Fr. William Verboort
Fr. William Verboort

VERBOORT — A significant contribution to Oregon Catholic history has arrived in the form of a 400-page book by Father Scott Vandehey.

Verboort: A Priest and His People (Wildwood Publishers), chronicles the lives of the priests and Catholic settlers who peopled a Dutch enclave in western Washington County, between Portland and the Pacific Ocean.

"They were our ancestors," says Father Vandehey, who himself grew up in the region, in the Dutch-Catholic town of Roy. "They shared their deep faith, sacrificed their very lives and traveled great lengths in search of freedom, opportunity and a better life."

The priest, author of four other histories, says he is telling the tales because the lives of these pioneers "are very much a part of our own."

As Father Vandehey explains, the winter of 1875 was unusually cold. That was when six hardy Dutch families made the trip from Wisconsin to Oregon and purchased the Henry Black farm northeast of Forest Grove. Ensconced in the woods and fertile soils of the Tualatin Valley, they set up a village to carry on their way of life.

A 40-year-old Dutch missionary priest, Father William Verboort, was the visionary behind the move west.

"I was never so happy as when I sallied forth with my shepherd's crook to take care of my few sheep," the handsome priest wrote of his childhood, with a prescient image of his life as a pastor of widespread Catholics in Oregon.

He would die less than a year after he arrived, just weeks after the death of his parents, who had also made the western journey and fell ill. But in that short time he built a church, preached all over the region and impressed people everywhere with his ascetic life.  

Father Vandehey explains that Father Verboort's faith and enterprise continued on in the settlers who would name their community after him.

John and Eva (Herb) Spiering, for example, were a hard-working farm couple who had a dozen children. One of their sons died serving in the Spanish-American War in The Philippines. John Delplanche is another pioneer, grandfather of Father William Delplanche, a longtime Oregon priest. John Vanderzanden, forbear of another priest, became one of the first strawberry growers in Washington County, a place now famous for the crop.

Many priests and nuns emerged from this Dutch-American world, even to modern times, with Father Vandehey, Father Kelly Vandehey and Father Jeff Meeuwsen.

Through the early years in Verboort, there were priests like Father Louis Verhaag, who founded parishes from Portland to Baker City and came to Verboort in 1900. He operated the Catholic Sentinel and composed a historical monthly magazine. The book also notes the founding of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, who were the first to teach at the Catholic school in Verboort.

This book will be the definitive work about the first 25 years of Verboort and gives a full account of the families who made the place. There are stories of tragic deaths, hail storms, poverty and prosperity. Father Vandehey's sources are the families themselves, plus the parish archives.

The book contains a treasure of hundreds of vintage photos — good ones, including an awe-inspiring shot of threshing day at the Vanderzanden farm from the turn of the century. It shows a mix of man and machine that tells us a lot about the era.

Father Vandehey holds a book signing after morning Masses Sunday, Jan. 9, in the parish center at Visitation Church here. That event corresponds with a breakfast to fund a retreat for eighth graders from the parish school. He'll also sign books until 3 p.m. for out-of-town guests. Father Vandehey is donating proceeds from the $55 price of each book to the Visitation School tuition fund.

The priest hopes to raise more than $50,000 to help students attend Visitation.

To purchase a copy, call 503-357-4190 or visit the convent at Visitation Parish.