities, said campaign coordinator Anne Robinson.

"As St. Anthony continues to grow, we need updated space - like a new school cafeteria." Robinson said.

The school's gym, auditorium and cafeteria have shared the same small space for years, Robinson said. The new community center will allow students to have a larger cafeteria and performance space.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Church officials said every program and ministry at the church and school will be enhanced by the new facility.

With the school's cafeteria moved to the new center, the school's preschool will move

into the remodeled cafeteria, and the St. Anthony severe weather shelter, which houses six homeless men on cold winter nights, will be able to double or triple capacity with the new center.

90 years of history

The birthday present is the result of four years of campaigning and fundraising to build the $4.5 million project and is the latest in a long line of changes at the school over the last nine decades.

The private religious school has been through a lot over the last century, Robinson said, including a devastating fire that destroyed the school in 1930, burning the building to the ground and taking most of the school's belongings with it.

The school was rebuilt the following year. It has become not only a local landmark, but also a part of the town's history, Robinson said.

"Tigard is not just the mall and Bull Mountain," she said. "We're not just suburban sprawl, it does have history."

by: JAIME VALDEZ - St. Anthony Catholic School Principal Karen Bolliger and students celebrate outside the 90-year-old Tigard school. St. Anthony is building a new community center later this year.

The school has seen its fair share of notable alumni, including former Tigard mayor Ken Sheckla and former NBA star Mike Newlin, who played with the Houston Rockets in the 1970s.

The school is one of the oldest buildings in town, Robinson said, and during the town's early days was a focal point of the community.

"We have pictures of Highway 99 before it was even paved, it was just one lane out in front of the old school," she said. "There wasn't very much out here, and St. Anthony was really everyone's community. They went to school here. They went to church here. They socialized here. People would walk to people's houses and the farms, and there wasn't traffic or sidewalks. This was their community. It really was."

The school has added a middle school, kindergarten and preschool in the last 30 years, but Principal Karen Bolliger said the biggest change occurred in the 1980s.

"When St. Anthony first started, there were nuns teaching here," she said.

"The change from nuns to lay teachers was a big change for the school," Bolliger said, but the school has maintained its commitment to education.

"We are still very much an academic school," she said. "And we are aligned with the teachings of the Catholic church."

In recent years, the school has seen a drop in enrollment, but Bolliger said more and more alumni are returning with their children to attend the school.

"We see a lot of families who come back to us with their kids," said Anne Robinson, the church's campaign alumni coordinator. "We have three generations of family who attended here, with the grandmother, the dad and the kids all coming. It is neat to see those kids coming back and having their children and parents be a part of the school."

For many families in the community, the building is more than just a local landmark. It is an important piece of their family history.

"I think kids know that this school has been around," she said. "It doesn't look like other schools, and they understand that there is a lot of history here, especially when they meet some of our 90-year-old alums."

The groundbreaking for the new community center is set for Aug. 18 at the school, 12645 S.W. Pacific Highway in Tigard.