HISTORY OF ST. GABRIEL CHURCH
With the advent of World War II, and a steady influx of shipyard personnel, it soon became apparent that Bremerton’s neighbor across the bay, Port Orchard, was in dire need of its own parochial facility. Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish, in Bremerton, under the steady guidance of Monsignor Joseph E. Camerman, had been “home base” for Port Orchardites for as long as they could remember, and now this area had “come of age”. A resident priest was warranted. Also, Retsil, where the Port Orchard Catholic community had been meeting had become “too small.”
In 1942, Father James Buck, of Star of the Sea, was assigned to offer Sunday Mass in Port Orchard. Since no other facilities were available, Fr. Buck celebrated mass in the hall above the D & R Theatre (currently the Dragonfly Cinema on Bay Street), and at the East Port Orchard Gymnasium. The many problems and inconveniences were obvious to all and the growing family of local Catholic residents soon decided to labor together to resolve their dilemma. The Catholic Women’s Club sponsored the first-ever “Parish Dinner” and with a net return of $350.00 a building fund was born.
In 1947, a tract of land known as the “Old Bunten Ranch” was purchased for $6,000. During the negotiation of property, Mass was regularly celebrated in the Day Care Center, also known as Knights of Columbus (K of C) Hall, across Mitchell Road, which was bought later for an insignificant sum from the government; with permission from the Archbishop and used for a “pro tempore” church. Later it became the CCD Center and Social Hall. 1948 rolled around and the only suitable structure on the property was remodeled into a Rectory and titled “The Poultry Penthouse”.
In 1949, our first official Pastor, Father Timothy Moynihan arrived. Three years later in May of 1952, Father John P. Donohue became our guiding Pastor and settled in for a long period of time (1952-1966). These were growing years. In 1957 construction began on the current parochial building. The dedication date was Spring 1958. Five years later, 1963, the parish community provided their Pastor with a much-needed Rectory. Its homey “elegance” earned it the nickname, “The Port Orchard Hilton”.
Construction began on the St. Gabriel Parish Education Wing in February 1973, under the leadership of Father Donald Piro (1971-1976). Ten months later the new Education Wing was dedicated. All means of fund-raisers were used, but the most versatile and effective was the “Square Foot Club.” Mathematic computation showed that a square foot was worth $22.00, and each purchaser was given a “Deedette.” Mass at Belfair was begun during this time.
St. Gabriel Parish experienced continued growth and construction of parish facilities during the 1980’s under the leadership of Father Patrick O’Neill (1976-1986). Prince of Peace Mission was established in Belfair in 1982. In 1983 the St. Gabriel Parish bell tower was constructed. In 1984 the first of two major renovations to our parochial building was completed. The 1984 renovation (responding to changes initiated by the Second Vatican Council) moved the altar to its present location in the sanctuary, removed the communion railings, pews and kneelers; and added the Chapel and Community Room to parish facilities.
Fr. Phuong Hoang was appointed Pastor in 2010 by Archbishop Brunett.