On December 8, 1856, Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart and four sister companions, Sisters Mary of the Precious Blood, Vincent de Paul, Blandine of the Holy Angels and Praxedes of Providence arrived in the Washington Territory, at what is now Vancouver, Wash. Since then, hundreds of Sisters of Providence have continued their legacy of compassion, courage and caring. Today we celebrate their many contributions to education, health care and social services in the West.
We know that Bl. Emilie Gamelin taught the sisters well. Thus it is known that the Sisters of Providence Corporation, the “Sisters of Charity of the House of Providence” was incorporated on January 28, 1859 in the Washington Territory, and is the second oldest continuously registered non-profit corporation in Washington. The purpose of the corporation is for the “relief of the needy and suffering humanity in the care of the orphans, invalids, and the sick and the poor, and in the education of youth.” This rings true for the Sisters of Providence today just as much as it did when it was founded.
We are equally proud and honored that Mother Joseph was chosen in 1980 to represent the state of Washington in National Statuary Hall, where it was dedicated in May 1980. A duplicate statue is in the state capitol in Olympia.
At the time of the 100 year celebration of our Sisters presence in the west in 1956, The Bell and the River was published. This book has guided many people in understanding the charism and mission of the Sisters of Providence. In the 1950’s the Sister Formation Movement developed and had a huge impact on how sisters were educated for ministry service.
In support of outreach services to other countries in recent history, sisters were missioned to the Philippines in 1989, and to El Salvador in 1995.
With the coming together of St. Ignatius and Sacred Heart Provinces in the year 2000 we became Mother Joseph Province. In 2006 Providence Health System and Providence Services joined to become Providence Health & Services. Then in 2010, the sponsorship of PH&S was turned over to Providence Ministries, with the guiding principles of the “Hopes and Aspirations.”
Another significant piece was the closure of Mount St. Joseph in 2013 as a home and health care facility for our sisters, necessitating their move to St. Joseph Residence.
As we look back over the years, I would like to highlight some Sisters whose dedicated lives made an impact on so many people and society. We know many characteristics of Mother Joseph, so I will concentrate on other sisters, beginning with the 4 that came with her:
Sr. Praxedes of Providence: (1820-1889) (Desanges Lamothe)
was a very shy and timid person, but had a keen mind, elicited good judgment and was tireless in her activity. She founded 4 hospitals, 3 Indian schools and 2 boarding schools. And in 1866 she was named the provincial superior (Mother Vicariate).
Sr. Blandine of the Holy Angels: (1838-1922) Zephirine Collin)
was happy and courageous in her work; but also had episodes of loneliness and weariness. Because she was fluent in French and English she made a good Secretary for Mother Joseph, and later for the Corporation She founded an Indian school, an academy and a hospital.
Sr. Mary of the Precious Blood (1838-1877) (Helen Norton)
was intelligent and also pretty, so was taken on begging trips to encourage donations. English was her native language and was a teacher. She founded one school; but died at the age of 39 of typhoid fever
Sr. Vincent de Paul (1826-1908) Adelaide Theriault)
was skilled at gardening, baking and sewing; she landscaped the grounds at PAV. She gave lodging and food to Indian families who came to receive the sacraments.
Beyond the first sisters in the west, I highlight the following sisters:
Sr. John Gabriel Ryan (1874–1951) (Georgia Gately)
was a pioneer in nursing education and she wrote about her nursing specialty in a book entitled, Through the Patient’s Eyes, which was very well accepted.
She became the supervisor of all SP Pacific Northwest schools of nursing.
She taught at Seattle College, Holy Names College-Oakland, Loyola University-Chicago
Sr. Mary Loretta Gately (1869-1946)
In 1893, she transformed the structure and curriculum of Sacred Heart Academy, Missoula, and was there 20 years.
In 1912 she became Directress of Schools for Sacred Heart and St. Ignatius Provinces. Encouraged teachers to take the State Board exam to be eligible for a teaching certificate, long before this was required by law. Encouraged teachers to get a college education; got permission for them from superiors to attend teaching colleges and universities.
