Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Teacher Donlan Jones unlocks the church doors in Lake Oswego for the last time.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Teacher Donlan Jones unlocks the church doors in Lake Oswego for the last time.

LAKE OSWEGO — Steadfast service, thy name is Donlan Jones.

That's one refrain heard these days at Our Lady of the Lake Parish.

Jones, an 82-year-old retired electrical engineer, has taught advanced math at the parish school for 21 years. In addition, he has arisen in the wee hours each morning for almost two decades to unlock the church, switch on lights and set out the altar bread so the day of worship can begin.  

It took convincing before Jones would consent to becoming the subject of an article. He prefers quiet service. But he decided that his tale might convince others to serve steadily.

He's not precisely certain how he became the parish porter. Father Rock Sassano was pastor. Jones thinks he volunteered for the duty because he was a competitive swimmer who was up early to get to the pool anyway. He'd get to the church at 5:30 after a vigorous workout in the water.

It gave him a moment to say a prayer in the quiet before he began a busy day in the classroom.

"The students respect him and enjoy the immense overall wisdom he brings to the classroom," say school officials.

Convinced that students learn best if they are fascinated, Jones weaves stories into his mathematical lessons. "You can't just teach cold mathematics," he says.

He's taught at Santa Clara University, University of Portland and Clackamas Community College.

Jones was born at the start of the Great Depression into a venerable San Francisco family. He attended the Jesuits' St. Ignatius High School, the same institution his father graduated from before the 1906 earthquake.  

Jones holds electrical engineering degrees from University of Santa Clara, UCLA and Stanford. Meanwhile, his heart has long been in teaching. He felt the calling in the early 1950s, about the time he decided he had not been living his faith very well. He got serious about Catholicism, reading writers like Thomas Merton and Victor Hugo. He has stuck with faith ever since.   

During the early years of the Cold War, Jones worked for Sylvania in top secret electronic designs for the Air Force. After his faith awakening, he had planned on becoming a Jesuit, but his father's health failed. He ended up teaching at his alma mater Santa Clara, where a priest invited him to be part of a club of young Catholics.

There, he met Angela Guerra, whose name translates "Angel of War." She was anything but, though she did vanquish Donlan's heart. The two wed in 1957.

In 1969, the couple moved to Oregon, where Jones took a job at Tektronix. There, he was part of a breakthrough in low-cost screens that display data from heart monitors and other instruments. They sent two sons to Jesuit High and two daughters to St. Mary's Academy.  

"I certainly feel that he is an inspiration," says parishioner Harriet Vanderbilt, a longtime parishioner who volunteers in her own right.

Jeff Flaig and Kay Edens, who attend the 6:30 a.m. daily Mass at Our Lady of the Lake, will assume Jones' unlocking duties.