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Journey to a Mission 

h2>Chronology Leading to the Arrival of the Sisters of Providence in Washington Territory, 1856

18. A Room of Their Own, December 16, 1856

When the sisters arrived at Bishop A.M.A. Blanchet’s residence on December 8, they were confronted with the question of where to live. The bishop’s solution was to offer his attic to the sisters and Father Rossi until other lodging could be built. Yet, the bishop’s residence was small itself. How would they all live there? On the ground floor, there were three 10-foot square rooms and a passage 20-feet long by 5-feet wide. Of the three rooms on the ground floor, one was for the bishop, one for the Vicar General Brouillet, and the third for the school master. The passage was used as a drawing room, dining room and chapel. Every evening it was prepared for the celebration of Mass, and the next day all was undone. To the left of the passage was an alcove leading to the attic, school, church, and kitchen. The school measured 25 by 12 feet; the kitchen 20 by 15 feet. The church, 40 by 60 feet, was built by the Hudson’s Bay Company and in great need of repair. The sisters’ attic was divided into two rooms by a partition; the sisters had the room at the front, Father Rossi in the back, near the stairs. Father Rossi could only go to bed after the sisters had retired to their room, and he had to get up before they went out. “Fortunately,” he stated, “this state of affairs didn’t last long."

 

A reproduction of the 1866 blueprint of the building plan for St. James Mission that includes the convent for the House of Providence adjoining the pro-cathedral. Plan drawn by J.B. Blanchet, a protégé of Mother Joseph. Enlarge

For 8 days after their arrival, the sisters and Father Rossi made do with the living arrangements in the attic and dining with the bishop. Bishop Blanchet agreed to build a separate house for the sisters but until then he asked the sisters to take over housekeeping and offered them a little 10 by 16 foot room next to the kitchen and gave them money to buy some essentials such as bed covers and dishes. The sisters were self-reliant and took advantage of Mother Joseph’s building skills.

A few planks served to make beds, and another plank was attached to the wall to serve as a table, a calico rag hung in the place of the door, which was missing a partition. We can easily understand that five beds, a table and three or four chairs would very well fill a room of ten by sixteen feet; no way to move around, our little beds touched each other. More than once, our feet paid a visit to their neighbors. There, then, was our residence: sleeping quarters, refectory, Community, etc., all were one; it was there that we gaily gathered…We were so happy to be a bit more in solitude.

Despite the limitations of their accommodations, the sisters enjoyed some comforts. And now that they no longer dined with the bishop, the younger sisters were more comfortable at meal time.

Our beds are of straw and we have more covers than we need. We have an abundance of food. We could even flatter our sensuality if we did not have our rule.

In a few weeks, construction of the sisters’ cabin on the St. James Mission would begin. The Mission was a conglomeration of buildings on about four acres next to the military fort. It was here that the Sisters of Providence would begin their education, health care, and social services ministry in the Northwest.

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First Council Meeting, Dec. 11, 1856

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Christmas in Vancouver, Dec. 25, 1856


Sources:

Journal and Letters of the Five Foundresses,1856. Record Group 13: Mother Joseph Collection. Providence Archives, Seattle, Washington.

Chronicles of Providence Academy, Vancouver, 1856-1875. Record Group 22: Providence Academy. Providence Archives, Seattle, Washington.

Six Years on the West Coast of America 1856-1862 by the Rev. Louis Rossi, translated and annotated by W. Victor Wortley, Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield, Washington, 1983.