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Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon let the public in for a peek

Sisters of St. Mary open their Motherhouse this Sunday for Pope's 'Year of Consecrated Life'


Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Sister Michael Francine Duncan shows St. Marys cloister, which will be part of the open house.

Sister Michael Francine Duncan heard her calling to the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon from halfway across the world.

“It was very exciting to me to see I could change my life in a very radical way to serve God,” Duncan, 62, said last week during an informal tour of the Motherhouse, the five-story building that sits beneath the green dome at the intersection of Southwest Tualatin Valley Highway and Murray Boulevard in Beaverton. “I have been so happy living (here) and being part of this community. I’m still astounded at my life.”

She and five dozen fellow sisters will open up their massive home to share their lives with the general public with an open house set for Sunday, Feb. 8. Anyone may join the tours and meet the nuns from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Motherhouse, 4440 S.W. 148th Avenue. Drivers may enter off Murray or from Southwest Farmington Road.

The open house is the Sisters of St. Mary’s answer to Pope Francis’ declaration that 2015 is the “Year of Consecrated Life.” Part of his call was for those in the church to open up and show what religious life is all about.

“We’re taking that very seriously,” Duncan said.Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Sister Michael Francine Duncan shows off the dome of St. Marys that will be part of the open house.

Visitors on the tour will make some of the expected stops, including a walk through the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel, with its stunning stained glass windows and the 1945 Wicks organ sitting grandly in the balcony.

But the tour also will go behind the scenes, including forays into the sacristies where priests prepare for services, climbs to the upper floors where nuns live close together in dormitory-style rooms, and journeys to the basement where the sisters bake bread and can fruits and vegetables.

One of the favorite stops on past tours — they’ve opened up the Motherhouse every 25 years for major anniversary tours — is the room under the dome. On most days, this is a quiet space where the sisters pray and reflect, but Duncan expects steady foot traffic up and down the narrow stairs during the open house.

The tour will conclude in the dining room, where the sisters will show a display of photographs and artifacts from the history and daily life among the Sisters of St. Mary.

The Sisters’ history stretches back to their founding in 1886 in the Scio and Jordan communities in the Willamette Valley southeast of Salem. Early on, they were called to the farmlands west of Beaverton to take over St. Mary’s Home for Boys, then an orphanage.

They had a chapel across T.V. Highway in the early years and started building the Motherhouse in the 1930s. The final phase was completed in the 1950s.

While the sisters no longer manage the youth home, which has evolved into a program serving at-risk youth including criminal offenders, they continue to serve both the young and the not so young. Their sponsored ministries are Valley Catholic School and the Maryville medical facilities that flank the Motherhouse on the large campus.

Duncan said she and the other sisters aren’t looking to swell their ranks at the open house, but they welcome women who want to chat about life at St. Mary’s. Those who are “feeling the call” may be invited to attend retreats, just as Duncan did nearly two decades ago when she returned to the United States after working in human resources for British Gas.

“What I was able to bring with me was a lot of those business skills a lot of the sisters don’t have,” said Duncan, who joined the order at age 44. “It was like God got me trained up to use these skills for the benefit of this community.”

What she embraced in return was the sisterhood and service that comes with being part of the community.

“The more I did, the more I found out I wanted to do this,” she said. “It took a leap of faith, but it was very rewarding. I don’t know why more people don’t do it.”

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