Today 7:21-21+ (Feb. 20, 1937)

He is a priest, horticulturist, scientist, painter, sculptor, philosopher, poet—
but Father Schoener of Santa Barbara is best known simply as the—

Padre of the Roses
Harold D. Jacobs

The workaday world whirls by his door and ignores him. Daily, hundreds of tourists pass his little garden in Santa Barbara, California, on the main Los Angeles-San Francisco highway. It is doubtful if they more than glance at the figure of the frail little old priest in soiled and worn black, toiling in his garden. He is known as "The Padre of the Roses".

Thousands of words have been written about the Reverend George M. A. Schoener, Ph.D., and he has won recognition by the International Congress of Horticulture. But the general public does not read scientific publications. From time to time reporters find him, write fanciful and garbled stories about his miracles, then leave him to his obscurity—and his roses.

Father Schoener was born in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, 73 years ago. When he was six, his parents took him to Europe where he entered the Benedictine monastery school at Engelberg, Switzerland. There, under the influence of Dr. Albert Kuhn, a famous artist and writer of that period, young Schoener quickly revealed exceptional talent in both painting and sculpture, and decided to devote his life to those arts.

But his whole future was changed by an incident in the Franco-Prussian War. The priest of the village in which he was living in Lorraine was arrested on suspicion of sedition. Schoener carried the priest's coat to the guardhouse. The gendarmes arrested the boy, too. Sickened by their brutalities, he exclaimed:

“You have arrested one priest: you have made another.”

As he prepared himself for holy orders, he continued his art studies and added architecture. He also took up the natural sciences, such as analytical botany and plant genetics, for he was an omnivorous student and found recreation in what to the average person would be a vocation in itself. And, somehow, he found time to delve into …

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… country after his ordination, he plunged into the herculean task of designing, raising funds and superintending the building of the big and beautiful church of St. Cecilia at Rochester, Pennsylvania. But his health was undermined and he had to spend two years in a Milwaukee sanitarium.

Advised by his physician to find some outdoor occupation in connection with his religious work, Father Schoener took a post as administrator of an Indian mission at Brooks, Oregon, where his income of $64 the first year had to be augmented by lectures throughout the state on various subjects ranging from botany to psychology.

In visiting the widely scattered members of his Oregon parish, the young priest was attracted by the dozens of varieties of wild roses that bloomed in profusion along the roadside and in the fields. Those wild roses revived his interest in botany—fortunately for him and for future generations—and his determination to classify them led to the attempt to combine these hardy wildflowers with their more beautiful city cousins. It was the beginning of a great if little-recognized career.

Father Schoener undertook many experiments with those native flowers, but his initial attempts at hybridizing and domesticating them were disheartening. He chose the hardy wild Nutkana as a parent stock because it could withstand the cold northern climate and it bloomed early. He selected the Paul Neyton [sic], an old and large French rose, as its mate. Working literally like a bee, he pollenized 1,500 blooms the first spring. But the only result was to prove what he had learned in his botany classes: that a wild rose will not take pollen from any other species.

Then his next step was to graft the Nutkana onto the vine of the Paul Neyton as a sort of blood transfusion. It worked! –and after fertilizing this plant, he obtained five perfect fruits. The product of this seed is Schoener's Nutkana, well known to rose lovers — a large, single pink rose, which sends up shoots seven to eight feet high each year and produces bunches of flowers from every eye along the stem.

Encouraged, he concentrated on producing a double rose. This was finally accomplished and the way was opened for endless experimentation.

There are thousands of wild species of rose, which have adapted themselves to climate, soil and environment. They have spread from their original home in Persia throughout the world, and the pilgrimage has taken millions of years. But all cultivated roses have been grown from only a few scores of the wild type, leaving a vast range of possibilities unexplored.

Through the Royal Botanic Garden at Calcutta he got seeds of evergreen roses—the Rosa Gigantea Collett, the Rosa Macrocarpa Watt, the Rosa Leschenaultiana and others.

The Macrocarpa produces an edible fruit, highly prized by the East Indians; so he crossed the Macrocarpa and another fruit-bearing rose, the Rugosa Thunberg, with the Spitzenberg apple—successfully!

The fruit, much larger than the natural rose fruit, combined the flavor of the apple with a savor reminiscent of the spicy aroma of the rose.

While he was making these exacting experiments with roses, he was attending to his clerical duties as well, but he still found time to explore the possibilities of developing better fruits and vegetables. He perfected a sugar pea seven inches long and an inch and a half wide, containing three times as many seeds as the common varieties, and with an edible pod. He accomplished what had been tried unsuccessfully for years in this and other countries—crossing the lima and wax beans and securing a new type of bean of unusual size, also with an edible pod.

Then in the midst of these experiments, on October 9, 1915, the Padre's home and little garden were destroyed by fire. His priceless library, his paintings, statues, his architectural drawings of cathedrals, the costly church vestments he had designed in a dream of reviving medieval embroidery—all were lost. Even his roses were wiped out, …

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Schoener Bibliography