16(6): 126-128 (Nov 18, 1916)
Roses or Regrets
Francis A. McCloskey
Persian province of Fars, there stands today the mud-walled city of Shiraz, founded twelve centuries ago. Once the residence of Persia's monarchs and the favorite resort of her princes, the city that gave to Iranian literature S'adi and the honey-lipped Hafiz and many another poet and scholar, has by time and the convulsions of nature been greatly shorn of its ancient splendor. Even today, so redolent and ravishing are the rose-beds environing this neighbor of the fabled Persepolis, that "gardens of Shiraz" is a poetic synonym for floral fragrance and bloom. Yet there are two gardens, each planted by a Catholic priest, that are more admirable than the gardens of Shiraz. One of these gardens was the monastery garden of the Abbot Mendel at Brünn, in Austria, and the other is, or was, the garden of Father George Schoener at Brooks, in Oregon.
I have not space to tell even briefly the story of the Abbot Mendel's life; indeed, I have not space even properly to summarize his great contribution to science. I must, however, attempt to indicate the results of his search for the secrets of plant genetics. For eight years, through multitudinous experimental plantings of peas, he endeavored to discover the laws of plant heredity. For this purpose he selected two plants of the same species. i.e., peas, which had well-marked differences of color, height, shape of seed. and the like. One he used as the male, the other as the female parent. What, he asked. is the law of plant inheritance? Will the resulting hybrid resemble, for example, the tall parent or the dwarf parent, or will it combine these two characters and be medium in height? He discovered that it would exactly resemble one of the parents according as the character of that parent was what he called dominant over the character of the other parent. If tallness was the dominant character then dwarfness was recessive and disappeared. He therefore said the primary law was that the first generation was always like the dominant parent, or as he formulated it D (ominant) X R (recessive) = D (ominant). Next he inquired what would happen if he should breed from this hybrid generation, and he found that the hybrids never bred true but produced some tall and some dwarf peas, and always in a mathematical proportion of three to one. That is, if the original tall parent was dominant, the offspring of the hybrid progeny was always in the proportion of three tall to one dwarf. Therefore he concluded that the dominant characters are due to something which is absent from the recessive. Since the fertilized ovum formed by the original cross was made by the union of two germ-cells, the male and the female, both these elements entered into the c0mpositi0n of the original hybrid and if the germ-cells which that hybrid forms are bearers either of tallness or dwarfness there must, at some stage, be a separation of the ultimate factors which cause those characters to be developed in the plants. This phenomenon he called segregation. His discovery of this fact was the essential revelation made by Abbot Mendel. His conclusions were embodied in a paper which he read before the Brünn Natural History Society. This paper was published in the Society's journal but seems to have fallen on barren ground. for no attention was paid to his theories for upwards of a quarter of a century. About 1900, Bateson, Correns and DeVries, almost simultaneously, discovered the paper and gave its really basic theories to the scientific world. Meanwhile Mendel had been sleeping in the grave for twenty-five years. Today the name of Mendel is a household word in the world of science. His genius is everywhere conceded and his discoveries appraised with unstinted commendation. But what the world lost through its neglect of Mendel in his lifetime cannot now be estimated.
Brooks, Marion County, Oregon, is the place where another Catholic priest planted a garden, not merely a garden of Shiraz, but a garden of science, like Abbot Mendel's, and in which were to be worked out to their ultimate conclusions the laws announced by the prelate of the Konigskloster. Here in tiny open spaces about his house and church and in the backyard of a neighbor, beside the right of way of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Father George Schoener began the double task of regaining his health and of developing Mendel's theories.
About five or six years ago, while stationed at Rochester in the diocese of Pittsburgh, Father Schoener's health broke down. His doctor ordered him to go west, to live in the open air and to engage in some outdoor manual exercise. Father Schoener was assigned to Brooks, a pastorate comprising about a dozen half-breed Indians. Territorially, however, his parish was Gargantuan and included two missions, with Mass at each on alternate Sundays. His Sunday school was almost peripatetic and was wholly pathetic; he went to the children, since they were too widely scattered to permit of their going to him. "From the start," he writes to me, "there was no income whatever, and I have been compelled to make a mere living from the things I raised in the garden."
