A small part of one of Fr. Pat Donoghue’s two pumpkin vines has ‘gone amok,’ said the pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Southeast Portland. Fr. Donoghue has since pruned the Cucurbita beasts — and lost a pumpkin. (Kristen Hannum/Catholic Sentinel)
A small part of one of Fr. Pat Donoghue’s two pumpkin vines has ‘gone amok,’ said the pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Southeast Portland. Fr. Donoghue has since pruned the Cucurbita beasts — and lost a pumpkin. (Kristen Hannum/Catholic Sentinel)
Father Pat Donoghue, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Southeast Portland, feels slightly guilty about the time he spends on his pumpkin vines.

In atonement, he grows a score of tomato plants, most of them in six-foot high cages, and gives away 95% of that harvest.

What’s more, his giant pumpkins, which can weigh as much as 200 pounds each, end up in front of St. Anthony’s altar, a reminder of the extravagant and bumpy grace of creation.

The Catholic Sentinel has for years followed Father Pat Donoghue’s giant-pumpkin gardening efforts, sometimes running a photo of his massive pumpkins, which can grow 10 pounds a day in late summer and early autumn.

We won’t be doing that this year because the newspaper is being shuttered at the end of September. Instead, here’s a glimpse behind the scenes in Father Donoghue’s pumpkin patch.

Two enormous pumpkin vines fill most of the approximately 40’x40’ garden, which is tucked away behind the rectory.

A 16-inch statue of St. Fiacre, patron saint of gardeners, sits at the center of the two vines, looking bemused. The saint was an Irish priest who died in France in 670 and who had no experience whatsoever with either pumpkins or tomatoes, both of which are New World species.

Around him, colossal pumpkin vines creep out toward the fences and the surrounding tomatoes. There were three good-sized pumpkins by mid-August, the underperformers having been culled.

Father Donoghue says he’s not a serious gardener; even so he has some standard operating procedures. The statue of St. Fiacre, given to Father Donoghue by his siblings, is the beginning.

This year’s pumpkins grew from seeds, bought by a friend, that came from two massive pumpkins (1,600 and 2,000 pounds) that grew last season.

His two vines weren’t allowed to produce a quantity of pumpkins; they’re expected to nurture just one or two pumpkins so they can get as large as possible.

Father Donoghue trains the vines’ growth with tall suckers pruned from his apple tree. Short stakes won’t do because they can poke holes in leaves that have grown over them.

Father Donoghue’s vines were cruelly attacked by powdery mildew this summer and he tried various remedies — from ruthless pruning to organic sprays.

“The Mass readings this weekend (Aug. 27-28) are about humility,” Father Donoghue said. “I told my parishioners that if they want a real lesson in humility they can try growing giant pumpkins.”

Alas. The vine boasting a single pumpkin had a bit of the dust and Father Donoghue realized that pumpkin was rotting on the vine. It’s now in his debris container.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,” noted Father Donoghue, quoting the Gospel.