I was born in Hillsboro, Ore. in 1941, the fourth girl to farmers Ray and Agnes Hertel. Our family got bigger and bigger until we were 12 children (9 girls and 3 boys). Religion was very much a part of our daily lives. We prayed the Rosary every evening after dinner. After the last “Amen,” there was always a little competition among the children to ask, “May I pass the candy?” Candy consisted of a jelly bean, or something comparable, for each person.
My first memory of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon is when I was about 3 years old. Someone took a photo of the five of us girls sitting on the bench in the Grotto on the west lawn. We must have been visiting my dad’s sister, Sr. Bernice Marie Hertel. Throughout my preschool years, our family brought a couple dozen eggs to the Sisters each Sunday after Mass. In those days, Sisters did not receive much of a salary for their work; instead, they received gifts of food from local farmers. I liked to bring the eggs to the Sisters because it meant that I would get a holy card (or preferably a cookie).
During the summer months, when the crops had been harvested, my parents always invited the Sisters to come and glean what had been left behind. At other times, my dad would bring a truckload of corn and dump it on the lawn near the Sisters’ cannery. We always had enough. As dad would say, “The good Lord will take care of us.”
St. Matthew Parish was my family’s second home. We attended Lenten devotions, parish dinners, Forty Hour Devotions, Litanies, and whatever else was offered. First Communion was a BIG event. Sr. Aurelia Dietmayer had told us that Jesus loved little children so much that whatever we asked for on that day we would receive. She had also prepared us well: I remember asking “to be with Jesus forever.”
My teachers at St. Matthew School were Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, and they inspired me. I realized in fourth-grade that I was being called to join them in their ministry. My eighth-grade teacher, Sr. Emily Bomber, must have guessed that I had a religious vocation because she would suggest that I read books like, “And Nora Said Yes.” Nora was a girl who answered God’s call to be a Sister.
I attended St. Mary of the Valley Academy (now called Valley Catholic High School) and during my freshman and sophomore years I lived in the SSMO Convent through their residency program. During my junior year, I joined the Aspirancy program, and the summer before my senior year, August 15, 1958, I became a novice. I took my final vows on August 15, 1963.
After high school, I attended Marylhurst University where I earned a bachelor’s in music. I taught religion and music in schools throughout the area. Throughout the years, I kept going back to school myself. I earned a master’s in music from University of Portland. During three summers at University of San Francisco, I worked toward a master’s in religious education and took another year for another master’s in parish ministry in New York City at Fordham University.
I enjoy new adventures. I was dean of the resident girls and did diocesan youth ministry work in Baker Diocese. I have enjoyed community leadership and travel. In 2011, I volunteered to establish the Sisters’ classes in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Today, about 100 students attend ESOL classes twice a week throughout the year. I also organizes citizenship classes and have a leadership role with the SSMO Associate Program.
What has been most fulfilling to me is that God and the companions on my journey have always been there for me along the way.
Sister Catherine Hertel will celebrate her 60th Jubilee in 2018.
Photos from the life and ministry of Sister Catherine Hertel are available on our Flickr site.