Mother Joseph Of The Sacred Heart (Esther Pariseau), 1823-1902

A Timeless Life

At her 50th anniversary as a Sister of Providence, Mother Joseph's companions honored her for specific talents for which she had become known: seamstress, carpenter, painter, sculptor, blacksmith, farmer, watchmaker, locksmith, architect and mechanic. But the description they thought fit her best was "builder of services," for she spent her life seeing to it that the poor were cared for, the homeless sheltered, the sick tended, the hungry fed. All the rest--the building and the sculpting, the sewing and the painting, the farming and the begging--were done to carry out this goal of service.

Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart was born Esther Pariseau on April 16, 1823 in St. Elzéar, Quebec. In 1856, thirteen years after entering the Sisters of Providence, she and four companions traveled 6,000 miles from Montreal to the distant Washington Territory. Compassionate women of Emilie Gamelin, their works were soon directed to service--caring for orphans and the elderly, educating youth, and visiting and healing the sick.

During the 46 years Mother Joseph established, designed, and built institutions of education, health care and social service, she employed all her professional and personal skills to meet the ever-present need for finances, persons to share the work, and space to expand. As the sisters' architect, Mother Joseph acquired a reputation for quality craftsmanship. Heavily dependent on donations to support their works of charity, she and other sisters conducted arduous begging tours to mines and lumber camps throughout the West. Somehow she also found time to shower attention on the small orphan children at Providence Academy; throughout life, many recalled her loving concern.

Mother Joseph was a woman of talent and knowledge who devoted her life to the young, sick and poor until her death in Vancouver in 1902. Her compassion and vision were unlimited. She was many things to different people: intense, motherly, resourceful, prayerful, strong willed, artistic, but above all, a woman of faith in Providence.

A Living Legacy

Mother Joseph's contributions to the West continue to be recognized today. In 1980, she was named as Washington State's second representative in National Statuary Hall, in Washington, D.C. In 1999, at the request of a group of Vancouver sixth-grade students, the legislature passed a bill declaring her birthday, April 16, as Mother Joseph Day in Washington State. And on September 19, 2000, she was inducted into the Puget Sound Business Hall of Fame.

The corporation Mother Joseph established in 1859 is acknowledged as a "Pioneer Corporation in Washington State" and has developed into two major health systems: Providence Health System in Alaska, Western Washington, Oregon and California, and Providence Services in Eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Just as Mother Joseph guided the establishment of the religious community in the unsettled West, her name is invoked for another pioneering movement in the region. The two western provinces of the Sisters of Providence, Sacred Heart Province and St. Ignatius Province, united under one administration until 1891, rejoined to form a new province on January 1, 2000. By choosing the name "Mother Joseph Province," the sisters embrace Mother Joseph's legacy as a model for the religious community as it moves forward into the 21st century.

April 28, 2000

Centennial Exhibit: The Passing of a Pioneer