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 Center embraces ‘the healing ministry of Jesus’

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Nov. 16, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

The staff of Providence Center for Faith and Healing includes, from left, Donna Madej, Dr. Jim Shaw, Deacon Hugh Polensky, and Julianne Dickelman. (IR photo)

Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane has its roots in the 19th century, established by Mother Joseph of the Religious community now known as the Sisters of Providence.

Over the years, Sacred Heart’s medical staff has included up to 25 Providence Sisters. In 1957, a convent was built for these Sisters, a stone’s throw from the main hospital building, now in the middle of SHMC’s campus.

In 1996 the last 10 Sisters moved out of the convent. Providence Sister Michelle Holland, now retired but by no means retiring, recalls: “Sacred Heart Medical Center was continually adding brick, asphalt and cement. All green space was being absorbed by buildings and parking lots. The science of medicine was very obvious; the art of healing, less so, I thought. So I figured if we could create a space of beauty and a place where healing arts could be offered, it would benefit patients and their families and be a place of rest and inspiration for staff as well. In 1997, Jerry Leahy, then president of SHMC, suggested that the convent become Providence Center for Faith and Healing.”

Today, Providence Center’s staff consists of Jim Shaw, M.D., Donna Madej (pronounced “Mayday”), Betty Barber (not present for this interview), Julianne Dickelman, and Deacon Hugh Polensky.

Dr. Shaw, medical director, said that “The original vision for the Providence Center for Faith and Healing was held by Sister Michelle Holland, whose last role at SHMC was Vice President of Mission Services. Since at least the mid-1980s, she had this vision of a healing space, a green healing space. She nurtured it, and the administration took it on as a strategic plan about 1996.

“The idea was to have a place where other healing activities could take place that would complement all that goes on in the other parts of Sacred Heart Medical Center,” said Dr. Shaw. Providence Center “isn’t something apart from the Medical Center, it’s part of it and integral to it. The primary recipients of the services of the Providence Center would be the patients, the families, and the staff, as well as the community.

“The purpose of the Center is to promote healing within the context of a medical center that brings the best of technological care to patients, and it’s also to help integrate the spiritual nature of people and our healing into that,” he said.

An ad hoc committee adopted mission and vision statements for the Center, which opened in June of 1999. When the building and grounds of the old convent were remodeled, guiding the process was the late Providence Sister Bernadette Botch, then serving as the Bishop’s Secretary for Diocesan Business Affairs.

“There were religious statues, art, and crucifixes everywhere,” said Dr. Shaw, “as you’d expect in a convent. Sister Bernadette wanted the beauty of the Center, both inside and out, to speak to God’s healing and welcoming presence, and she purposely chose not to have religious art and statues here. It’s not like the environment is non-Catholic; rather, it speaks to a deeper tradition because Catholic health care ministry isn’t for Catholics only, it was meant to be for the marginalized and the disenfranchised, too.”

Deacon Polensky is both Director of Chaplaincy at SHMC and Director of the Providence Center for Faith and Healing, each a half-time position. Regarding the Center’s building, he says, “this was a convent, and we hear often how these bricks (that the building was constructed from) contain the very spirit of all the nuns who lived and prayed here for so many years.”

“Actually, I often feel that way when I’m here,” said Dr. Shaw, a Methodist and the only non-Catholic on the staff. “There’s a sense of prayerful presence from all those years.”

One of the services provided by the Center comes from music thanatologists Donna Madej and Betty Barber. The two women provide what Madej calls live, “prescriptive music for people, mostly at the end of life. I attend to the needs of the dying, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, with music. I play the harp and sing at the bedside of patients in different stages of terminal illness. I also play, in the hospital, for people who are suffering from really intense physical pain, or sleeplessness, or anxiety, conditions that they’re having trouble meeting medically. Sometimes the music can alter the situation so that people can find some relief.”

As staff members of the Center, Madej and Barber serve patients both at SHMC and at nearby St. Joseph Care Center. “We share a position here during the week,” said Madej, “but often we get called in the evening or on the weekend – you know, you can’t time when somebody is going to be making their passage here.”

Dr. Shaw said that the Center has various areas of focus.

“One is sacred space, so we provide that both inside and out,” he said. “The second is healing activities, so we have a variety of activities, including bereavement programs, tai chi and yoga classes, and music thanatology. The third is education. We educate physicians, and nurses, and other health care professionals on how to integrate spirituality and total care into our patient care. The fourth area of focus is medical ethics, and we look at medical ethics as the light of faith in health care decision-making. Ethics doesn’t need to come from that perspective, but if it does then it fits into what the Providence Center for Faith and Healing is about. Finally, the Center offers a program that provides education and consultations regarding palliative care – that is, pain and symptom management, often but not always near the end of life.”

Julianne Dickelman has worked for SHMC since 1992 as a chaplain educator. When Providence Center opened, it was a natural shift for her to move her activities under its umbrella.

Dickelman works half-time for SHMC’s chaplaincy services and half-time for Providence Center. She still does some patient care, but her primary focus at SHMC is to educate chaplains on personal development issues. At Providence Center, she works with Dr. Shaw to develop educational programs.

“Either I’m helping to facilitate programs that happen here, or I’m doing direct teaching,” she said. “This week I had 30 nursing students from the Intercollegiate College of Nursing, and I was helping them to understand the relationship between spirituality and health, giving them some basic ideas about spiritual assessment and self-care, and spiritual pain issues, and what that will look like in their future practice as Registered Nurses.”

Dickelman also helps Dr. Shaw and Deacon Polensky to “create environments” at the Center for resource people from outside to offer their particular services there. This includes those who offer tai chi and radha yoga classes and those who facilitate the Healing Rooms ministry for patients and others who seek a “laying on of hands” kind of healing prayer.

“I’m responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Center,” he said “The budget is always a big concern. How are we going to continue doing what we’re doing in meeting the needs, primarily of the staff, the people who come to the hospital to serve the needs of the patients?

“I guess what I really like about my job is that we always talk about the healing ministry of Jesus, and that’s the focus of both the chaplaincy and the Providence Center.”

Everyone at the Center agrees that what the Center is about is keeping alive the original purpose and vision of Mother Joseph and the first Sisters of Providence who founded what today is Sacred Heart Medical Center.

“They were impelled by the love of Christ to do this,” said Dickelman, “and they came out to meet people’s needs, and that mission has never changed. We continue to care for people, and the idea of holistic care has always been a part of that. Today, science has finally caught up with what religious institutions have always known, that you can’t separate out mind, body, and spirit. Luckily, what we have now is an immense body of research that proves how it all works, and that’s what the Providence Center for Faith and Healing is all about.”


Inland Register archives

Home | Bishop | Communications | Parishes | Catholic Charities


© The Catholic Diocese of Spokane. All Rights Reserved

WEB CONTACT