Sisters of Providence to present 2018 Mother Joseph Award to University of Providence law professor

April 5, 2018


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Dr. Deborah Kottel, an attorney and professor of law for nearly 30 years at the University of Providence (formerly the University of Great Falls), has been chosen by the Sisters of Providence to receive the 2018 Mother Joseph Award.

The Mother Joseph Award is given annually to a person who “exemplifies the values and courage of Mother Joseph,” the first provincial superior of the Sisters of Providence in the West. There were more than 80 nominations submitted for this year’s award. The presentation will be made on May 3 at the university’s Annual Board, Faculty and Staff Dinner starting at 4:15 p.m. at the Best Western Heritage Inn as part of commencement week.

In addition to teaching law, Deborah coordinates the online paralegal program. She has been chair of the faculty, faculty representative to the board of trustees, and a leader of various faculty governance committees. Her experience includes four terms as a Montana State Representative (1995-2009), as well as Commissioner of Transportation for the state. A Chicago native, she moved to Montana in 1987. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University and a law degree from DePaul University.

While Deborah’s accomplishments in the legal field and with students are significant, it is her civic and social activities in her passionate pursuit of justice for people who are poor and vulnerable that made her nomination stand out, said Provincial Councilor Jo Ann Showalter, who coordinated the selection process. “Whether in her dealings with the university students, in her commitment to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, or in her attempts to assist citizens in making use of their voice and rights, Deb is relentless,” her nominators, Sisters Mary Hawkins and Lucille Dean, wrote. “She is a leader, and she also knows how to build teams of collaborators.”

Deborah recently spearheaded the purchase of an old monastery that was converted into a home for homeless veterans and, at her instigation, the name selected the for the residence is Grace Home, in honor of Sister Grace Sullivan, who served in ministry at St. Thomas Home. Deborah currently is pursing the development of housing for single mothers and children.

She stays actively involved in the projects once they are established, whether that means preparing meals for those served by St. Vincent de Paul, teaching classes on obtaining citizenship, assisting individuals with obtaining low-interest loans, and teaching them how to pay off those loans to establish good credit.

Deborah believes in service learning and in 1990 started Camp SkyChild, a camp for children with a parent in prison.  University of Providence students help organize and run the camp. She is currently on the board of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and of Grace Home, and she chairs the board of the Community Health Clinic.  In her spare time, she enjoys gardening.

Editor’s note: Mother Joseph was a distinctive figure of early Northwest history, a woman of extraordinary compassion and vision.  When Mother Joseph first arrived in the Washington Territory in 1856, she encountered a strange new world of physical hardships, cultural and religious diversity, and rapid change.  There were no hospitals, few schools, and little in the way of charitable services for those suffering the misfortunes of life on the frontier.

Equipped with simple tools, enormous gifts for creating and building, and deep faith in Divine Providence, Mother Joseph and her sister companions stepped into the breach to fill these unmet needs.  Under her leadership, more than 30 hospitals, schools and homes were opened for orphans, the elderly and the sick in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and southern British Columbia.

In May 1977, Washington State Governor Dixie Lee Ray signed into law a bill authorizing the statue of Mother Joseph to be cast and placed in the nation’s capital. On May 1, 1980, the Mother Joseph Statue was placed in Statuary Hall, Washington, D.C., as Washington State’s second honoree.  Mother Joseph was cited as an “historic leader of national renown” and “to commemorate her fame and historic services as a great Washingtonian and as a great American.”  April 16, Mother Joseph’s birthday, has been declared a state holiday by the Washington State Legislature.

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