60 Years: Charlotte Van Dyke, SP

Sister Paulette

Charlotte Van Dyke, SP
Sister Charlotte Van Dyke is an extrovert who thrives on people and relationships. She has flourished in four very different careers – teaching, nursing, hospital administration and law – and also has served on a bevy of nonprofit boards.

“I became a Sister of Providence to serve people,” said this German-Dutch native of Olympia, Wash., born in 1933. A graduate of Olympia High School, she entered the religious community after two years as a nursing student at Seattle University.

She taught fifth graders in Walla Walla, Wash., while sweating in a heavy serge religious habit. She also taught English at Providence High School in Burbank, Calif., where she was introduced to debate and taught her high school students in Burbank and Yakima to master it. She continued nursing studies at St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Ore., took the state boards in Oregon, and became a staff nurse at St. Joseph Hospital, Burbank.

Sister Charlotte, then wearing a modified habit and serving as student body secretary, earned an MBA at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., with residencies at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore and Gordon Friesen International in Washington, D.C.

Oldest student in her law school class

She served 20 years in administrative positions with Providence Health System in California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, including as chief executive of St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Yakima and of St. Joseph Hospital in Aberdeen, Wash.

At age 55, Sister Charlotte enrolled in law school at the University of Puget Sound. “I was the oldest person in school, including most of the professors.” She received her degree, passed the bar exam and opened her practice in Pioneer Square, Seattle. Her clients were primarily poor and sometimes paid for services in kind.

After retiring, she served on the Mother Joseph Province Leadership Team and volunteer board positions, including the Providence Mount St. Vincent Foundation, the Sister Churches Board of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, the Refugee Women’s Alliance (REWA), the Jesuit Province Review board in Portland, and the Providence Housing Boards.

People top her memories

She also volunteers with St. Vincent de Paul for home visits, tutors at Guadalupe Parish School, provides communion services to Bridge Park Retirement Center, and helps with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. And she is helping Providence Associate Marie-Therese Gnamazo find funding to begin a health program in Cameroon.

What Sister Charlotte remembers most about the last 60 years are the people, ranging from the fourth grader moved to tears by her letter acknowledging his gift of a muffin, to the badly burned man whose bedside in isolation was where she spent most of one summer as a student nurse.

People figure prominently in her Jubilee celebration plans. Wearing a new outfit she will make, Sister Charlotte looks forward to enjoying the company of relatives and friends.