Providence Of The Holy Angels and Providence Academy, Vancouver, Washington: Collection Inventory, 1856-1966
Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart and four other Sisters of Providence arrived in Fort Vancouver, Washington Territory, on December 8, 1856, completing a 35-day journey by train and ship from their home in Montreal, Quebec. They came to the west at the request of the Most Reverend A.M.A. Blanchet, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Nesqually, who accompanied them on the journey. However, when the sisters and Bishop Blanchet arrived in Vancouver, they found that the bishop's plans for their arrival had not been fulfilled. His assistant, the Reverend J.B. Brouillet, thought the sisters should go to the town of Olympia, although he doubted that anyplace in the territory was ready for them. In any case, he had failed to prepare a place for the sisters to live, so they slept in the attic of the bishop's small house.
Within a few months, the sisters had made their home in Vancouver. A small cabin served as their dormitory and first school, which opened April 14, 1857. They accepted into their care several orphans and an elderly man who had no home. Bishop Blanchet gave them two acres on the St. James Mission Claim, and on this land a small group of multi-purpose buildings sprang up. The sisters named their new home Providence of the Holy Angels. Over the next few years, it came to encompass the sisters' residence, novitiate, and infirmary; an orphanage for boys and girls; a boarding and day school; rooms for the elderly and insane; and the first St. Joseph Hospital. The sisters also cared for the priests and bishop at St. James Cathedral, and visited the poor and sick in their homes.
The Catholic Church was involved in a long dispute over ownership of the St. James Mission Claim, so it was not to become the sisters' permanent mission site. Rather, Mother Joseph purchased property away from the disputed area and protected the sisters' interests through incorporation. January 28, 1859, marked the incorporation of their charitable works as the "Sisters of Charity of the House of Providence in the Territory of Washington," which continues today as one of Washington state's oldest corporations and the parent corporation for Providence Health System. The stated purpose of the corporation was "the relief of needy and suffering humanity, the care of orphans, invalids, the sick and the poor, and the education of youth."
In the early 1870s, Mother Joseph began planning a permanent home for Providence of the Holy Angels on the property she had purchased earlier. She designed and supervised construction of Providence Academy, located at Tenth and Twelfth, "C" and Reserve Streets, Vancouver. The local Hidden Brick Company supplied the bricks for the four-story structure. The sisters and their orphans and boarders moved into the Academy on September 7, 1874, before the interior was finished. Mother Joseph supervised construction of a large addition in 1891, but otherwise the exterior of the building remains much as it was built. The interior was improved and remodeled several times over the years.
For fifty years, Providence Academy continued to serve as the home for the sisters' provincial administration, novitiate, and infirmary, as well as for all the sisters who served at the school or hospital. When the provincial administration moved to Seattle in 1924, the Academy was given over entirely to the education of youth, with a co-educational kindergarten and elementary school, and a high school for girls. Although the sisters continued to care for orphans, they were fully integrated into the boarding school.
In 1954, the Catholic community of Vancouver opened St. Joseph Parish School, and two years later St. James Parish School. Prior to this time, Providence Academy had been the only Catholic school in the city. The sisters agreed to staff both of the new schools, and most of the students from the Academy grade school transferred to the new St. James. At this time, Providence Academy grade school closed.
Providence Academy high school continued to operate for another decade. In 1966, with enrollment and the number of teaching sisters declining and the school in need of remodeling, the sisters decided to close the Academy and to sell their property in Vancouver. The building lay vacant for several years before it was purchased in 1969 by Robert Hidden, grandson of Lowell Hidden, founder of Hidden Brick Company. The family continues to own the building and operates The Academy as offices, shops, restaurant, Montessori school, and a wedding chapel. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Brief Description of the Records:
The records found within the collection for Providence of the Holy Angels and Providence Academy include chronicles; correspondence; reports; legal and financial documents; student records; publications; topical files; scrapbooks; photographs; and artifacts. The chronicles are the annual written account of activities and events at the institution; they span the entire history of the mission, 1856-1966, and document both the lives of the sisters and the activities of the students. The chronicles also include information about many of the sisters' other early missions in the northwest. The early chronicles and some other records are in French.
Early student ledgers and account books (1857-c.1930) are a valuable genealogical resource. Student life, particularly from the 1940s through 1960s, is well documented through chronicles, activity files, subject series, scrapbooks, and publications, including the school's yearbook, the Providentian (1921-1927, 1944-1957, 1959-1966). In addition, the archives holds the official student transcripts for Providence Academy.
A brief history of Providence Academy, based on the chronicles, is included in The Way It Was in Providence Schools, by Sister Dorothy Lentz (Sisters of Providence: 1978). This book is available for purchase through the Providence Archives.
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