Vancouver celebrates 150 years

Sister Margaret described a near-death experience of Providence foundress Blessed Emilie Gamelin, the last days of Mother Joseph as she lay dying of cancer, and the barriers in language and culture that complicated early ministry to the Native Americans. Again a, word of judgment and challenge. A call to courage, caring and compassion.

The challenge continues in modern times.

Sister Margaret ended her reflection with a memory of the resolve of her own sister, Bernadette Botch, SP, as she was dying of cancer in 2000. Sister Bernadette accepted her impending death but would not resign her position as finance director for the Diocese of Spokane. She was a person with a "can do" spirit and this was not something she could imagine.

"We have ordered our lives that justice and truth might be served. We have reflected on God’s presence among us and within us that we might walk more humbly with our God. Ours is a call to go beyond the passive concern for those in need, to a demand for justice that will bring peace." — Bernadette Botch, SP, 1981

(Note: To read Sister Margaret’s reflections in their entirety, please click here.)

Following the prayer service, friendships were begun and renewed at a reception in the church courtyard hosted by the St. James Altar Society and employees of Providence Milwaukie, Lab Services.

The beautiful, sunny afternoon was filled with an open house at Providence Academy, a few blocks away. Donna Quesnell, a member of the St. James Historical Society, was mistress of ceremony for the program which was televised by Clark Vancouver Television (CATV).

It began with Sister Margaret’s challenge of condensing 150 years of history into a few brief minutes. For a more complete historical outline, go to the Providence Archives at

There was more music from Dr. Manzo with a choir from St. Joseph School, where the sisters taught for many years. That was followed by recollections from teachers and a legislator of the successful efforts to put Mother Joseph?s statue in Statuary Hall in the nation’s capitol and to make her birthdate of April 16 a Washington State holiday.

At first, not everyone was convinced about the statue, former Sen. Dan Marsh recalled, noting that competition for one of two statues the state was allowed in Washington, D.C., included Chief Seattle, Chief Joseph and railroad magnate James J. Hill. Evergreen School District teachers Jan Davey and Irene Holbrook recalled how their sixth graders lobbied senators, representatives and the city council for the birthday holiday, cleaned graves at St. James Acres, where Mother Joseph is buried, and raised funds for a granite bench in her memory.

"Mother Joseph?s work was a model for these children, who now are sophomores in college," Davey said. One of those students, Kelsey Milne, was applauded as she joined the teachers onstage.

Rev. Tom Tucker, who led participants in prayer, recalled that the Methodists already were in the area when the first Sisters of Providence arrived and took up a collection to help them get settled." In an impromptu moment, alumnae of Providence Academy burst into their school song.

Tours of the academy, historical exhibits and a PowerPoint presentation from Providence Archives, as well as a buffet lunch followed. A guide to "Footsteps of Mother Joseph," prepared by the Archives, offered opportunities for self-guided tours of sites including Fort Vancouver, St. James Acres and the sisters’ poor farm.

The afternoon continued with a prayer service in the chapel at Providence Academy, now owned by the Hidden family that made the bricks for the historic structure built under Mother Joseph’s supervision. Later in the evening, the Knights of Columbus hosted a barbecue downtown to mark the occasion.

If you were fortunate enough to be in Vancouver on September 23, you know what a special gathering this was. If you were not there, you still can enjoy events at PAV by clicking on the link to the CATV broadcast, shown on the Sisters of Providence home page.