Fr. Jeyamani and Rosarians plant a rose called “Day Breaker,” a fragrant, peachy-pink variety, during the annual blessing. (Courtesy Portland Rose Festival Foundation)
Fr. Jeyamani and Rosarians plant a rose called “Day Breaker,” a fragrant, peachy-pink variety, during the annual blessing. (Courtesy Portland Rose Festival Foundation)

Father Paul Jeyamani, pastor of All Saints Parish, knew Portland’s Rose Festival had to do with the city’s fragrant roses and extravagant parades, but that’s where his knowledge ended.

That changed this year when his Northeast Portland church hosted the annual blessing that kicks off the festival. “It gave me the opportunity to learn more about the festival, and I was really touched by the blessing tradition,” said Father Jeyamani.

The ceremony, this year held May 15, commemorates individuals involved with the festival who have died, including members of the Royal Rosarians, the Rose Festival Foundation, the Rose Society and the Blueback Submarine Navy League Council. It also publicly introduces the 15 Rose Festival princesses. Among the 2021 court are Madison Cooper of Central Catholic High School and Aundrea Brazile of St. Mary’s Academy.

The blessing honors “both the past and future, and that symbolizes what human life is all about,” said Father Jeyamani. “We can’t really forget about the past, but we also can’t be tied down by it. We need to be able to look toward the future, which provides possibilities and new opportunities.”

That message, he said, is especially poignant during the pandemic.

During the blessing All Saints eighth graders sang “Let it Be,” by the Beatles, and “You Can Count on Me,” by Bruno Mars.

Their voices “were like angels,” said Kimberly Brown, last year’s Royal Rosarian prime minister and a master gardener who oversees gardening projects at All Saints.

Father Jeyamani shared a reflection with those gathered — a mix of guests, parishioners, Rosarians in their signature white uniforms and the princesses donning matching floral dresses.

“My whole message for the day was that we are living in this pandemic time but we have learned a lot,” said Father Jeyamani. “In life it’s not about what happens to us but how we react that really matters.”

Each year the festival’s prime minster selects a Portland-area worship space for the blessing, and last year Brown — who had a 30-year career with the U.S. Forest Service and volunteers at Washington Park’s International Rose Test Garden — selected the parish. When many of last year’s events were canceled, it was moved to this year.

Brown said that while some people may dismiss the Rose Festival as antiquated, “the legacy and traditions of it are just breathtaking.”

The festival, celebrating community and service, has survived both world wars, the Spanish flu and now the pandemic. “It’s hard not to take it seriously and value it when you realize you are part of that kind of legacy,” she said.

This year’s festivities again are curtailed for public health reasons, but some key events — including the coronation June 18 — will proceed.

A tradition at the blessing is a rose planting ceremony, and this year All Saints was honored with a new bush. It was situated in the soil near 55 other rose bushes in a garden Brown designed and built.

The name of the rose selected was “Day Breaker,” a fragrant, peachy-pink variety.

“The name and idea of daybreak ties so well into everything,” said Father Jeyamani. “We are in a time of new beginnings.”