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Home : Faith/Spirituality : Living Faith
2/15/2011 4:48:00 PM
Two Sisters seven decades apart reflect on their shared community experience
Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon photo
Sister Hugh Copenhaver, 97, and Sister Alison Green, 28.
Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon photo
Sister Hugh Copenhaver, 97, and Sister Alison Green, 28.
Sisters say, 'Come, see the joy'
Single Catholic women between 18 and 35 are invited to explore the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon at Camp Howard July 8-10. The gathering will help participants explore the charism, vision and legacy of the Sisters. Cost is $30, with scholarships available. For information, contact Sr. Michael Francine Duncan at (503) 644-9181 or [email protected] 

Karen Crandal


BEAVERTON — The corner of TV Highway and Murray didn’t always look this way.

When 97-year-old Sister Hugh Copenhaver entered the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in 1935, Murray was a two-lane street and Farmington was a crossroad. Gardens and fields surrounded the Convent. There was space between Beaverton and Portland.

In those days, a Sister would never leave the Motherhouse unattended. All outings were in a group with a driver. A trip to the city might be to see a movie, take in a play or to buy “nun shoes.”

During an interview with the youngest and the oldest members of the SSMO Community, 28-year-old Sister Alison Green, lit up when Sister Hugh mentioned the nun shoes. Acquiring just the right shoes was one of her first outings after entering the Community three years ago. Luckily the saleswoman at Sears in the Washington Square Mall knew exactly what nun shoes were – thick soles, plain and sensible.

Joining the Community in Beaverton was a big adjustment for Sister Hugh who came from the prairies of Big Sky country in Montana where she could see the Rocky Mountains 50 miles to the west. When she first arrived on campus, she felt closed in but quickly grew to love Oregon’s beautiful trees and flowers.

Life at the Convent took some getting used to for Sister Hugh. Much of her days were spent in silence and prayer. The daily routine started before 6 a.m. with morning prayers followed by meditation and Mass. As a novice, her job was to study the rules of religious life, do chores around the house and eat meals in silence while another Sister read aloud from a spiritual book.

After arriving to the Convent in 2007 from California, Sister Alison says she is still adjusting to Community life. “There’s always a tension between the values and rhythm here and those anywhere else.” Although the pace is quite different from her college days and time with her friends back home, Sister Alison says it is reassuring to be surrounded by women who are older than her with more life experience.
“They are very accepting of me and there is so much wisdom here. They call me ‘the kid.’”

Sister Hugh was never able to experience being the young one. In the 1930s, most women in the Community entered between the ages of 15-18. At her ripe old age of 23, her nickname was Grandma even then!

As Sister Hugh reflects on Sister Alison, she holds the woman 70 years her junior in high regard. “There are so many enticing advantages for young people these days. It’s impressive to see a woman in her 20s join our Community. It shows a deep spirituality.”

Sister Hugh describes some advantages to being the oldest living Sister of St. Mary of Oregon. “I get waited on a lot. People take my tray after dinner and they help me up and down the stairs.”

Sister Alison’s honor as the youngest member is being branded as the one with all the technological savvy in the house. “I help everyone on the computer and have become the resident expert on remote controls and all things electronic.”

Being the youngest has some less desirable features as well. “Because I’m young and able, I am expected to handle a lot of extra work around the house. It’s a big job doing little jobs.”

Sister Alison is studying to earn a Masters in Teaching so she can achieve her ultimate dream as a Sister – to share her joy and passion for the faith by teaching high school religion. “I want to emulate the spirit of so many of my Sisters in my daily life with whomever I meet.”

Sister Hugh enjoyed a long career as a classroom teacher in both Oregon and Washington and has spent the last 30 years in parish ministry teaching CCD, visiting the sick and helping in the office of a parish in her hometown. She spends half the year in Montana and the other half in Beaverton.

About living among the SSMOs, Sister says, “I receive peace and contentment in the fact that I am part of a group of women who are striving to make a positive difference in our world today.”

Her aspirations now lie in praying for special needs, doing odd jobs that are helpful to others and in trying to be accepting of whatever life has to offer.

Sister Alison also treasures her home with the Sisters.

“No matter how much I enjoy going somewhere, I always love to come home. I love to sit before the tabernacle at night when all the lights are out. It’s so quiet then.”

When asked what the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon Community means to her, Sister Hugh pauses for several moments and says, “It’s family. It’s caring. It’s security.”

“This community is my life,” said Sister Alison. “It’s a touchstone. I go out in the world to learn and work and when I come back, I enjoy the structure. I have so many ideas throughout the day and when I filter them through my life in the Community, I like how they come out.”



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