History 

Providence Health & Services continues a tradition of caring that the Sisters of Providence began more than 158 years ago. 

Mother Joseph journeys to the Northwest

In 1856, Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart and four other Sisters of Providence arrived at Vancouver, in what was then in the Washington Territory, to answer a call for help from a new pioneer community. There were no schools, no established hospitals, and people were struggling to meet basic needs. The sisters responded, always keeping in mind the most poor and vulnerable. Through their courage and determination, they established the first schools, hospitals, orphanages and other institutions of care to serve the new communities.

The sisters incorporated their works of charity in 1859, creating the structure for the current network of health care services known as Providence Health & Services. We are the second oldest not-for-profit corporation still in existence in the state of Washington.

The Mission grows

The five pioneer sisters faced daunting challenges as they crisscrossed the rugged Northwest wilderness by horseback, stage coach, wagon and river boat to the communities, mines and lumber camps begging for provisions and the precious gold dust and nuggets essential to the support of their works of charity. In 1864, four sisters traveled to St. Ignatius, Montana, becoming the first white women to cross eastward over the Rocky Mountains. In just 25 short years, the sisters established 30 hospitals, schools and homes for orphans, the elderly and the sick to serve people across the West.

Her life fulfilled, Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart died in 1902. Her dying words were: “Sisters, whatever concerns the poor is always our affair.” The sisters continued to touch lives where relief, comfort and care were needed and made countless contributions to education, health care and the social services. They established many of the Northwest’s first permanent hospitals and schools. Honoring the legacy of Mother Joseph, her bronze statue sits in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. as Washington State's second representative.

Continuing a history of compassionate care

Since these early days, the same pioneering spirit of the sisters continues today as our calling and our promise. Ministries now reach across the full continuum of health care, from birth to end of life, and also serve communities with programs to provide shelter and belonging for seniors with low incomes or people who are disabled. At the core of the Providence Mission remains a commitment to provide for the needs of everyone, especially for those who are the most poor and vulnerable.