I am writing to share some sad news from the Sisters of Providence. Sister Rita Ferschweiler passed over the weekend at the age of 102. To Providence St. Vincent – and all of Providence in Oregon – Sister Rita is best remembered for her vision of moving Providence St. Vincent from its northwest Portland location to the sprawling, forested location “over the big hill” where it currently sits on Barnes Road. Sister Rita saw Portland’s future need for hospital beds on the west side – and guided construction of the 450+ bed medical center, one of the largest in Oregon.
Sister Rita was born in St. Louis, Oregon (north of Salem) in 1918, the year of the Spanish Flu pandemic. She was a Sister of Providence for 77 years. She became a medical-surgical nurse at Providence St. Vincent Hospital in 1956 and quickly rose to director of nursing and then hospital administrator in 1964. She left Providence St. Vincent in 1972, the last Sister of Providence to serve as an administrator of a Portland hospital.
Sister Rita then served in ministries at St. Peter Hospital in Olympia and Mount St. Vincent in Seattle, and later on the Provincial Council. She eventually returned to Portland, living on the Providence Portland Medical Center campus and continuing her volunteer ministry to patients and the community. Sister Rita moved to St. Joseph Residence in Seattle in the fall of 2011.
Even in her final years her dedication to the Providence Mission was steadfast as she selflessly served those who needed it most - reading to the blind and encouraging others to join her in her daily 1-mile walks.
Two years ago, when Sister Rita was 100, she visited the Providence St. Vincent campus for a dedication of the Sister Rita Peace Garden located between the west pavilion and ED entrances. It's designed to give patients and visitors a peaceful location for comfort and reflection – the same effect Sister Rita had on Providence and her communities for much of her life.
At the dedication of the garden named for her, Sister Rita said, “It has been a beautiful life for me, and you are the cause of it. Thank you all.” Please take a moment today to remember the beautiful life of Sister Rita and her life-long dedication to her calling and to the ministries of Providence.
Lisa Vance, Chief Executive, Providence – Oregon