Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon photos
An 1895 photo shows women Oregon's archbishop had asked to be 'my Sisters.' They would be the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon.
Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon photos
An 1895 photo shows women Oregon's archbishop had asked to be 'my Sisters.' They would be the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon.
The Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon begin celebrating their 125th jubilee year with a celebration set for Sunday, Feb. 27 at the motherhouse, 4440 SW 148th Ave. in Beaverton. Tours, including a look at the landmark dome, will run from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and a prayer service is set for 3:30 p.m.

BEAVERTON — With all our modern appliances and convenient technology, it can be a challenge to grasp what daily life was like for the pioneering women who would become the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, the only Catholic religous community founded in the state.  

It was 125 years ago. After moving into the second floor of a building that had been abandoned for 10 years in Sublimity, and spending time cleaning up after the birds and bats that had free range because of broken windows, two Sisters went around the neighborhood helping with household tasks to earn money to purchase furniture. Within the first month, they were offered a financial boon for their needs by a local farmer who asked them to help harvest hops — which they did.

The move to Beaverton in 1891 provided similar challenges: an unfinished orphanage building, and within a month, more than 60 additional mouths to feed with the arrival of the children. Land needed to be cleared before gardens and orchards could be planted.

Although Archbishop William Gross had formed the St. Mary’s Home Association to provide financial support to his newly established St. Mary’s Orphanage, it was insufficient for the number of children and Sisters. Beginning then and until the present, local farmers and gardeners have provided bountiful, healthy produce for the community. Nevertheless, it was not long before the accounts were in arrears.  

Thus began the annual begging tours throughout the western states by Sr. Johanna and Sr. Alexia until 1900. Finally, relief came because of the efforts of Dr. Andrew Smith in the Oregon Senate and Hubert Bernards in the House, who by uniting efforts, gained the approval for the state to provide $4 per month for homeless and abandoned children.

A review of the daily tasks at the orphanage recalls life without electricity, running water, and appliances. The Sisters would rise at 4:30 a.m. (except on Monday, they rose at 3:30 a.m.) for prayer.  On some days, laundry for the Sisters and the orphans, using a scrub board, consumed the time and energy of the Sisters. Baking 25-30 loaves of bread with the help of some of the boys or girls was daily necessity.  

In the summer, onions were harvested and sold and the Sisters and older children went into the woods to gather various berries and, in the fall, filberts.  

It was many years before the Sisters or orphans tasted butter, sugar, and eggs. In time tending the chickens and milking cows became part of the daily routine.  

Some of the Sisters saved their Christmas hard candy to put into the applesauce to sweeten it. In addition to the household work and gardening, many Sisters taught the orphans in the classrooms.

This legacy of “no sacrifice too great . . . no task too difficult” as articulated by Mother Seraphim, continues to guide, inspire and challenge the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon today.

The writer is Superior General of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon.