Saint Edward the Martyr was officially established a parish on July 1, 1984 by the Most Reverend Thomas J. Connolly, D.D., the fourth Bishop of Baker Diocese (1971-1999). As is the case with every Catholic parish, Saint Edward is delineated in terms of the specific territory it covers. Accordingly, the parochial territory of Saint Edward include “That portion of Jefferson County, as now bounded and described, lying within the boundaries, as now described, of the Deschutes National Forest; and, that portion of Deschutes County, as now bounded and described, lying east of the common Deschutes-Lane County line, north of the common township line between T. 16 2., T. 17 S., and west of the common meridian line between R. 11 E., R. 12 E.”
In several respects, the story of Saint Edward the Martyr Parish may be likened to the mustard seed which we read about in the synoptic gospels (cf. Matthew 13:31–32; Mark 4:30–32; and Luke 13:18–19). From a humble beginning, through little steps over the years, the Parish has progressively established itself as a unique, warm, and welcoming community of Catholic Christians reflective of the demographic realities of the United States of America. Equally reflective of Saint Edward’s uniqueness is the interior design and carvings ornamenting the main Church auditorium and Saint Winefride’s Garden and Cemetery.
Going back in time, we discover that Saint Edward’s Parish owes its existence to the pattern of settlement that has taken place in the Sisters area in nearly three centuries. Sisters Country had been originally inhabited by “First Americans” 7,700 years ago. Their main activities were the gathering of huckleberry, root and nut, as well as fishing and hunting. However, it was not until 1790 that Sisters Country became known to the modern world when the Spaniard Manuel Quimper first mapped the Cascade Range. In 1805, Lewis and Clark discovered the snow-capped peaks of the “Western Mountains” (Cascade Range), renaming Mount Vancouver as Mount Jefferson (10,497 feet) in honor Thomas Jefferson (April 2 or 13, 1743– July 4, 1826), the third President of the United States of America (1801–1809) who had sent them on their expedition. From 1825 through 1859, when Oregon became the 33rd state of the Union, Lts. Henry Abbot and Robert S. Williamson led the “Pacific Railroad Survey” to determine whether a railroad could be placed over the Cascades. By 1865, the Santiam Wagon Road was completed. Congress then approved homesteading, camps were established, water rights appropriated, and mills built. Sisters became an incorporated City in 1946. Prior to that, settlers in the area had to contend with heavy snows in the winter, droughts, and several fires, one leveling half of the “Pioneer town”. In time, mills began closing, with the last mill in Sisters closing in 1963. The above-stated is the general historical matrix in which Saint Edward the Martyr was established and built.
Before the 1960s, Catholics who lived in the Sisters Country had to travel to either Bend or Redmond for Masses and other activities, since there was no structure on ground to support an independent church community. In 1962, Rex and Minerva Trowbridge donated a piece of land on Cascade and Locust for the construction of a church building in Sisters. Subsequently, Bishop Francis P. Leipzig, the fourth bishop of the then Diocese of Baker City (July 1950-April 1971), having provided a plan, authorized the construction of a small mission church on the same land. Under the guidance of Father Francis McCormack of Saint Thomas Church, Redmond, a building committee composed of Pete Leithauser (chairman), the Trowbridges, and Connie Amsberry was constituted. Lumber for the construction was donated by Phil Dahl, and the building project received a boost when the Catholic Extension Society of Chicago donated $10,000—nearly half the total cost. Moreover, the 16 families in Sisters and 8 from Camp Sherman also made their individual donations. Thereafter, construction work began, and the first Mass was celebrated Christmas Eve of 1963. On April 5, 1964, Bishop Leipzig dedicated the newly built church under the title Saint Edward Mission. Although some debt had been incurred during the construction of the church, by May 9, 1969 it had all been paid off. Apart from the celebration of Sunday Masses, Sisters Brendan and Bernadette from Prineville coordinated the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine program assisted by some ladies in the parish.
