Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"A time of transition and gratitude"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Jan. 14, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

One of the thoughts that strikes me as very true in our lives is that things are never the same. I’m certainly reminded of that as I become older.

A recent incident has changed dramatically how airline passengers are screened. Soon a successor will be appointed to replace me, and that event will change my life significantly. We observe the changes in our Church for the last few decades. The Second Vatican Council had a dramatic impact on the Church. We have seen the very sad revelations of sexual abuse by clergy, from which has come the Church’s special emphasis on the protection of youth and children in Church settings. Yes, there have been lots of changes.

One of the recent changes in Eastern Washington evokes a sense of sadness, but also feelings of profound gratitude and appreciation. The Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters have closed down the Dominican Center on Fort Wright Dr. in Spokane. The Sisters who need nursing care have moved back to their community’s motherhouse in Sinsinawa, Wis. Some years ago the Dominican Sisters of Spokane were assimilated into the Sinsinawa Dominican community. As the Dominican Center here is closed, it is important to remember with gratitude the presence of the Dominican Sisters of Spokane and the legacy they have left.

I first met the Spokane Dominican Sisters when I was very young. My family lived on a farm in the Methow Valley, and my parents would invite the Sisters serving at St. Mary Mission near Omak to pick strawberries on our three-acre strawberry patch. It must not have been easy to pick strawberries in full habits!

In the Okanogan country, they founded St. Martin Hospital in Tonasket, which later became a community-owned hospital. They also served as teachers in a fledgling Catholic School in Oroville and at the Catholic school of Christ the King Parish in Omak, which later became Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Okanogan, consolidated with St. Agnes Parish in Okanogan.

The Sisters’ original motherhouse in the diocese was located about halfway between Kettle Falls and Colville. They established Mt. Carmel Hospital in Colville and St. Joseph Hospital in Chewelah, now part of the Providence Health Care system. Today both of those institutions carry on the mission of Catholic health care and are significant contributors to the local economies. The Sisters also served in St. Mary School in Chewelah.

The Dominican Sisters of Spokane founded Holy Family Hospital on the north side of the Spokane, also now part of the Providence Health Care system. The Sisters taught at Spokane’s Assumption School. When I was pastor there in the 1970s, the Sisters would frequently invite me to have dinner with them. I remember with great admiration the harrowing stories of the Sisters from Germany, who told me of their hardship and danger during the Hitler regime, before they finally had to leave their homeland. The original motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters here was in Spire, Germany – thus the connection.

Although there will still be the presence of some of the Sinsinawa Sisters in the area – some active, some retired – the closing of the Dominican Center is a significant moment of transition and change. We need to reflect upon and appreciate their great legacy to this diocese and especially to those communities where the institutions they founded continue to be very vibrant, witnesses to the mission for which they were founded. On behalf of all of us, I express to the Sisters our love, continuing prayers, and profound gratitude. What they have done by way of great personal generosity, commitment, and acceptance of their mission is a great blessing for all of us.

Our reflection on their presence here is also an opportunity to remember all of the communities of Religious women who have served and continue to serve in the diocese. The vision of these women who dedicated their lives to the charism of their respective communities has had and will continue to have a tremendous impact upon our area.

In early February each year, the Church celebrates the World Day of Consecrated Life. Over the last few years, I have invited the Religious Sisters in the diocese to mark that day with prayer, a social, and dinner at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center on a Sunday afternoon – this year, on Jan. 31. It is a way to express to them our profound gratitude and appreciation for their loving and dedicated service. Some of Sisters are now quite elderly, living in their respective infirmaries and retirement facilities, and can’t attend. They must also be remembered with great affection, love and gratitude.

Yes, times are changing. Things are never the same. But remember the witness of our communities of women Religious: women who accepted great change in their lives to be in community and to serve the mission of the Church. Their example reminds us all to look to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in these very complex times, and to be faithful to the call that God has given to each of us.

Our mission as Church – all of us, together – continues. If we are faithful to that call, then the Lord can use us as instruments of justice, peace and joy.

Sisters all, thank you! Blessings and peace always!

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