Mary’s Woods at Marylhurst/Bob HoffmanThe historic Provincial House for the Sisters of the Holy Names is now the heart of the Mary’s Woods at Marylhurst ministry.

Mary’s Woods at Marylhurst/Bob Hoffman
The historic Provincial House for the Sisters of the Holy Names is now the heart of the Mary’s Woods at Marylhurst ministry.

When Holy Names Sister Carol Higgins walks the halls of St. Mary’s Academy where she works as a theology teacher, there’s no need for her to consciously think about the original 1889 building that was situated across the street. She doesn’t need to recall the historic Supreme Court case that her Religious order won saving private education from oblivion in the United States or how her Consecrated Life community was started by a young woman from Quebec, Canada.

She doesn’t have to do that. The hallways “ooze” it, she says.

In fact, the whole state of Oregon “oozes” with the spirit of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Since 1859, when Archbishop Francis Norbert Blanchet called on them to serve in the Archdiocese of Portland, they have educated us; taken care of our sick or needy; listened to us; reminded us of causes that needed our support; and quite simply, have just been “present,” says Holy Names Sister Linda Patrick, assistant principal for student life at St. Mary’s Academy in downtown Portland.

“We walk with people on their journey,” said Sister Linda. “As a consecrated person, it’s an honor to walk with our students, faculty, peers, lay folks as they discover the face of God as it manifests in their lives.”

Sister Linda says her work at the school involves a lot of “hanging around” — supporting teachers and kids in addition to being present in their lives: showing up to a basketball game or swim meet, attending retreats, going to concerts.

Her whole life was formed by the spirituality of the Sisters, says Sister Linda, and she adds, their call to fully develop the human person can be seen both in the historical work of the Sisters and in the ministries they continue today, like St. Mary’s Academy.

“The mission of the Sisters is right here in these hallways,” said Sister Linda. “It’s like we’re on holy ground here. The things that those founders planted here together continue to flourish, and now we’re in it with the kids. There’s just such a profound sense of commitment here.”

And that ministry continues to grow. With plans for expansion into a newly purchased building near their current one, St. Mary’s Academy, the sole remaining single sex school in Oregon, has continued to grow in its student body numbers (though it will not grow much more, says Sister Linda), its curriculum and activities for its students and in its physical and spiritual presence.

“My hope, my dream, is that the roots of this school run so deep that it inspires a renewal of consecrated life,” said Sister Linda.

When Sister Linda attended here, graduating in 1967, nearly all of the teachers were Sisters of the Holy Names. Now Sister Carol and she are all who remain in service to the school.

Although she dreams that the school will continue to be run by the Sisters, she knows that at some point, the mission and spirit of what the Sisters started will be taken over by faith-filled lay personnel, who have already begun to take the reins.

“We filled a need to start schools and now other people have to do that,” says Sister Linda. “But the mission and work of the Sisters will always live on.”

Another place where the Sisters are present for both one another and the people they serve is Mary’s Woods at Marylhurst.

Since 2001, the continuing-care retirement facility located on the Sisters’ campus (near Lake Oswego) has been housing and caring for folks entering the final stages of their lives. It is a sponsored ministry of the Religious community. It provides services for every stage of end of life care — from apartment living, to assisted-living and memory care.

Sister Roswitha Frawley is Mary’s Woods’ mission director and part of the facility’s leadership.

She maintains that the ministry, which started out as a way to care for the aging members of their consecrated life community, has turned into a true community of its own where she has personally seen the development of the human person continue right up until the point of death.

“It’s amazing to me the people who have discovered they are writers or painters here,” said Sister Roswitha, a former educator throughout Oregon. “People have also told me that they didn’t expect at this time in their life they would make this many more friends.”
This ministry of hospitality and presence has been “life-giving” to both the Sisters and the people they serve, says Sister Roswitha. A development of new living quarters is in the works and there is a substantial waiting list.

Mary’s Woods is constantly looking for ways to bring its community spirit outside the property as well. The ministry is now serving people in their homes through its Home Care Services program, providing care, food, assistance for a more affordable rate.

Sister Roswitha, who was busy talking to some of the close to 300 employees at their Christmas party when I spoke with her, says she has no plans to retire or slow down. She says being a member of a consecrated life community has taught her life is not meant to be looked at like that.

“There isn’t a magic age when you stop being involved in ministry,” said Sister Roswitha. “It’s how you live your life.”

Holy Names Sister Carole Strawn worked at Marylhurst University for 25 years. She now works at the community’s Heritage Center, where knowledge about her religious order’s history is continuing to be explored.

For Sister Carole, the continuing charism of the Sisters, of developing the whole human person, has never changed even though the ministries may have.

“The emphasis is that you’re always plugging into life, discovering new possibilities for yourself as well as integrating with the world around you,” she said.

Social justice, the needs of those around you — how you can help be a part of the positive side of life, says Sister Carole. “That’s what God is calling us to do,” she says.

She is proud of her order’s speaking out in recent years about stewardship of the earth, water as a public good and a public right, and the Sisters’ efforts in taking a stance on human trafficking and immigration reform.

“We want to make sure that the full development of the human person is available to everyone,” said Sister Carole. In the earliest days of the Sisters in Oregon, she says, a baby was left at the door of the convent. So, they started an orphanage.

“Our order has always been responsive to needs as they have arrived — as God has called us to serve,” said Sister Carole. “With everything we’ve done and will do, we will continue to serve and be present.