On his journeyings up and down the Willamette Valley, on the ocean side of the Cascade Range, Father Schoener saw and wondered at the luxuriance and the ubiquity of the rose. In field and forest, in lonely lanes and on traveled highways, in the valley and on the mountain top, there were roses, roses everywhere. Father Schoener was a student; he knew his chemistry, his biology, his geology, his botany. His observations on his walks and his readings in his home led him to formulate certain theories that he longed to test. These theories were: (I) That the rose originated in the rosa Persica of Persia, Turkestan and Thibet, where centuries ago the rosa prima, as he terms the original genera, were much more alike in characters than are the roses of today; (2) That the rosa prima was filled with floral wanderlust and traveled from Persia across Asia and thence over the Behring Strait to Alaska and so down the Pacific Coast to California and to Mexico; that, indeed, it had traversed the world and had found lodgment in Africa, Australia, Europe and South America; (3) That a study of the characteristics of these progenies of the parent-rose showed that the variations observable were due to new climates, to different altitudes, to diverse latitudes, and to the varied chemical constituents of the soils; (4) That the skill of the hand of man and the design of the mind of man, if applied in strict accord with the Mendelian laws of plant heredity, not merely could reproduce in new localities the variations existing in other situations, but even could create new varieties. As a Catholic priest he saw nothing out of joint between these theories and his belief in a generic creation. So he began. in his hortus conclusus et disseptus, to put his theories to the test, and thereafter the passengers on the Southern Pacific had brief, blurred vision of an Oregon garden of Hesperus. And his name began to be on the lips of the rosarians of the world.
Chiefly Father Schoener wrought with roses, in itself a task for a horticultural Hercules. But he did not limit his labors to the "queen of flowers." Back of his ambition to develop the Mendelian theory to the end of the chapter, back of his fondness for flowers, he had another aim, formed in his wanderings about his parish. As he tramped up hill and down dale around Brooks, he saw luscious Bartlett pears fed to swine, ruby-ripe cherries rotting where they lay, ambrosial grapes decaying on the vine, everywhere an abundance of fruits and vegetables wasting for want of a market. There was an economic supply, potentially inexhaustible in quantity, illimitable in variety, and incalculable in value; but there was no corresponding economic demand. Oregon's population was not large enough to consume what her generous soil produced, and the ravenous markets of the populous East were too remote. There was a solution if it could be made; namely, to develop Oregon's products so as to render them immune to the perils of transportation. Therefore, he set about the evolving of new fruits and vegetables. He produced an ever-bearing raspberry, a cross from the raspberry and the blackberry, a cross from the cherry and the plum, a cross from the Siberian and the California apricots, a cross from the Oregon Hawthorn and the Spitzenberg apple, a pea with an edible pod, a corn maturing thirty days earlier than other corn, and a dozen other marvels of plant development. And always he grew roses. Then came the fire of October last and the oasis at Brooks became a lava-like desert. Yet, as the smoke cleared away and the charred embers of church and home and garden cooled and crumbled into ashes, there came an envoy from 200 of Portland's citizens urging Father Schoener to go to that city and undertake the establishment and superintendence of a project to be known as the Schoener Scientific Gardens. Hope renewed her flagging spirits. Archbishop Christie relieved Father Schoener from pastoral duties that he might give his whole time and entire energy to the new garden. Mr. Coe McKenna generously donated about ten acres at McKenna Park. Father Schoener moved to Portland, and he is there still. The ten acres are at his command, but the 200 citizens who were to finance the Schoener Scientific Gardens, where are they? Well, Father Schoener is now a priest without a parish, and without a cent. Mark you, Father Schoener was not seeking money. The men who invited him to Portland prepared a prospectus which declared: "Father Schoener might have replied to the Portland call in terms of such recognition [as one of the foremost scientists in the world]. He might have asked much for himself. But he stated his idea: 'The good of our neighbor and to make the world understand that it is good to live in Oregon.' He asked only cooperation." The italics are not mine!
I assume that, if need be, Archbishop Christie will assign Father Schoener to a new parish, but that is not the point. To bury Father Schoener in another Brooks is to rob the world of the economic value of his researches, to stifle his genius and to pluck a jewel from the diadem of Catholic science. Is the history of the Abbot Mendel to be duplicated in the biography of Father Schoener? This is no idle question; it may be large with dishonor and it may be big with glory and pride. Father Schoener's place in the sun of science is no uncertain one. From the Literary Digest for April I0, 1915, we learn that in England, in France and in Germany, he is regarded as the greatest of the exponents of Mendel's theory of plant-life and evolution. England's most noted rosarian, Miss E. A. Wilmott, recognized the world over as the foremost authority on wild roses, sent Father Schoener 1,000 wild-rose plants, gathered under every sky by the explorers employed by her to search the earth for new varieties. The Canadian Government, on one of its expeditions to the frozen North, found a rose that had wintered a temperature of 30 degrees below zero and sent it to Father Schoener that he might experiment with it. Our own Federal Department of Agriculture has sent him hundreds of plants for tests and analyses. But of Catholic confidence, encouragement, recognition or assistance, he has received nothing. If by the apathy of Catholic laymen, Father Schoener's wonderful work is destined now to be abandoned, the future will be pregnant with censure. In my former paper, "The Rosary of a Parish Priest," I asked a question. I conclude this paper with a different inquiry: "Are there no Catholics at all who will join a movement to make the Schoener Scientific Gardens a reality? Shall we have roses or regrets?" I shall hope for a more audible answer than my former question received.