Sr. Mary Philothea (1902-1983) Genevieve Gorman
Provincial Superior of SHP, 1952-1958; at this time, Pope Pius XII, had just published mandate to religious superiors to educate Sisters to the level of lay teachers. She took this directive to heart and established Everett Curriculum Workshop.
She was the foundress and first Dean of College of Sister Formation helped organize the Gately-Ryan Program, a course used by religious communities to implement the documents of II Vatican Council in their communities and personal lives.
From an interview shortly before her death: “Over the years I experienced many changes in religious life, and I was always able to adapt to them. The freedoms that we have now were long overdue and the decision-making process of today is much more mature than formerly, yet it poses its problems as we have moved, awkwardly sometimes, through a brand new world which discarded almost overnight many of the sacred traditions and lifestyles in use within the church for 400 years.
Sr. Teresa Lang (1904-1994) (Judith)
1938, she began to work with Sr. Mary Loretta Gately; 1943, appointed Directress of Schools
Provincial Superior of SHP 1958-1964 One of the foundresses of Sister Formation Program; was Dean of College of Sister Formation (1964-1968)
Charter Member of National Sister Formation Movement
Survived plane crash/water landing into Puget Sound in 1956, along with Mother Mary
Philothea (4 people drowned), 1956: said “Since I never did like to fly it didn’t change my attitude much.”
Simplicity - this virtue was her great legacy to us.”
Providencia (1909-1989) Denise Tolan
Taught Sociology at College of Great Falls from 1948-1974
She worked tirelessly to improve the conditions of Hill 57, Mount Royal and Wiremill Road, the areas where Native American residents of Great Falls lived in poverty.
She lobbied for federal aid to these communities and for improvements to federal policies that affected Native Americans.
She wrote “A Shining from the Mountains” a history of the St. Ignatius mission.
She was politically savvy and outspoken, sometimes ruffling feathers and breaking with tradition.
Loretta Marie Marceau (1914-2012) Ida Mae
Throughout her life, she spent 58 years in finance, with 21 years in hospital finance.
She spent 20 years as Provincial Treasurer for St. Ignatius Province.
Known for her fundraising prowess. She was so successful at this because she believed so deeply in the Providence mission and was focused on serving those in need.
Simonne Begin (1918-2006) Laure Angeline
She was born in Quebec and was sent west after first vows in 1942. By 1950 she spoke fluent English and had finished three years of nurse’s training.
During the Vietnam War, she worked as a health care advisor (Assistant to the Director of US AID) at Kahn Hoa General Hospital in Wha Trang from 1968-1970. She helped train Vietnamese nurses and went on medical missions by helicopter, traveling over the war zone.
In the 1980s, as part of the East Coast Migrant Health Project, she headed a team of outreach health workers who traveled with migrant farm workers in North Carolina.
Sr. Simonne described her work with migrant workers in this way: “To serve the voiceless, the marginal, the downtrodden, the poor. That has been from the beginning the work of Sisters of Providence. The work done in this program is uninviting, and is demanding. Truly, it fits us well.”
Cecilia Abhold (1915-2000) Mary Loretta
She had an exceptional talent for business.
She was Provincial of Sacred Heart Province, 1964- 1970, a time when the community was choosing a direction to take following the changes communicated by the II Vatican Council.
She was appointed first director of East Coast Migrant Health Project which was based in Washington D.C., but her work took her all over the east coast. She implemented the first Head Start program for children of migrant workers.
St. Joseph Residence
The dedication of St. Joseph Residence took place on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, May 1, 1966. The Provincial was Sr. Mary Loretta (Cecilia Abhold), the first superior was Sr. Rose Imelda, who received the keys from Arthur Harrington, of Maloney, Harrington, Freez and Lund Architects. Msgr Philip Duffy, Superintendent of Schools, set the cornerstone of the new residence. Refreshments were served on the 4th floor by MSV Auxiliary. The members, with some of the Sisters, conducted tours through the new building.
Archbishop Thomas Connolly said the first Mass at St. Joseph Residence on May 11th, with several priests assisting. Following Mass breakfast was served in the Sisters’ dining room.
In July of 1966, Fr. Neil McCloskey, SJ, gave the first retreat at the new residence, for 60+ sisters – from the Infirmary (28), SJR, MSV (6), from the missions of SHP (30) and SIP (4).