Where have all the Sisters gone? A reflection.

Editor’s note: This was first printed in Connections, a newsletter for Providence Health Care caregivers (employees).

A reflection from Sister Rosalie Locati on her ministry transition


Sr. Rosalie Locati

Often when I meet people in Sacred Heart Medical Center they say, “Sister, I hear you are going to retire; who will be replacing you?” I usually say, “No one replaces another person, but someone will assume the role that I currently fill.”

As part of a succession plan for my ministry role, I have chosen to move to half-time rather than retiring at this time. My ministry role now will be Sister Resource for Mission Heritage. I am delighted that John Kleiderer is our full-time director of Mission Integration. As most of you know, I am currently the only Sister of Providence at Sacred Heart.

So, where have all the Sisters gone? I suggest that we reflect on our legacy story to answer this question. From our earliest founding Sisters, Mother Emilie Gamelin, Mother Bernarda and Mother Joseph, there were always fewer Sisters serving the needs of the poor and the vulnerable than there were women and men who served with them.

Sisters at Sacred Heart Hospital, 1907

A small band of five French-speaking Sisters came to the West in 1856 and established the first permanent school and hospital in Vancouver, Wash. They immediately invited “Ladies of Charity,” community members and generous benefactors, to work with them to serve the poor and vulnerable.

Even though the Sisters were few in number, in a short period of time they established ministries throughout the Northwest and into Montana. Each time a request came to send Sisters, they responded, trusting that Providence would provide the people and resources they needed to do the good work.

Celebrating 130 years

Mother Joseph
Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart

This year, we will celebrate the 130th anniversary of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. When Mother Joseph and “little” Sister Joseph (first administrator of Sacred Heart) arrived in April 1886, little did they know that this small hospital would become a major center of excellence continuing the healing ministry of Jesus. Receiving the first patient in January 1887, with 31 rooms and a staff of six Sisters of Providence, the hospital opened its doors. Additional wings were added in 1888 and again in 1901.

“Little” Sister Joseph, first administrator of Sacred Heart Hospital.

By 1910, the new hospital (on the hill and quite a distance from the downtown area) opened with a staff of 25 Sisters, 20 nurses and 10 attendants. There were two surgery rooms, 40 private rooms and 12 wards able to receive 130 patients. From that time on, the Sisters served as working supervisors in charge of nurses, other staff and all departments in the hospital. Physicians worked directly with the Sisters.

With the opening of Sacred Heart School of Nursing in 1898, the Sisters became leaders in the formal training of nursing education. By 1912, following state boards, the first RN certifications were issued for nurses.

Expanding to meet the needs of the community

Sister Peter Claver Thomas was the last of 19 Providence sisters who served as hospital administrators. She led Sacred Heart Medical Center from 1964 to 1989.

Between 1913 and 1914, 14 Sisters traveled to Sprague, Wash., to visit the county hospital for the poor and also began ministry to prisoners. Under their leadership, a 1915 record noted that 41,046 meals were served to the poor in the Spokane area through Sacred Heart Hospital.With the leadership of Sister Mary Bede MacDonald (1956-1962), the remodel of the main entrance and

Sister Mary Bede MacDonald was administrator of Sacred Heart Hospital from 1956 to 1962 and led the remodel of the main entrance and creation of the emergency access.

emergency access was undertaken. A 10-year construction plan to add two six-story additions to the hospital had to be shelved due to unsound structure and lack of finances.

A modern “Mother Joseph,” Sister Peter Claver Thomas (1964-1989), played a leadership role in health care and in the civic community. She spearheaded the building of a new hospital tower which was dedicated October 9, 1971. She and the Sisters had a keen instinct about what the Spokane community needed and they never failed to plan to provide for future needs. In 1979, there were 17 Providence Sisters and eight Sisters of other communities who served primarily in spiritual care. Sister Peter Claver was the last of 19 Providence Sisters who served as hospital administrators.

Sisters at a Sacred Heart Christmas party, 1982.

Providence Sacred Heart continued to expand with the addition of the new east and west wings, and the Doctors’ Building, and to develop new services, including psychiatry, cardiovascular, Children’s Hospital, Women’s Health Service, Children’s Emergency Center, and most recently the new and remodeled cardiac intensive-care unit.

During these years, fewer Sisters served as nurses, chaplains, supervisors and leaders. Talented, dedicated and Mission-minded new staff, physicians and leaders continue to serve in their place.

Sister Rosalie Locati, currently the only sister at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, talks to a pharmacist in this 2002 photo.

The Sisters’ legacy remains strong

So, where have all the Sisters gone? Many have died and Divine Providence has rewarded them for their faithful service. Although the Sisters are no longer present, their spirit, prayers and legacy remain strong in and though the many people of Providence who live and carry out the “Hopes and Aspirations of the Sisters.”

Today, the Sisters of Mother Joseph Province, although smaller in number, continue to be advocates for the poor and vulnerable, serving women, children, the elderly and the homeless. Faithful daughters of Mother Emilie Gamelin, they each witness to the same charism, compassionate love, trust in Divine Providence and risk-taking vision as their foundresses.Rosalie Locati, SPTop of Page