Monday, July 5, 2010

That First Day

On July 1, 1958, Gresham Oregon was a small farming community of 5,000 people about twelve miles east of Portland, Oregon. That morning, at age twenty, I became a novice in the Society of St. Paul at our first Mass at St. Luke the Physician Episcopal Church in the town where the founder of our Order, Fr. Rene Bozarth, was Rector. After a simple breakfast downstairs in the parish hall, the brothers walked next door into our newly acquired nursing home that would be there after known as St. Jude’s Home.

Our founder chose St. Jude because he was the patron of incurable disease and impossible causes. Back then nursing homes were different than they are today. The first White House Conference on Aging wasn’t called until 1961 which led to licensing, and the beginning of the long term health care industry. Fortunately, Oregon was ahead of most states because it already had regulations and administrator licensing.

As we entered the home I was a bit overwhelmed with the odor, chaos and decrepit condition of the equipment. The first thing our founder, Canon Rene Bozarth, SSP, did was hang a crucifix inside the main entrance of the building for all to see. As we walked down the hallway an old man put his arm around his wife as they stood in the door way of their room. He said, “We’re going to be ok mother, the Church is here. We are going to be all right.”

I began my religious life as an orderly caring for my assigned number of chronically or terminally ill or developmentally challenged men. It was one of the most humbling and most spiritually significant experiences of my life. I can still remember the faces and names of some of those men.

Our first monastery was a simple three bedroom house a few blocks from the parish church and nursing home. The bedrooms were converted to a work room, infirmary, and guest room respectively. The small dining room was also our library. We made the double garage into a dormitory with plywood partitions dividing the space into six “cells” or little rooms with a heavy canvass curtains in the front for privacy. Each brother had a small, used army cot, straight back chair; a knotty pine chest of drawers, a writing table and a small metal wardrobe for all his worldly stuff. The garage door was sealed to keep out the rain and wind. But, anyone familiar with Western Oregon weather will know that is not easy to do in the winter. So it wasn’t unusual in the winter to occasionally step into a puddle or even an angle worm after a stormy night upon rising in one’s cell to the waking bell and prayer.

We rose in silence every morning (5:30 am) to the ringing of the Angelus, a prayer based on the Gospel of St. Luke and recited in monasteries morning, noon and at evening.

The next thing our founder did was give staff members a raise. He was a member of the Multnomah County Welfare Commission and had a passion for social justice, which was why we acquired the nursing home: to make a wrong thing right in the name of Christ. As the weeks passed, we replaced the worn out, despicable equipment and furnishings with brand new beds, mattresses, chairs and linens. It was quite a sight to see volunteers with pick up trucks hauling away junk from the back door while trucks unloaded new furnishings through the front door.

At the same time we had the opportunity to rent a small house and yard next door to the nursing home. That meant on our free time, the brothers cleaned up the yard and made it into a garden so residents could enjoy the fresh air and sunshine and views of Mt. Hood as well as a picnic now and then. By October the parish chapter of the Daughters of the King had formed a “Blue Lady” auxiliary of women and a few men who visited patients, helped them with personal needs and mostly became friends since many residents had no families or visitors. Some who lived at the home came next door to church on Sunday.

Little did I know that first day on July 1, 1958 as I sat exhausted on my bedside after Compline, I would be writing this blog more than fifty years after or have any idea the adventure God had planned for me, Barnabas and all the many brothers who became part of the Society of St. Paul.

If you would like to know more about the history of the Society of St. Paul click here.

Parish: St. Luke the Physician Episcopal Church in Gresham, Oregon was where the Society of St. Paul began on July 1, 1958. St. Jude’s Home, which no longer exists, was to the left across the driveway.
Rock: An outdoor Labyrinth Garden was dedicated in 2006 honoring the brothers and sisters of the Society of St. Paul and their ten years of ministry in Gresham. Click on image for a closer view.

The Rev Andrew Rank SSP is a Canon of the Cathedral

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