1. St. Mary Roman Catholic Church 1062 Charnelton St., 541-342-1139. StMaryEugene.com. 

2. Unitarian Universalist Church of Eugene 1685 W. 13th Ave., 541- 686-2775. UUEugene.org. 

3. Temple Beth Israel 1175 E. 29th Ave., 541-485-7218. TBIEugene.org.

A Lutheran reporter reaches for his phone to call a Catholic priest and inform him that his parish has won “Best Church in Eugene” in Eugene Weekly’s annual “Best of Eugene” issue.

It’s not the start of a joke, though Father Ron Nelson of St. Mary Roman Catholic Church is chuckling at the thought. 

“I have no idea how that came about,” he says.

The readers voted, and Nelson, who has been at the church for almost a decade, is taking an open-arms approach to the result. It’s welcome news from the pandemic-driven last 18 months, a chance for the Father and his staff to catch their breath and share their space on W. 11th Avenue.

Established in 1887, St. Mary (its full name: St. Mary, Our Lady of the Presentation, Catholic Church) is believed to be the oldest church in Lane County. Ground was broken on Feb. 2, 1927 (Candlemas Day in the Christian church) for the church’s current location on W. 11th Avenue between Charnelton and Lincoln streets, and construction was completed later that year.

From there, St. Mary has been a presence in Eugene for the last century.

In addition to the church, Nelson also is the pastor at O’Hara Catholic School, founded in 1889 as the parish school of St. Mary, and which is now located on W. 18th Avenue. Nelson also notes that St. Mary works closely with St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Community Services of Lane County as well as with the annual Christmas Food Box Program.

However, Nelson emphasizes that “the main focus is on the people coming to the church,” and it has been a unique past 18 months.

The father estimates that on the eve of the pandemic, St. Mary had 1,500 families at various masses. COVID forced pews to be roped off, and St. Mary had to learn the art of live streaming. Parishioners are starting to come back, Nelson says, even with the mask mandates.

“The church is looking more full,” he says.

Just in time for the “Best Church in Eugene” result. We’ll hope Father Ron Nelson mentions that in a future homily.