Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

Father Julian Cassar looks out at the sanctuary, empty on this Friday afternoon.

He points to the first pew, naming the family who always sits there.

He can tell you where most of his parishioners sit during Mass at St. Francis de Sales Cathedral, where he's been rector for eight years.

On Oct. 17, he is moving to Bend, where he will be pastor of St. Francis of Assisi.

"He wants me there, so I'll go," he says, referencing Bishop Liam Cary of the Baker Diocese. "It's at the bishop's discretion. I knew I'd leave here - he'd need me somewhere else."

Father Julian, as he's known to most locals, came to Baker City from John Day, where he served at that town's mission church.

The populations of his towns are quickly increasing - 2,000 in John Day to 10,000 in Baker City to 80,000 in Bend.

"Of course, they're not all Catholics," he says with a smile.

St. Francis of Assisi has about 5,500 parishioners. Several years ago, a second church was built to accommodate the congregation, so Father Julian will divide his time between the two churches.

"It'll keep me busy," he says.

The older, historic church is where he will live in the rectory. The newer, modern church has the offices and a school with grades K-8.

Father Rob Greiner, who currently serves in Prineville, will come to St. Francis de Sales.

Father Julian, 61, grew up in Malta, an island country in the Mediterranean Sea, and his first church as a priest was in his hometown, from 1977 to 1981.

Then he came to America, and was pastor in four different parishes in New York.

In 2003 he requested a move to Oregon.

"I wanted a change of scene, and I wanted to help in mission territory," he says.

He was assigned to John Day.

"From the smallest island in the world to New York to John Day," he says.

He came to Baker City in 2005.

"He knew I have a love for art and architecture," he said of Bishop Robert Vasa, who was bishop of the diocese from 2000 to 2011.

St. Francis is still the home cathedral of the Baker Diocese, which covers all of Oregon east of the Cascade Mountains. The diocese was based in Baker from 1906 until 1985, when the Chancery offices moved to Bend.

The church's cornerstone was laid in 1906, and the cathedral was dedicated in April 1908. It was built using native tuff stone and the inside is colored by the numerous stained glass windows.

When he was still in John Day, Father Julian remembers a visit to the cathedral when he noticed an odd wall built at the front of the sanctuary.

Turns out, it was added in 1980.

As the cathedral's centennial neared in 2008, Father Julian spearheaded a renovation project to return the sanctuary to more of its original appearance.

Especially taking out that wall, which still makes him cringe when he thinks about it.

"I'm glad it's the way it is, and it'll stay that way for a lot of years," he says of the church's current appearance.

Father Julian describes his eight years in Baker City as "fruitful, productive and affirming."

In addition to his church work, he reached out to the entire community with events such as Stations of the Cross around town, and PowerPoint presentations about various topics, such as Christmas traditions around the world.

He's also never without his camera, and has documented local wildlife and stunning sunsets and sunrises. (Many can be found on the Cathedral's website, www.saintfranciscathedral.com.)

Although he will be busy in Bend, he will not forget his camera.

"Oh, I'll find time," he says.