Journey to a Mission
Chronology Leading to the Arrival of the Sisters of Providence in Washington Territory, 1856
1. The Bishop's Petition, September 24, 1856
A.M.A. Blanchet, in retirement, 1883. Died in 1887 at St. Joseph Hospital, Vancouver, Washington.
Disappointed that a House of Providence did not take root in the Northwest four years earlier, Augustin Magloire Alexandre Blanchet, bishop of the fledgling Diocese of Nesqually, was not going to give up. Blanchet, his brother, Archbishop Francis Norbert Blanchet of Oregon City, and Bishop Modeste Demers of Vancouver Island—all Montrealers—envisioned building a “Church of Canada” in the West.
The Nesqually Diocese by 1856 spanned from the 46th parallel (Columbia River) on the south, to the Canadian border to the north, and from the Pacific Ocean in the west, to the Rocky Mountains in the east. It was in dire need of help to care for the growing flock. Priests were in short supply, traveling hundreds of remote miles to minister to Native Americans, settlers, traders, journeymen, military men and travelers. Only one group of women religious, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, had so far established a mission in the Oregon City archdiocese. But Blanchet wanted a group for his own diocese.
For a second time, A.M.A. Blanchet—in person at the Montreal motherhouse—with the help of his secretary Father Louis Rossi, formally appealed to Mother Caron, successor to founding superior Emilie Gamelin, for sisters. He promised to accompany them to Fort Vancouver in Washington Territory. It was at this Hudson’s Bay Company outpost on the Columbia River where the bishop took residence six years ago and where he intended to have the sisters begin their mission.
The following is a transcription of the formal act presented to the General Council of the Sisters of Providence:
Petition Addressed to the Sisters of Providence by Bishop Magloire Blanchet, Bishop of Nesqually, Residing at Vancouver in the Territory of Washington:
Bishop Blanchet, Bishop of Nesqually, desirous of having some Religious to provide for the needs of his diocese, once more casts his eyes on the Sisters of Providence of Montreal. He asks:
1. To have three or four Religious of the said Community to settle in his place of residence and to do the works proper to their Institute. For other missions to be established later, the Bishop will make his request whenever he shall deem it necessary.
2. He desires that the sisters destined for this new mission be ready to start within six months, should he so notify them. Were he able to have them right at present, he would be pleased to conduct them thither himself; but, should this be impossible, he will provide a trustworthy priest to accompany them from Montreal to their destination.
3. As above stated, the Sisters will employ themselves in performing the works proper to their Institute just as they do in the City of Montreal.
4. The travelling expenses are guaranteed by His Lordship.
5. When the Sisters shall have reached their destination, should means of subsistence fail them, His Lordship will provide for their maintenance.
6. His Lordship wishes to know the dimensions and the number of rooms required for the Sisters’ residence so that all may be in readiness for them on their arrival in the new establishment.
7. English being the common language of the country where the Sisters are going, some of the Religious destined for the said mission must be qualified to teach the said language in the schools.
Made and passed at Montreal (Hospice St. Joseph) this twenty-fourth day of September, 1856.
† Augustin M., Bishop of Nesqually
The Decision of the General Council, Oct. 3, 1856
The Institute of Providence: History of the Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor Known as the Sisters of Providence, Sisters of Providence of Montreal, vol. V. (1949).
Bishop Blanchet and the Providence, paper by Sr. Augustinus Rohr, S.P. (August 1, 1950).
Abundance of Grace: A History of the Archdiocese of Seattle, 1850-2000, Archdiocese of Seattle (2000).