Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



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


Providence Sisters’ Mother Joseph among historical visages gracing downtown Spokane building

Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Nov. 13, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Mother JosephIndividuals from Spokane’s history are represented along the Spokesman-Review production facility facing Monroe in downtown Spokane. Among those chosen was Mother Joseph of the Sisters of Providence. (IR photo)

An even dozen bronze heads gaze passively down on passers-by from the Monroe Street side of The Spokesman-Review production facility downtown. The busts are of local historical figures, nine men and three women, who played a prominent part in shaping the history of the Inland Northwest. That of Aubrey White, who promoted Spokane’s parks system, leans slightly forward as if he wants to converse.

One of the three women is Mother Joseph of the Sisters of Providence, chief architect and builder for hospitals, schools, and orphanages in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-19th century. Her legacy continues in the Providence Health Care System that is networked throughout the Spokane area and the Northwest.

She was born Esther Pariseau in 1823 and joined the Sisters of Providence in Quebec in 1843, not long after the order’s founding. When her father brought her to the convent, he told the Sisters that she “will some day make a very good superior.”

One of her most useful skills was that of carpentry, taught her by her father. She was able to calculate the costs of her many building projects and was able to competently supervise the men who did the construction.

The stern-visaged Mother Joseph worked tirelessly, traveling the Northwest by horseback on “begging tours,” accompanied always by another Sister “with more physical and social charm.” She and the four Sisters who accompanied her to the Pacific Northwest established 29 hospitals, schools, orphanages and homes for the aged and the mentally ill.

Mother Joseph focused completely on helping the poor, and the institutions were for all who needed them. Her last words as she lay dying were “My Sisters, whatever concerns the poor is always our affair.”

The busts were made by Wayne Chabre of Walla Walla. The pieces were installed Oct. 11. The bronze plaques underneath each bust were designed by Jean McMenemy of Walla Walla. The plaques identify the persons and tell their role in Spokane history.

Shaun Higgins, marketing director for The Spokesman-Review, said Chabre’s art project for the building was chosen from among 16 submitted. Selecting the historical figures to be depicted, however, was a different story.

“Narrowing the selection to only 12 was clearly a difficult task,” he said. “We started by limiting... the selection to those who had died prior to 1950.” Even so, some 10,000 names of historic Spokanites were reviewed before the final selection was made.

Sculptor Chabre said he had never done a project quite like this one before. He was not familiar with the leaders chosen to be memorialized, with the exception of Mother Joseph. She is depicted in a statue at St. Mary Hospital in Walla Walla.

Chabre said each bust took about a month to make. Making the bust of Mother Joseph was “one of my favorites because of the habit” she wears, he said. Chabre has a local connection of his own; he earned a degree in art at Gonzaga University in 1969.

The project continues the historical aspect of art work in downtown Spokane. To the north are statues of Ensign John Robert Monaghan and President Abra-ham Lincoln. There are more recent historical figures in the lobby of the Chamber of Commerce building and a new bust of Louis Davenport was recently installed in the downtown hotel that bears his name.

Some of the leaders depicted are well-known: James Glover, the land developer sometimes called “The Father of Spokane;” Spokane Garry, a chief of the Spokane tribe and first teacher in the Northwest; William H. Cowles, founder of The Spokesman-Review; Hutton, mine owner and philanthropist; Aubrey White; Mother Joseph.

The others are not: Robert Paterson, a retail merchant; James McGoldrick, pioneer lumberman; Mary Latham, Spokane’s first woman physician and founder of the first library society in Spokane; George C. Jewett, an agriculture banker and wheat marketer; Jay Graves, a mine developer; Peter Barrow, publisher of an early African American newspaper.

(Biographical information about Mother Joseph came from the Sisters of Providence web site.)


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