12th Home in Providence Ministry named for Sr. Louise Gleason

October 2, 2006

CONTACT: Jennifer Roseman, Director of Communications & Development
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Sister Louise Gleason, who modeled her life on St. Elizabeth, was dedicated to compassionate care for the poor. Born in 1919 and raised on a farm near Freewater, Ore., Sister Louise was a leader, a teacher, a principal, an administrator and a provincial superior. My own simple definition of mission is to make Christ present in the world as I go about doing good,” Sister Louise would say.”

In 2001, the Provincial Council decided to name Providence Elizabeth House in her honor. It was Sister Louise’s understanding of what it means to live into one’s senior years with a focus on continued growth, particularly growth in the Spirit, and her compassion for those dealing with the losses that come with increasing age and frailty, that inspired the Provincial Council to name Elizabeth House after Sister Louise, using her religious name, “Elizabeth,” explained Sister Barbara Schamber, who was provincial superior when the decision was made.

A statue of St. Elizabeth and a picture of Sister Louise grace the building at 3201 SW Graham. Many family members were in attendance for the blessing ceremony, including her sister Irene Gleason of Walla Walla.

Robert Hellrigel, chief executive of Providence Senior and Community Services, told the crowd at the blessing ceremony that Elizabeth House is the twelfth home in the Providence housing ministry, the ninth in the state of Washington and the fourth in Seattle. It is a collaboration between Providence Health & Services, the Seattle Housing Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the Hope VI redevelopment of the Highpoint neighborhood.

Providence Elizabeth House serves low-income seniors, 62 years and older, who earn less than $27,250 a year if single or $31,150 a year for couples. They are required to spend 30 percent of their income on housing, with the government picking up the rest of the tab.

The development is a veritable United Nations in the middle of West Seattle, as evidenced by the faces of every hue and the many languages spoken at the blessing ceremony. The residents have come from everywhere including China, Mexico, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, South America, Somalia, Ethiopia, Laos, Seattle homeless shelters, the former High Point development and a backwoods cabin without running water or heat.

The residents are named Ngoc, Ven Van, Phou, Phan, Bounthay, Osman, Evelyn, etc. It is a fragile population and Providence is working to do whatever it can do to help these residents maintain independence, dignity and quality of life as they get older.

As a new member of the High Point community, Providence Elizabeth House also is reaching out to its neighbors. It holds weekly teas open to the Vietnamese community each Monday and is working on holding similar teas for the Cambodian community on Thursdays.

Students from the Seattle University nursing program have participated with residents in health screenings, yoga and martial arts exercise classes. Elizabeth House’s bright and sunny social room, open for community use, was filled to capacity for the blessing ceremony.

This year, as Sisters of Providence celebrate 150 years in the West, stories like that of Sister Louise Gleason offer witness that the Providence mission continues and flourishes. Her own vocation as a Sister of Providence was nurtured by her parents, Robert Gleason and Catherine Ennis Gleason. Her mother sent her tomboy daughter to learn to be a lady at St. Vincent Academy in Walla Walla as a student boarder.

Her first weekend home she announced that she was going to become a nun. She entered the Sisters of Providence at age 18, professing first vows in 1940. She took Sister Elizabeth of Jesus as her name in religion, keeping it until the 1960s, when sisters made the change back to using their family names.

Assigned to teach, then later becoming an elementary and secondary school principal, she served at Holy Family School, White Center, and was one of the foundresses of St. Catherine School in north Seattle. From 1962 to 1972 she served as the religious community’s first official vocation director. She was appointed provincial superior in 1973, serving until 1979.

It was during her term of office that the Washington State Legislature approved placing a statue of Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart, foundress of the Sisters of Providence in the West, in Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.

Sister Louise was associate pastor for Sacred Heart Parish, Tacoma, from 1981 to 1983, followed by her final ministry, six years in a service to the elderly as superior of St. Joseph Residence, Seattle. She died in 1999.