The First Council Meeting, December 11, 1856
For the newly arrived Sisters of Providence, their first official act was all about division of labor.
Mother Joseph, Sisters Praxedes of Providence, Blandine of the Holy Angels, Vincent de Paul and Mary of the Precious Blood had gathered as councilors for the House of Providence three days after setting foot in the small, fort town of Vancouver, Washington Territory. The minutes of this meeting, called “Deliberations of the Council,” were the first of hundreds to be recorded in the community’s 150 years in the West. Council deliberations—from local houses to the motherhouse—are some of the most authoritative records documenting acts and decisions governing the life of the religious community.
The original deliberations, in French, of the first council of the Sisters of Providence in the West, Dec. 11, 1856. Sister Blandine of the Holy Angels, as secretary, kept the minutes of many a council deliberation. Her penmanship, as well as English-language skills, were highly sought-after talents at the time. However she made a slight mistake on this document, by addressing Bishop Blanchet as "Monseigneur of MONTREAL," crossing it out, then replacing it with NESQUALY (fifth line). At the top of the document, Superior General Mother Caron's signature appears as "Sr. C, supr.", likely written much later after reviewing the register during a visit.
A translation of that foremost assembly's decision follows:
Deliberations of the Council of the Community on December 1856
On the eleventh of December 1856, at a meeting of the Sister councilors of the community, presided by His Highness, Monseigneur of Nesqualy [sic], superior of the community, it was decided that Sister Joseph of the Sacred Heart, superior, would become Mistress of Novices; Sister Praxedes of Providence, depositary; and Sister Blandine of the Holy Angels, secretary and assistant depositary.
Made and passed at the House of Providence, on the day and year above mentioned.
† Augustin M. Alexandre, Bishop of Nesqualy
Sr. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, Superior
Sr. Blandine of the Holy Angels, Secretary
In the role of Mistress of Novices, Mother Joseph was to instruct those sisters who had yet to pronounce religious vows of poverty, obedience and chastity, namely, Sisters Mary of the Precious Blood and Vincent de Paul. (By August of the following year, Sister Praxedes would assume the responsibility.) The depositary (treasurer) was to keep property and financial books, whereas the secretary was to serve as record keeper, annalist and necrologist.
The inclusion of Bishop A.M.A. Blanchet was recognition of his ecclesial and spiritual leadership among the sisters. As the mission grew and its work expanded, attendance in deliberations and other council meetings consisted exclusively of community members.
The House of Providence became the first community of women religious to take root in the Diocese of Nesqually (later renamed Diocese of Seattle), paving the way for other communities and congregations of women. Indeed, apart from Northwest indigenous societies, the Sisters of Providence is counted as one of the first and earliest organizations, to be founded in the region. They were not far behind the Hudson’s Bay Company, Washington territorial government, the Agricultural Society, the Northern Pacific Railroad, the Catholic Church, and Protestant denominations. Their place in the history of women in the West is assured and compelling.
From a core group of five, the community would multiply in membership, go farther in geographic reach, and divide their labors of charity and care.
Deliberations of the Provincial Council, 1856-1881. Provincial Council Records. Sacred Heart Province Collection. Providence Archives, Seattle, Washington.
Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor, 1925. Religious Community Collection. Providence Archives, Seattle, Washington.
Corporate History, 1856- . Sisters of Providence Corporations Collection. Providence Archives, Seattle, Washington.