BEAVERTON — “We have been so very blessed.” That’s the word from the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Each year on the first Sunday of August, the sisters, who run Our Lady of Peace Retreat House in Beaverton, hold a barbecue.

The convent’s largest fundraiser has endured for 53 years with the help of local Knights of Columbus. The day now sparks anticipation among the sisters, vendors and attendees.

“The barbecue is such a big occasion for the sisters and our benefactors, and it was heartbreaking to realize that we could not hold it this year,” said Sister Anne Marie Warren, the community’s superior general.

Since the sisters could not organize and carry out an all-virtual alternative event on their own, the Knights of Columbus at St. Matthew Parish in Hillsboro, one of the groups who volunteer at the barbecue every summer, decided to set up an online fundraiser.

In a typical year, the Knights run the outdoor food service as well as setup and cleanup. The St. Matthew council, as well as other local councils in the Portland metro area, assist the sisters with various projects during the year, including groundskeeping and repairs. Even when the retreat house temporarily closed its campus during the spring and summer, the Knights continued to offer their services, complete with masks, gloves and outdoors-only visits.

“The sisters are so important to our Catholic faith community here in the greater Portland area that we want to support them however we can. With the pandemic, we felt it was our duty to help them recover some of their lost funding from the 2020 barbecue,” wrote Andy Jewell, a member of the Hillsboro council.

Initially, the sisters planned that the barbecue would be a modified version of the usual event, perhaps with a drive-thru setup for the meals and a line of sisters waving cheerfully to their friends and benefactors. However, as August approached and restrictions tightened, they realized that cancellation was imminent. Though heartbroken to nix one of their two main fundraisers, the sisters knew that the welfare of their community would always be the top priority.

Not long after the barbecue’s intended date, Sister Anne Marie received a call from the Knights, informing her about the online fundraiser in the works. The Knights handled everything themselves, other than asking Dina Marie Hale (now the media coordinator at Our Lady of Peace) to help with the website setup. The fund opened to donations in late August. Technically, it “closed” on Dec. 31, but as of this writing, contributors still can give at the site.

Since the opening of the fund, donors have given nearly $5,300 of the $6,000 goal. “We have been so blessed by how very generous and kind people have been,” said Sister Anne Marie.

The sisters missed serving retreat guests during the months in which they were closed, and receiving messages from friends who donated was a welcome reminder that their friends missed them too. Friends of Our Lady of Peace also found that they could donate their prayers; the website has a “Pray Now” button to click to indicate that one is praying for the sisters and their community. On several occasions, the number of people offering their prayers numbered more than 100.

The intent of the fundraising drive is for the sisters to install audio and video equipment that will expand their capacity to offer remote retreats. They successfully conducted an all-online weeklong Institute in Catholic Teaching this summer, and began offering limited virtual attendance at some of their men’s and women’s retreats this fall.

“It has been a lot quieter here; it’s nice, but it’s lonely,” remarked Sister Anne Marie. Under state guidelines, the retreat house was able to house a maximum of 30 guests, following a strict set of rules that included spacing out retreatants in the dining room, using only every other bedroom, cleaning all common spaces often and thoroughly, and allowing only registered guests in the retreat house. Even the Franciscan Girls, a club that typically provides servers during retreats, could not attend.

“Our hope is that all those who have enjoyed supporting the sisters in their mission will use this opportunity to help them with virtual retreats,” wrote Jewell.

Donations poured in from a range of places where the sisters have family, friends and benefactors.

With a few strategically placed pieces of audio and video technology, the sisters will be able to offer a virtual option for as many retreats as they like. With Zoom, “a lot of people who normally would not come — especially people from farther away — can attend a retreat,” Sister Anne Marie said. Allowing virtual options would increase the reach of the sisters’ ministry, especially during times when many regular retreatants prefer to stay home.

Amanda Rocha attends St. Anthony Parish in Tigard and is a senior at Valley Catholic High School in Beaverton. She is a member of the Catholic Sentinel Youth Writers Corps.