In the early 1940s, Patricia Hillstrom’s parents dropped her off at the St. Thomas Orphanage in Great Falls, Montana, on their way to Seattle to work at Boeing.
The Sisters of Providence had founded the home in 1908. They opened more than a home for orphans – it was a school, a boarding house and a safe environment for children whose parents were faced with hard times.
Patricia and her three sisters spent just a few years with the Sisters of Providence before they were reunited with their parents and six other siblings, but those years fashioned her into a woman who “had the heart of a nun,” according to her son Scott Hillstrom.
Patricia died in 2010, but her spirit of service is still changing the world.
Scott, also the executor of her estate, recently made a sizeable gift from Patricia’s estate to the St. Thomas Child and Family Center, in Great Falls. The center is the successor to the orphanage/boarding school that was so instrumental in his mother’s life.
He never heard his mother complain, recalls Scott. He remembers her bringing homeless people into their home, counseling friends facing difficult times, providing clothes for those down on their luck and performing many other acts of compassion and kindness throughout the years.
Patricia attributed her passion for others to the time she spent with the Sisters at school, often speaking fondly of her time there.
Many children lived nearby, in rural areas, and they were able to go home for the holidays. But not Patricia and her sisters. Because she had to stay at school, the nuns went to extraordinary lengths to make their holidays special.
Patricia’s compassion carried on with her children.
Scott is an attorney who has developed a franchise business model to establish medical and nursing care services in Africa.
Tamara Hillstrom, Patricia’s daughter, established an orphanage in Guatemala named after her mother – El Amor de Patricia (elamordepatricia.org).
“My mother always had a heart for others,” said Tamara. “She was never bitter, never negative. She always shared what she had.”
Read more about St. Thomas Child and Family Center on their website.