Confronted with dwindling fortunes, the once thriving Sisters community had the Sisters High School closed in 1968 and students were bussed to Redmond High School to continue their high school education. Even at that, the need and desire to have a Catholic Church in the Sisters area remained alive. Without a permanent pastor, the Church was regularly served by visiting priests and clergy from Saint Thomas Redmond: Father Francis McCormack (until 1969; Father Williams Stone (1969-1973); Father Tomas More (1973-1976), and Father Bernard Keating (1976-1978).
The location of the present Church was dictated by the manner of expansion that rapidly occurred in the Sisters area during the second half of the twentieth century. In the early 1970s, Black Butte Ranch as well as the Metolius Meadows opened. With new homes and a growing population, there was now increase interest in the Sisters area. In 1975, the first annual Sisters Quilt Show was held. Three years later, the first permanent priest, Father John Murphy was assigned to Saint Edward in 1978. By the late 70s, retail sales employment in Sisters became the leading job classification. In 1981, Brooks Resources, the company that developed Black Butte Ranch created “Heavenly Acres”, a subdivision for churches along the McKenzie Highway west of town, which is now home to most of Sisters’ churches. In 1983, the location of the Church was moved from Cascade and Locust to the newly established “Heavenly Acres” where it is presently located on a 5.4 acres piece of land, and its priest’s rectory, an Adair home was also built. The new Church was dedicated by Bishop Thomas Connolly on October 9, 1983. On July 1, 1984, the same day that Saint Edward was established a parish, Father John Murphy who had been a resident priest was appointed its first pastor. With the boom that was occurring in Sisters at the time, the parish had grown to 73 families.
Father Michael Miles arrived in 1989, and in 1991 a new parish center was built. From 1994 to 1996, the shortage of priests affected the parish, warranting the appointment of Monsignor William Stone as Administrator for six months, and Deacon Bob Hegenbach serving as the resident parochial associate. In 1996 Father W. Thomas Faucher J.C.L. from the Diocese of Boise arrived “on loan” and, together with the thriving economy, ushered in a period of growth; parish membership mushroomed to 185 families over the next three years. This precipitated in the need for an addition to be made to the main church auditorium, which was completed and dedicated in 2001. During his stay at Saint Edward, Father Faucher also oversaw the addition of Saint Winefride’s Garden and Cemetery, an urn-burial place of reflection, peace and solace. After Father Faucher’s return to Boise, the parish saw a series of pastors and administrators: Father Richard Ley (June 2006-June2008); Father James Logan (June 2008-January 2010); Father Kieran Okoro (January 2010-March 2011); and Father James Radloff (in-residence June 2008-December 2011). In March 2011, Father Jude Onogbosele was appointed pastor of Saint Edward the Martyr, while at the same time serving as Judge Pro Tem at the Marriage Tribunal of the Diocese of Baker. He stayed with the community for five years before returning to Nigeria. In 2016, Father Andrew Szymakowski, J.C.L., became pastor.
A recent change made in the life of Saint Edward is the clarification of its patron saint. One of its previous pastors had unofficially amended the name of the parish to “Saint Edward the Martyr.” In 2011, Bishop William S. Skylstad, at the time Apostolic Administrator of Baker decreed that “the parochial community of Sisters Oregon and its surrounding territory be formally referred to as Saint Edward the Martyr Catholic Church.’’ Indeed, Saint Edward the Martyr, the patron saint of the parish was not only a holy martyr, but also a right-believing King, who loved God, and was brutally murdered. After his death in 979, miracles worked through his intercessions have confirmed the testimony about his pious life. The Mission statement of the parish draws its inspiration from the life of Saint Edward: “We of the parish of St. Edward the Martyr strive to foster a Catholic, Christian community by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, seeking to manifest His Word through sacramental worship, with commitment and service to family and community.” Currently, there are 200 registered families in Saint Edward, not counting its numerous seasonal guests.