Mother Joseph Pariseau

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Mother Joseph, S.P. (NSHC statue)

Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart, S.P., (16 April 1823 – 19 January 1902) was a Canadian Religious Sister who led a group of the members of her congregation to the Pacific Northwest of the United States. There, under her leadership, they established a network of schools and healthcare to service the American settlers in that new and remote part of the country. For her contributions to the development of that region, she was honored by the State of Washington as one of the two people allowed to represent it in the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington, D.C.


Providence Hospital (built 1882–1883; destroyed 1911), Fifth and Madison in Seattle, Washington (now site of William Kenzo Nakamura United States Courthouse. Designed in conjunction with the barely-documented Donald McKay.

She was born Esther Pariseau in Saint-Elzéar, Quebec, Canada. In 1843, at the age of 20, she entered the convent of the newly founded Sisters of Charity of Providence (now Sisters of Providence) in Montreal. At that time, her father, a carriage-maker who had accompanied her, is said to have remarked to the Mother Superior, "I bring you my daughter, Esther, who wishes to dedicate herself to the religious life. She can read, write, figure accurately, sew, cook, spin and do all manner of housework. She can even do carpentering, handling a hammer and saw as well as her father. She can also plan for others and she succeeds in anything she undertakes. I assure you, Madame, that she will make a good Superior some day."[1] She took the name Sister Joseph in honor of her father.[2]

In 1856 Augustin-Magloire Blanchet, the bishop of the new Diocese of Nesqually (now the Archdiocese of Seattle), approached the Sisters of Providence in Montreal, seeking their assistance for his diocese in the Pacific Northwest Territories of the United States. Mother Joseph was chosen to lead four companions as missionaries to that region. Accompanied by the bishop, they spent over a month traveling by train from Montreal, arriving on the 8 December of that year. They arrived only to find that the Vicar General had expected them to settle elsewhere and had not made arrangements for their housing. Their first days were spent sleeping in the attic of the bishop's small home.

Within a few months, the Sisters had made their home in Vancouver, Washington. A small cabin served as both their convent and first school, which opened 14 April 1857. They accepted into their care several orphans and an elderly man who was homeless. 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 housed the convent, novitiate, and infirmary, an orphanage for both 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 clergy of St. James Cathedral, as well as visiting the poor and sick in their homes.

The diocese became involved in a long dispute over ownership of the St. James Mission Claim, so it was not to become the Sisters' permanent mission site. Instead, Mother Joseph purchased property away from the disputed area and protected the Sisters' interests through incorporation as the "Sisters of Charity of the House of Providence in the Territory of Washington" on 28 January 1859. It remains one of Washington State's oldest corporations and the parent corporation for Providence Health & Services.[3]

In the early 1870s, Mother Joseph began planning a permanent home for Providence of the Holy Angels on the property she had purchased earlier in Vancouver. She designed and supervised construction of Providence Academy, boundaried by Tenth and Twelfth, "C" and Reserve Streets.[4] 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 7 September 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. A stickler for detail, Mother Joseph often inspected rafters and bounced on planks to ensure their support.

As architect and artist, she was responsible for designing some of the buildings and supervising their construction. She undertook aggressive fundraising tours, braving the mountains and wilderness on horseback. Each of her "begging tours" into mining camps lasted several months and raised between $2,000 and $5,000 toward the realization of her goal.

Mother Joseph died of a brain tumor on the 19 January 1902, at Providence Academy in Vancouver, Washington, leaving a legacy of humanitarian service. While it is not true (as has been widely reported) that the American Institute of Architects declared Mother Joseph "The First Architect of the Pacific Northwest," she did plan and build some of the region's first permanent institutions of learning and medical care.


In 1980, the state of Washington recognized her many talents and contributions by naming her as one of the state's two representatives to the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection. A bronze statue of Mother Joseph, created by Felix W. de Weldon, sculptor of the USMC War Memorial commemorating the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, was given to the collection of the Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Additionally, the State of Washington celebrates her birthday as an official state holiday.[5]

She was also inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame.[6]


Mother Joseph was responsible for the completion of eleven hospitals, seven academies, five schools for Native American children, and two orphanages throughout an area that now encompasses Washington, northern Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. Today the Province of Mother Joseph, which covers the Sisters of Providence of that region, honors her faith and pioneering spirit.

Providence Academy continued in operation until 1966, when, 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, which had supplied the bricks for its construction. The facility operates as offices, shops, restaurant, a Montessori school and a wedding chapel. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.[3] The Hidden Family sold the property to the Vancouver National Historic Reserve Trust in January 2015. The Trust will continue its current use while restoring the site.

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