Sister Mary of the Precious Blood

Mary of the Precious Blood, S.P., circa 1856

Foundress from America, Educator of the English Language

Helen Norton, a native of New York born October 10, 1838, was one of two young sisters among the foundresses in 1856. She applied to enter the community at age 18, but Mother Caron, superior general, felt Helen needed more life experiences and encouraged her to continue teaching English at St. Isidore, a Providence school at Long Point. When Mother Caron was looking for sisters to send to Washington Territory at Fort Vancouver in 1856, she recalled that Helen was an English teacher, a quality that would be much needed in this English-speaking territory. Helen was granted permission to enter as a postulant on October 28, 1856, and to travel to Fort Vancouver where she would complete her novitiate. Before the departure for the West, Bishop Ignace Bourget gave Sister Norton her name in religion: Sister Mary of the Precious Blood.

On December 21, 1856, Mother Joseph wrote to Mother Caron about each of the sisters, including this statement about the youngest postulant,"Sister Mary of the Precious Blood has a great deal of good will; her piety is cool, but I believe she is capable of improving."

On March 25, 1857, Sister Mary of the Precious Blood received the Holy Habit at the Providence Novitiate in Vancouver, where she taught English to the boarders at Providence Academy and assisted with the chores. She professed vows September 19, 1858, and was assigned to teach English. She later became foundress of the Providence St. Joseph School in Steilacoom, then returned to Vancouver and became secretary of the vicariate and first-grade teacher at Providence Academy. After 21 years of ministry in the West, Sister Mary was diagnosed with typhoid fever and died October 29, 1877, at the age of 39. She is buried at St. James Acres, Vancouver, Washington.

Excerpted from a chapter in Sister Barbara Schamber's unpublished manuscript history of the Sisters of Providence in the West for the community's sesquicentennial.