A new century. New beginnings.
From a new Mother General to a new official language, the new century brought dramatic and lasting change.
When Mother Theresa Heuberger was elected as Mother General, she was just 26 years old. While the Sisters still spoke German, that language was no longer widely understood by the people they served. In 1901, despite tearful resistance from some of the older Sisters – including Mother Wilhelmina – the Community adopted English as its official language.
On May 13, 1902, Mother Theresa gathered the 33 professed members to ask two important questions. Should the Sisters establish a boarding school at or near the Motherhouse? If they did, should they go into debt to build it? After deliberating, 32 of the Sisters voted “yes” on both questions. One week later, Mother Theresa borrowed $2,600. Construction began.
In January 1903, the Sisters opened their new school. A resident school for girls and boys, St. Mary’s Academy was an immediate success. Filled to capacity, the classrooms were so crowded that, two years later, attendance was restricted to girls. And the name of the school would soon change.
A dramatic meeting with the archbishop
Forty Sisters were present when Archbishop Alexander Christie presided over a chapter meeting held on Aug. 12, 1905. According to historical records, the archbishop surprised the Sisters by asking them to approve three significant changes.
The Holy Names Sisters had established their St. Mary’s Academy in downtown Portland in 1859. They were concerned about confusion between the two schools. Archbishop Christie asked the Precious Blood Sisters to rename their academy. It became St. Mary’s Institute.
That wasn’t the only name change. Because another religious community in Portland featured the name “Precious Blood,” the archbishop asked the Sisters to change their name. They became the Sisters of St. Mary.
He had one more request. As Sisters of the Precious Blood, they had worn red cinctures (belts). The Archbishop asked them to wear black instead. They agreed.
To many of the Sisters, the new rules reinforced what they often felt: a low regard in the archdiocese despite nearly 20 years of faithful service.
Though the changes were painful, the Sisters didn’t dwell on the past. As they have throughout their history, they focused on the future.
A Vision for a New Home
In 1902, they added a new wing to the eastern side of their Motherhouse.
In 1905, they expanded again, adding a west wing.
But the Sisters knew that they needed more land.
In 1903, Mother Theresa Heuberger purchased 60 acres south of Tualatin Valley Highway at a cost of $4,000.
The land owner thought he had made a great deal. He believed that the Sisters would never be able to raise the full amount.
If he was right, he would receive some of the money then get his land back.
He was wrong. The Sisters paid in full.
Today, that land is the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon campus.