For nearly a decade, Sister Shirley Smith reached out to veterans in need of prayer, friendship and hope through weekly visits at the Veterans’ Administration Hospital in Seattle. She visited Catholic patients, bringing them communion, and caring for the chapel linens. While she no longer travels to the VA Hospital, she still continues her longtime visits to the sick and elderly residents of Providence Mount St. Vincent.
This is a ministry of her heart, grounded in Sisters of Providence foundress Mother Emilie Gamelin’s final recommendation to the sisters: “humility, simplicity, charity.” Sister Shirley has had her share of excitement in her 60 years of religious life, including leading the evacuation at St. Joseph Hospital during the 1967 flood in Fairbanks, Alaska. But it is the quiet moments of reaching out to the sick and the dying and their families that are her special grace.
Learns to share her gifts at early age
Shirley Smith was a middle child with two brothers in Steamboat Springs, Colo., during the depression years when many were poor. Her father had a lumber company, was an architect and built their home and several others. Her parents always welcomed the poor who came to their door for help. From them, Shirley learned to share her gifts, no matter how small, with others. When she was 9 she began taking piano lessons, which became a lifetime hobby.
When Shirley was 12 the family moved to Oakland, Calif., where she attended public schools. In high school she went to daily Mass and began thinking about becoming a Catholic Sister. She received a nursing scholarship and chose the Catholic College of Nursing, where she first met the Sisters of Providence at Providence Hospital.
When she graduated from nursing school in 1952 at age 21, she entered the Sisters of Providence in Seattle as a postulant. In 1954 she made her first profession and was sent to Walla Walla, Wash., to work at St. Mary’s Hospital, managed by the Sisters of Providence. Several Sisters of Providence lived and worked in the hospital and Sister Shirley enjoyed working there and visiting the sick and their families.
Continues to serve “the poor, the needy and the lonely”
Sister Shirley then attended Seattle University and received a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1960. She also took pastoral care training and became a certified pastoral care chaplain. Her years in health-care ministry have taken her from Walla Walla, Seattle, Oakland, Fairbanks, Port Townsend, and also to Providence Mount St. Vincent in Seattle . She also served on the Provincial Council.
Over the years she has served on the board of directors of Providence Marianwood in Issaquah, Wash., St. Patrick’s Hospital in Missoula, Mont., and Sojourner Place, Seattle.
Now in retirement, it is her privilege to visit residents at Providence Mount St. Vincent.
“I love to visit the sick. That has been my life,” Sister Shirley explained. “It is the work of Mother Emilie Gamelin. God expects us to help the poor, the needy and the lonely.”