Srs. Agnes Marie, Anne and Clare Vandecoevering pray in the chapel of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon Motherhouse in Beaverton this summer. “We love each other so much,” said Sr. Anne. The three women are also close with the rest of the large Vandecoevering clan. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Srs. Agnes Marie, Anne and Clare Vandecoevering pray in the chapel of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon Motherhouse in Beaverton this summer. “We love each other so much,” said Sr. Anne. The three women are also close with the rest of the large Vandecoevering clan. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)

Like any close sisters, the Vandecoevering trio interrupt each other, laugh at much-told family tales and wear matching clothes — which for many years have been black-and-white habits.

Affectionately known in Verboort as the “Blessed Vandecoevering Trinity,” Sisters Clare, Agnes Marie and Anne are all members of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon. But along with a shared bond of blood and vows, they have something else in common: a lifelong dedication to young people.

“My favorite part of being a sister is the children,” said Sister Anne, 80. Together the three women have ministered to youths throughout the Pacific Northwest, teaching and tending to boys and girls at dozens of Catholic schools and parishes from Spokane to Stayton. Their later years of ministry brought them back to their home community of Verboort and a chance to live together at Visitation Convent until 2015, when Sister Clare returned to the Beaverton motherhouse.

This summer, Sister Clare, 86, celebrated her 70th jubilee and Sisters Anne and Agnes Marie moved into the motherhouse with their older sister.

“We love each other so much,” Sister Anne said as the three gathered on a morning this summer to reflect on their childhood and vocation. “We’ve been really blessed and happy,” added 82-year-old Sister Agnes Marie softly; she’s the self-proclaimed “shy one” of the bunch.

The women grew up in an Oregon Catholic enclave with a history as Catholic as their family of 14. Founded by Father William Verboort, their childhood community was once known as the “Catholic Colony of Forest Grove.”

All three sisters believe their calling to the religious life was inspired by the infectious faith of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon who taught them at Verboort’s Visitation School and their parents, William and Delia Vandecoevering, who guided them at home.

The family prayed the rosary nightly, and their father would quiz the children on the Baltimore Catechism. “He knew it backward and forward,” said Sister Clare.

Delia Vandecoevering was known for her patience and kindness. “She never once yelled at us,” recalled Sister Anne. “My dad was more strict. So when I would not obey my mom, it went to my dad — and I learned to obey,” she laughed.

All the Vandecoevering children helped with the family farm, assisting with crops of alfalfa, oats and wheat.

“I worked the hay baler,” Sister Anne said, her eyes twinkling.

The siblings confessed they sometimes would cut dish-duty short to play on the bales of hay.

One of their brothers, Albert Vandecoevering, 84, said watching his teenage sisters make their final vows is something he’ll never forget. “You could see it in their eyes, how they were very much attached to (their vocation).”

Sister Clare joined as a postulant at age 14. The younger sisters soon followed, Ann at 15 and Agnes Marie at 17. The latter two made their final vows together.

Though they share the same religious order, the personalities and gifts they bring to their vocation are distinct.

Sister Clare is “very organized and a go-getter,” said Sister Charlene Herinckx, spiritual community leader for the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon. The eldest of the three, Sister Clare in 1949 began organizing summertime religious education classes for students across the region. She eventually talked her sisters into joining her, and the three taught at parishes across Oregon, Idaho and Washington.

“It was just a ball,” said Sister Clare.

Sister Anne, who worked in accounting at the motherhouse and taught math, is known as a numbers whiz. Carol Funk, principal of Visitation School, said Sister Anne always was “so patient with each child” in the classroom, making sure he or she understood a concept fully. Sister Anne also was principal of Visitation for five years and treasurer at many of the schools where she taught.

Sister Charlene describes Sister Agnes Marie as “gentle and lovable.” When she moved to Verboort after decades as a lunchroom monitor at Valley Catholic School, located on the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon campus, “I think it broke (the children’s) hearts because she’s just so sweet with them and loving and attentive to them,” said Sister Charlene.

Sister Agnes Marie also spent years heading the motherhouse bakery and dairy service.

“Oh, her bread was just out of this world,” said Sister Anne.

The three women agree that life as a sister is never dull. Children kept them on their toes, and they’ve had opportunities to travel to Rome, Jerusalem and Mexico. Sister Anne met St. John Paul II and Pope Francis. Sister Clare and Sister Anne once rode an elephant together. And for years, the Vandecoeverings were beloved volunteers at the annual Verboort Sausage Festival.

As the Catholic Church has changed over the years, the sisters have adapted in their own ways. Though some in their order have chosen not to wear a veil, they’ve opted to keep the traditional garb.

“The thing is,” said Sister Anne, “I’m a sister, I love being a sister, and I love showing it.”

The Vandecoeverings were the last religious sisters to work at Visitation, at least for now. But Father Michael Vuky, pastor of Visitation Parish, hopes their presence can make a lasting impact — likely echoing the thoughts of countless pastors and school administrators who have worked with the sisters.

“My prayer,” said Father Vuky, “is that the witness of their religious life in the classroom, lunch room, church, convent, chapel, gym and playground will leave a lasting impression on all the children they have taught … and plant that most important seed of discerning consecrated life.”

At the Beaverton motherhouse, the sisters are grateful to be under the same roof again and still are finding ways to serve their greatest love — Jesus.

When thinking about the future, said Sister Agnes Marie, “What more can I do to help him out?”