Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon photo
Sr. Mary Imelda Vandehey was a giant in religious education.
Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon photo
Sr. Mary Imelda Vandehey was a giant in religious education.

BEAVERTON — Sister Mary Imelda Vandehey was an extraordinary individual who caught the attention of the clergy as she went about the business of religious instruction. Sister Imelda was born in Verboort and made her perpetual profession in the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in 1900, 14 years after the community was founded.

She taught in Sublimity, Verboort, Tillamook, Milwaukie, St. Patrick’s, St. Stephen’s and Holy Cross in Portland, St. Mary’s Home for Boys, St. Mary’s Institute and St. Cecilia’s in Beaverton. In all, she taught for more than 60 years. For 20 years (1943-63), Sister Imelda resided at St. Stephen Parish, Portland, working exclusively among Catholic children attending public schools.

Sister Imelda began by teaching in the Catholic schools. Then she was given a full-time assignment to teach religion to children from the public schools.
Her pastor described her ministry this way: “She began calling at homes of children, so as not to miss any. When she found the family unaware of religious truth, she proceeded to explain it to them. The family found itself a miniature discussion club. If there were tiny children, she taught the parents how to train them along religious lines. If she happened on a non-Catholic child in the street, she asked him or her to come to her Bible class, as she called it. She would inquire as to where home was and ask to see their parents.”

At this time, religious education was known as the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine or “CCD.” It was somewhat new and Archbishop Edward Howard of Portland was looking for someone who epitomized the spirit of the Confraternity. When he found Sister Mary Imelda, he noted she was a whole confraternity by herself.

At the CCD Region Congress in 1957, Sister Imelda received the Pope Pius X Medal given to those who give special services to their parishes through the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

Interestingly, Sister Imelda received a second award in 1959 when Archbishop Howard presented her with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award from Pope John XXIII, which is granted for outstanding service to the church and the papacy. The award was established in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII. Additionally, St. Stephen honored her by naming the parish center Imelda Hall.

She retired in 1963 at age 84. In “retirement,” she visited residents in the newly opened Maryville Nursing Home. Sister Imelda died on Jan. 27, 1967.

Other Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon who have been awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal include Sister M. Fidelis Kreutzer and Sister M. Theresa Margaret Yettick.

The writer, a Sister of St. Mary of Oregon, is director of the Catholic Youth Organization, a project including sports leagues and a summer camp. She also serves on the Sisters' leadership council.