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3/1/1991
Verboort founded by Dutch Catholics
Staff and news service reports


VERBOORT- The school and community are solidly rural; the school's twin wooden steps lead up to a view of fields as broad as Kansas - or Holland.

Verboort was founded by six Catholic families, led by John Verboort and his family, who had traveled from Holland and first settled in Wisconsin.

In 1875, unhappy with Wisconsin's soil and harsh winters, they pushed on to Oregon and shared one large house in Washington County, where they bought 550 acres of land.

Father William Verboort joined his father and family later that year. Ordained in the Diocese of Milwaukee, he was 40 years old when he transferred to the Archdiocese of Oregon City. He and the community built a church, which was consecrated as St. Francis Xavier Church. An informal school was begun as well.

Father Verboort and both his parents died of a fever that swept through the community in 1876. The community was named Verboort that same year.

In 1883 residents built a new, bigger church, which was called Our Lady of the Visitation. The old church was converted into a two-room schoolhouse.

The parish employed lay teachers and Dominican Sisters from Mission San Jose, California - who taught only briefly before they were recalled to their motherhouse.

In 1891, Archbishop William Gross, who had recently founded the teaching order of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, requested the order's mother superior, Sister Mary Ludmilla Langenbach, to send three of her sisters to Verboort.

Father Constance De Latte, then pastor of the Verboort parish, moved to the church sacristy so that the sisters could live in the rectory.

Their students sat at long, rough benches; the light came from low windows.

In his history of the Sisters of St. Mary, Jesuit Father Wilfred Schoenberg quotes Sister Mary Eugenia Eberhard, who served in Verboort and wrote of it in her Souvenir of Golden Jubilee, 1886-1936:

'Never was the larder empty and it would be difficult to say who was the happier, the smiling Sister in the kitchen or the little lad or lassie who came to the door with a dozen eggs, a head of cabbage or some other vegetable and, in season, a tempting piece of meat or homemade sausage.'

Sister Ruth Etzel, who teaches at Visitation School, says that people's generosity has sustained the sisters throughout the century. 'One hundred years ago they took us in as family,' she said.

One older man here still plants his garden every year in gratitude to his memory of Sister Alexia O'Rourke - his first-grade teacher.

'There's a constant giving back from what they got from the sisters,' said Sister Etzel. 'We don't buy any strawberries, raspberries, pears, peaches, apples or beans. They share meat, vegetables, whatever they have. It's become a family tradition in some of the families.'

It was also a family tradition for many years for sons and daughters of these large families to take religious vows. From 1892 to 1949, there were 36 women from Verboort who entered religious life; 30 became Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon.

When Sister Etzel first taught at Visitation School in the 1950s, many of the people still spoke with gratitude of Sisters Alexia and Agnes O'Rourke, teachers at Visitation when the great influenza epidemic struck Verboort in 1918. The school was closed. Entire families fell ill.

For over a month the sisters visited homes full of flu patients.

'One afternoon Louis Vandehey came in haste,' Sister Agnes O'Rourke wrote in her memoirs. He had come to ask the sisters if they could help at Ed Vandehey's home, where everyone was sick.

'Will Vandehey and his wife and baby and toddler had stopped by to visit the Ed Vandeheys after church and then could not get home. They too had fallen ill.

'It was a sight,' wrote Sister O'Rourke. 'In a little three-room house, four flu patients were very ill with a little three-year-old and a two-year-old tottering around. A baby was in bed with the parents. The house was like a bake-oven, so hot.

'There were no conveniences at all to take care of the sick, all must be done the hard way. First we fed the children, and then tended to each person's needs. We were up all that first night.'

In addition to caring for the patients, the sisters fed the pigs and cleaned - after the first night all the bedding had been used.

The Verboort townspeople came away from the epidemic with more gratitude for the sisters than ever.

Four years later, parents and school children from Verboort were prime suspects of throwing rotten eggs at a Ku Klux Klan parade in Forest Grove in 1922.

Later that year, Emma Bryant, Washington County school superintendent, photographed sisters in their habits with school children on the steps of the public school in Verboort.

The sisters had no idea that the photo would be used in a political ad denouncing religiously garbed teachers in public schools and urging voters to pass a measure against it.

That measure passed in 1922, but the Catholic voters of Verboort vowed that Emma Bryant would not be re-elected as superintendent. She did lose her position the following spring, 'proving' for some the dangerous political power of the Catholic Church.

Later in 1923, Oregon voters passed the 'Oregon Compulsory School Bill,' which outlawed private schools. All children between the ages of 8 and 16 were to be enrolled in the public schools by September 1926, or their parents would face fines and imprisonment.

This bill was overturned in the U.S. District Court in Portland. Oregon's governor took the case to the Supreme Court, which agreed that the bill was unconstitutional.

And so, although the sisters could no longer teach in public schools - at least in their habits - they could continue to teach in Visitation School and other parochial schools.



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