From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Northwest Providence Sisters, associates travel to Rome for beatification of community’s foundress

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 25, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

Mother Emilie Gamelin, a Canadian woman who was the foundress of the Sisters of Providence, has reached the second step on the road to sainthood in the Catholic Church. She was beatified – named Blessed – in a ceremony held at St. Peter Basilica in the Vatican Oct. 7.

Eleven Sisters of Providence and one Providence novice from the Spokane Diocese made the journey to Rome for the event. They were part of a group of 65 Sisters from the Pacific North-west’s Mother Joseph Province.

Altogether nearly 1,000 Sisters of Providence from North and South America met up in Detroit to travel to Rome for their foundress’s beatification. They were joined by Providence Associates, family members and friends.

The pageantry was lengthy on a hot and humid day. Blessed Emilie was one of seven persons beatified during the four-hour ceremony. Huge individual photos of the seven, which were covered at the beginning, were suspended from the balconies of the basilica and unveiled during the ceremony. People in the audience cheered enthusiastically as their particular “Blessed” was named. Pope John Paul II read each person’s biography, first in the language of the beatified, and the photos were uncovered.

Sister Loretta Marie Marceau of Spokane has been a Sister of Providence for over 60 years. She had been to Rome once before, in 1975 for the ceremony to open the Jubilee Doors at St. Peter Basilica.

Security was tighter this time around but that did not dampen her spirits for this historic occasion.“It was a great day,” she said. The ceremony didn’t start until 9:30 a.m., but “we had to leave our hotel at six to get there early.” All the Sisters had to wear yellow neck scarves, which served as a sort of ticket of admission to the ceremony.

At 8:45, all the bells began ringing, and Sister Loretta said “we could feel the pulse of their ringing in our bodies.” The weather was hot, the liturgy was very formal, and several languages were used, but “it really was wonderful.”

Sister Loretta’s most special memory of the trip came the next day, during a papal audience. As the oldest member of the group, Sister Loretta was asked by Provience Sister Barbara Scham-ber, Mother Joseph Provincial, to represent the Sisters by going up to where the pope was seated and receiving his blessing.

She was a little nervous — “there were a lot of dignitaries up there,” she said — but thrilled nonetheless. “My white hair gives me a lot of benefits,” she laughed.

Sister Loretta described the Holy Father: “When I looked into his eyes, they were very peaceful. He looked better than I thought he would and his voice was quite strong. He asked that we recite the rosary and pray for peace.”

For Sisters of Providence novice Brenda Velasco, the trip to Rome was her first. Her mother, who is legally blind, and her godmother, whom she hadn’t seen for nearly 20 years, made the trip with her.

Velasco has been a novice for two-and-a-half months and was grateful for the chance to go to Rome. “It was wonderful to see the works of art I had studied in school,” she said.

There was an international quality to the ceremony that Velasco noted. “It was so nice to see Sisters from all over the world.”

Sister Myrta Iturriaga has been in Religious life over 40 years. She is from Chile, where a compatriot of Mother Gamelin made a foundation for the Sisters of Providence. Sister Myrta joined the order in Chile and came to the United States in 1988. This was her first trip to Rome.

“I was just in awe,” she said. “There are no words to express the beauty of the basilicas and the churches. Everything is art and symbolism. You could spend a week in just one corner in just one church to learn the symbolism. It’s an awesome place.”

Sister Myrta joked about the irony of getting a special ticket, along with a large number of others, to sit closer to the altar during the beatification. “I was closer, but I had the sun in my face.”

Having the sun in her face did not keep Sister Myrta from being moved by what was taking place. She said the occasion was “very emotional, to hear the pope speak about each Blessed’s life and why they are a good example for this time.”

Rich Umbdenstock, CEO of Providence Services for Eastern Washington, had never been in Rome either. He made the trip with his wife, Barbara. “It was quite spectacular. To see the Vatican and St. Peter’s, I would never be able to imagine the size, the magnificence, the detail...”

But there was more to it than a trip to a holy, historic place. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be connected with the Sisters and their foundress,” he said. “It was gratifying to see this guiding light be recognized.”

The universality of the church left its mark on the CEO. “I have a much better sense of the world-wide church,” Umbdenstock said. “It really made an impact.”

He, too, was impressed with church pageantry he witnessed: “It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that much Latin at church.”

What of this newly Blessed, this Mother Emilie Gamelin who was a devoted daughter, wife, mother, and finally nun? Much has been told about her life and her commitment to serve the poor, a commitment that began when she was a small child. Her life was filled with tragedy and yet she never let that overcome her faith.

After her husband and children had died, Blessed Emilie gave herself and her fortune over to helping those in need. The sick, the aged, the mentally ill – she refused no one. During her life, a comment was made that “Mother Gamelin doesn’t have enough sick people; she wants to get some more.”

Her service cost her life, since she died of cholera, which she contracted from helping others stricken with the disease. She died at age 51.

Sister Loretta has always admired their community’s foundress, but now, she said, Blessed Emilie’s life “will be more widely known.”

Novice Brenda said she had read a lot about their foundress, and now, “I really understand where she came from,” and finds her a good role model.

CEO Umbdenstock said he often uses Blessed Emilie’s service to the poor as an example in his talks to employees, and he makes a special connection to her as a lay leader. “Most of her charitable work was done before she became a Sister. Anyone can identify with her.”

Blessed Emilie’s last words to her community as she lay dying are as timely now as when they were uttered: “Charity, simplicity, humility, but most especially charity.”

Blessed Emilie will be honored with all the saints on Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day. Her liturgical feast day will be Sept. 23, the date of her death in 1851.

Inland Register archives

© The Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane. All Rights Reserved