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Sisters of Providence present Mother Joseph statue to retiring PH&S Oregon Region CEO

Providence Sisters Anita Butler (left) and Jo Ann Showalter present a Mother Joseph statue to Greg Van Pelt, retiring chief executive of Providence Health & Services’ Oregon region. 

Greg Van Pelt, retiring chief executive of the Oregon region of Providence Health & Services (PH&S), was presented May 29 with a miniature bronze statue of Mother Joseph, foundress of the Sisters of Providence in the West. The presentation, on behalf of all the Sisters of Providence, was made by Provincial Councilor Jo Ann Showalter, SP, at a retirement party for Van Pelt held at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland.

Only 100 of the miniature statues were cast by Felix W. de Weldon, who created the statue of Mother Joseph that has been housed in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol since 1980. The mini version that Van Pelt received is of Mother Joseph kneeling next to tools she used to make architectural drawings for construction of hospitals and schools in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and southern British Columbia.

Presentation of the miniature statues of Mother Joseph is not tied to any particular event or calendar date. The statues are awarded by the provincial superior and provincial council of Mother Joseph Province, and by Providence Ministries, the sponsors of the PH&S health care, education and social services ministries. The statues are presented “in honor of significant accomplishments and/or contributions to the Sisters of Providence.” Selection factors may include tenure of service, quality of service, furtherance of the mission of Providence, etc.

Van Pelt has been a committed and influential leader in health care in both Washington and Oregon in his tenure with Providence over the last 38 years. He began as an administrative intern at what was then St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland. He later served as St. Vincent’s administrator, chief executive of Providence Health Plan, chief executive of the Washington region, and system senior vice president and chief operating officer. As chief executive of Providence’s Oregon region, Van Pelt has shepherded its growth to serve more than 1 million people each year, all while reducing overall cost and still ensuring that Providence is true to its mission of caring for the poor and the vulnerable.

“To quote a recent letter,” Sister Jo Ann Showalter said, “Your thoughtful discernment, decisive action and follow through, and your ability to motivate and inspire others have been keys to the strength and power of the Oregon region. More importantly, your faith, belief and personal values have been a shining beacon in all that you do. Your sense of compassion and sensitivity, patience and commitment are well known ... Some people exemplify the living face of Providence and you are one of them.”

Other speakers wishing Van Pelt well at the retirement celebration included Mary Jo Tully, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Portland, Gil Munoz, chief executive officer of Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, and Sister Anita Butler, president of Providence Ministries. Those present described Van Pelt as “a servant leader of the highest order” and as “a living and breathing example” of the Providence mission in action.

One of the many anecdotes shared about Van Pelt’s caring and commitment was the story of the founding of the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, named for a young immigrant girl he encountered when he had just begun working as an administrative fellow at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center. Virginia Garcia died needlessly because of a lack of access to health care, and with the encouragement of then hospital administrator Tom Underriner, Van Pelt went to work on improving the community’s health. Today, the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center has become the safety net for many of the community’s poor and vulnerable people. Van Pelt’s successor as chief executive of the Oregon Region is Tom Underriner’s son, Dave.

Van Pelt’s legacy of commitment and caring is carried on by his family members. His wife Joan is a longtime volunteer at Providence St. Vincent. Their daughter Emily is an intensive-care nurse at a hospital in Chicago, and their son Andy is chief operating officer of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

These are words Van Pelt wrote in the months after his retirement was announced: “I’ve spent more than 38 years working with the Sisters of Providence, and I can tell you they inspire me more than ever ... I am struck by two of the most simple and direct words of encouragement and advice that they provide to us. They ask us to work “in community” ... and to be kind to each other. If we are doing those things, we know we are on the right path.”

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