70 years: Rita Ferschweiler, SP

Sister Mary Laureen

Sr. Rita Ferschweiler
After 95 years of life, 70 of them as a Sister of Providence, Sister Rita Ferschweiler describes this Jubilee as “a time to thank God for all he’s given me. I can hear, I can see, I can walk and I am in good health.” She shares her blessings by reading to sisters who can no longer read, taking walks with sisters who can no longer walk alone, and helping out in the third-floor infirmary at St. Joseph Residence, Seattle.

Born in St. Louis, Ore., the eldest daughter of Oregon pioneers, Rita and her siblings grew up on the family farm near Gervais in the Willamette Valley. After graduating from Mount Angel Academy, she worked on the farm and at a local cannery for a couple of years before moving to Portland. Sister Rita entered the Sisters of Providence in 1943, made her novitiate at Mount St. Vincent in Seattle, and professed first vows in November 1944.

She chose nursing as her ministry and was sent to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Yakima, Wash., for training. Sister Rita worked primarily as a medical-surgical nurse in Seattle, Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska, and Yakima. She received a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Seattle University and was content to remain in direct patient care. However, her superiors sent her to St. Louis University for a master’s degree in nursing service administration.

Earns public recognition for accomplishments

Sister Rita came to Portland’s oldest hospital, St. Vincent’s, as a nurse in 1956, and then became director of nursing services. After becoming its administrator in 1964, she guided construction and the move to its new 451-bed hospital and medical center. In 1971, The Oregon Journal named her one of Oregon’s ten women of accomplishment.

In 1972 she left St. Vincent’s as the last Sister of Providence to serve as an administrator of a Portland hospital. She moved to Olympia, Wash., where she helped at the school at St. Michael’s Parish and served as discharge planner at the new St. Peter Hospital there. She returned to administration in 1977 at Mount St. Vincent in Seattle, caring for the needs of the elderly. She served as councilor for ministry in the former Sacred Heart Province from 1985 to 1988, and in 1991 she returned to St. Peter Hospital as sister representative.

“I miss Portland,” Sister Rita admitted. “I miss the flow of things and the friends.” But she is pleased with life at SJR, where In addition to being a companion to others she enjoys time spent in prayer, reading practical, spiritual books, taking walks, crocheting and doing crossword puzzles.