Six Little-known Facts about the Sisters of Providence in the West
1. Second-oldest continuously-registered non-profit corporation in Washington (after the Odd Fellows):
On January 28, 1859, the Sisters of Charity of the House of Providence were incorporated in the Territory of Washington. Incorporation gave the sisters more freedom in managing their affairs, purchasing land, and establishing rules for governance of their works.
The purpose of the corporation was, and still 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."
During the Washington State centennial in 1989, the Sisters of Providence Corporation was recognized as a Pioneer Corporation by Secretary of State Ralph Munro.
2. "First" Facts:
Providence Academy, Vancouver, WA: 1st permanent school in the Northwest, educating children from 1856 to 1966
Southwest Washington Medical Center, Vancouver, WA - known as St. Joseph Hospital when sponsored by the Sisters of Providence: 1st permanent hospital in Northwest, founded 1858
Sacred Heart Medical Center, Spokane, established in 1886: 1st institution for care of the sick in eastern Washington. The School of Nursing was founded in 1898.
Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, Portland: 1st permanent hospital in Oregon, founded 1875. St. Vincent Hospital School of Nursing, established in 1892, was the 1st nursing school in Oregon
In 1864, four sisters traveled to St. Ignatius, MT, becoming the 1st white women to cross eastward over the Rocky Mountains. Thus began the sisters’ 1st mission in Montana - the 1st of several schools for native children.
In Walla Walla, WA, St. Vincent Academy was the sisters’1st mission in that part of the territory, educating students from 1864 through 1959. At the school, they also cared for the sick until St. Mary [Hospital] Medical Center was founded in 1880, the 1st permanent hospital in the city.
St. Joseph Academy, Sprague, WA, was the 1st parochial and boarding school in Lincoln County, founded 1887.
Columbus Hospital [now Benefis], Great Falls, MT, founded 1891, was the 1st permanent hospital in this fledging town established seven years earlier.
The former Providence Medical Center, Seattle, was the 1st true hospital in Seattle, having its start from the efforts of the county commissioners to obtain care for the destitute and needy ill of the community in 1877.
3. Begging tours: The pioneer sisters took lengthy, dangerous trips by horseback, stage coach, wagon and river boat to the communities, mines and lumber camps in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and the Caribou Country in British Columbia. They begged for donations, provisions and the precious gold dust and nuggets essential to the support of their works of charity. Their travels took them as far as the east coast and South America.
Spell-binding stories written in their chronicles relate the often treacherous journeys of the sisters deep into the mines, encountering robbers, fighting off wolves threatening their campsite and battling forest fires.
Begging tours of several months’ duration could garner as much as $2,800 or as little as $325, the latter barely enough to cover their travel expenses.
"How much more agreeable for me to remain at home," wrote Mother Joseph in June 1876, "but with the large debt we still carry and the needs of the poor, the sick and the orphans pressing, it is with all my heart I leave my solitude, for the toilsome task of begging."
4. Number of sponsored open and closed institutions:
Since their arrival in the west in 1856, the Sisters of Providence have sponsored 125 health care, education and social service ministries in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Montana. Of those, 68 are currently active, with St. Patrick Hospital, Missoula, MT, founded in 1873, as the oldest.
5. Providence Health System and Providence Services are the largest providers of health care, social services and education in the western region:
The two systems sponsor 27 hospitals and more than 35 non-acute-care facilities, including low-income housing, physician clinics, health plans, a liberal arts university and a high school, and numerous other health and education services. Together, they employ more than 45,000 people.
6. Mother Joseph facts:
Mother Joseph, foundress of the sisters of Providence in the West, is Washington State's second representative in National Statuary Hall, in Washington, D.C. Her bronze statue was dedicated in 1980. A duplicate statue is in the capitol in Olympia.
In 1999, at the request of a group of Vancouver, WA, sixth-grade students, the legislature passed a bill declaring her birthday, April 16, as Mother Joseph Day in Washington State.