Friends of Fort Vancouver Blog
"Architect, Teacher & Roman Catholic Nun"
This story highlights Mother Joseph of the Sisters of Providence who was born Esther Pariseau in Laval Canada in 1823. At age 20, she entered the order of Sisters of Charity of Providence and took the name "Joseph" in honor of her father. He was a carpenter and his daughter sooner became an accomplished carpenter as well as an experienced architect.
In 1856, a little more than a decade after joining the order, she led four nuns to Fort Vancouver, where they established a mission.
Almost immediately, Mother Joseph started a school — the Providence Academy for Young Ladies. The nuns also nursed the sick, organized a hospital, took in invalids, orphans and babies.
Mother Joseph traveled the northwest in search of donations, while she designed and oversaw the construction of 25 buildings (12 schools — 5 of them for Native American children — 2 orphanages, and 11 hospitals in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia. Two of her buildings, Providence Academy and St. Joseph Hospital, were in Vancouver, WA, where the original Providence Academy building still stands.
In this episode, we will hear a letter written by Mother Joseph in 1858, just two years after the Sisters opened the mission. The letter is addressed to Bishop Ignace Bourget, the first Bishop of Montreal. It is Christmastime, and as the New Year approaches Sister Joseph reviews the year in retrospect, seeking guidance and reassurance of the Bishop. There were very few women in the region and the services and teachings were extraordinary. Most of the American students are Protestants – not the situation the Sisters of Charity expected to find when they departed Montreal two years earlier. Sister Joseph confronts difficulties with the all-male City Council over land use for the future Academy project. The Protestant families demand "music" lessons in the classrooms for their children and the Sisters comply. Prayer is a frequent topic of discussion, too.
Mother Joseph (1823-1902) was a talented community-minded leader whose presence continues to be felt throughout the region.
Narrated by Jan Oliva
Letter read by Janick Lawrence
Stories of 19th Century Women Who Influenced Clark County
Forgotten Stories of Clark County
"The Voices Seldom Heard"
The letter from Mother Joseph to Bishop Bourget has been graciously shared by Sisters of Providence.
Thank you for listening
"Voices Seldom Heard" was funded in large part by the Clark County Historical Promotion Grant Program. The series was researched and hosted by the Friends of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
Mark Dodd, Technical Advisor
and Mary Rose, Executive Director of Friend of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
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