The former Villa St. Rose, also once a convent for the Good Shepherd Sisters, was built 100 years ago. It’s now Rosemont Court, a residence for low-income elders. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
The former Villa St. Rose, also once a convent for the Good Shepherd Sisters, was built 100 years ago. It’s now Rosemont Court, a residence for low-income elders. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)

“At 16, being locked up was not my choice by any means, but it certainly turned out to the best thing in the world for me,” said Kathy Caselton, who lived at Villa St. Rose from 1963 to 1965. She is now a successful artist in Albany.

As a girl, Caselton’s home life was amorphous and awful, with a mother who had mental illness. By contrast, the Good Shepherd Sisters who ran the Portland residence for girls were sensible and loving.

“It wasn’t for bad girls. It was for good girls from bad homes,” Caselton said of her old school. “The nuns were so good to us.” 

Villa St. Rose was a house of love and support for six decades — and still is, in different form.

The building, just east of I-5 and not far from Holy Redeemer Parish, turns 100 this year. No longer a home for girls and the Good Shepherd Sisters, it has been turned into Rosemont Court, housing for 100 low-income elders and 18 families. The old identity informs the new, says Julia Doty of Northwest Housing Alternatives, which manages the site and provides aid to residents.

“It has to do with the sisters providing service to their community and working with the girls who lived here to help them lead as fulfilling a life as they wanted to or could,” said Doty. “That is what we are doing now.”

State Sen. Lew Frederick, in whose district Rosemont stands, remembers the old school and is glad it is still a place of compassion.

“To have some of the women who were here see this and see how they have managed to keep a spirit of support here is important,” Frederick said at a recent centennial celebration for the campus. 

“People wanted to preserve this building and turn it into something that is a real asset to the neighborhood,” says Rebecca Dodson, a former Intel marketing and communications worker who now lives at Rosemont.

Had they not come to live at Villa St. Rose in the late 1950s and early 1960s, some women think they would have become ne’er-do-wells.

“I would probably be in the brig,” said Myrna Tufono, who graduated in 1964 and went to nursing school on the strong advice of Mother Patrick, the superior. Tufono is a retired nurse and business owner who lives in Cupertino, California.

“It made a big difference in our lives and we were very fortunate,” she said. “We all appreciated that the nuns took care of us and gave us a safe place to live where we were not being abused.”

Tufono visited the sisters in later years, bringing her children to see the women and the building, both of which Tufono considered magnificent.

Verena Taylor, who came to Villa St. Rose in 1961, says she was “on the road to being wild” before the sisters gave some shape to her life. She now lives in Northeast Portland. Taylor recalls trips with the volleyball team and being hosted at a home on Lake Oswego by a generous family. In 1964, the sisters organized a prom, with male students from the University of Portland coming to dance.

Jack Basic, 95, grew up just down the street from Villa St. Rose. He and the other children would play in the convent orchard, climbing trees. No one shooed them away.

Basic, a member of Holy Redeemer Parish who still lives in the family home, said, “It was a mysterious place to us, but not frightening.”