In the late 1920s, the Jesuits were struggling to accommodate all the young men coming to them in the Western states. Jesuit Father Wilfred Schoenberg, writes in A History of the Catholic Church in the Northwest that the California novitiate was overwhelmed with young candidates and that Jesuit Father Joseph Piet, the provincial of the California province (which included Oregon), was determined to find a site on which to build a new novitiate.
Father Piet, whom Father Schoenberg describes as full of enthusiasm and somewhat eccentric, was a strong advocate of the power of prunes for health. He wanted a site where the order could grow prune plums. Also, he wanted the new site to be near Portland, where the provincial headquarters were located.
Father Piet faced down many doubters when he found 'Paradise Farm' near Sheridan and bought it for $36,000. The Jesuits built the first, temporary novitiate in just 22 days, completing it July 25, 1931, and the first candidates moved in four days later. Within a month there were 40 young candidates there.
The Jesuits, like just about everyone else during these early Depression years, were strapped for cash - bank loans for building were nonexistent. The order also had suffered fires at several of their missions. On the positive side, the Northwest Jesuits were now their own Oregon Province, established officially from Rome on Dec. 8, 1931. On the negative side, early the following year, the new provincial officials added up their bills and found they were nearly $1.8 million in debt.
Amazingly, Father Piet went ahead with building the novitiate. The novices moved into the new building in 1933. 'What the Jesuits had got for their $2.40 per square foot,' Father Schoenberg wrote, 'was a damp concrete shell without furnishings, a house that was large enough to serve as a Benedictine Abbey and poor enough to be a Trappist monastery. With a little black tar added to the surface to keep the rain out, it would have to do for 33 more years.'
The Jesuits continued add wings to the building, necessary to hold all the postulants who kept arriving during the next decades.
In 1974, however, the order sold the building to the Delphian Foundation, a branch of the Church of Scientology.
The novitiate program was relocated to the former Holy Child Academy in Portland.
'Gone were the cows and goats and the messy ducks of Sheridan. Gone, too, Piet's prune orchard,' writes Father Schoenberg, in a chapter appropriately titled, 'End of an Era.'
Last month came the end of yet another era, for St. Michael's Institute at Gonzaga closed after 100 years of teaching young Jesuit candidates philosophy. 'It was very sad, but it's one of those things,' Father Schoenberg says. 'Now none of the schools I attended still exist.'
Today, Jesuit candidates attend the Jesuit Novitiate in Southeast Portland for their novitiate training.