The journey to a mission with Sisters Joseph of the Sacred Heart, Praxedes of Providence, Blandine of the Holy Angels, Vincent de Paul and Mary of the Precious Blood, ends where it began—with the man who asked the question: Who can come with him to provide for the needs of the church in the Pacific Northwest?
Bishop A.M.A. Blanchet, in his mandate to his “daughters” now settled at the Vancouver mission, formally enjoined them to aid him in building the Catholic Church in the territory. That meant providing religious and civil education, care of the poor and sick, ministering to native peoples, and maintenance of the mission and its cathedral.
Blanchet’s decree was both an acknowledgement of the Vancouver sisters’ origins as well as a call to action. It pronounced a commitment from him and the church to nurture the nascent community of Providence, as well as to give it independence in living the religious life and implementing its works. Three years later, on March 19, 1859, a legal corporate entity certified by the Washington Territorial legislature was born, solidifying the religious institution’s autonomy in the public arena and its role in the community at large. Successors of that early incorporation have been many. Its descendants today are Mother Joseph Province and the sponsored ministry of Providence Health & Services.
Blanchet’s support and license in exchange for the religious community’s expertise and labor provided a model for others who sought out the sisters for their parishes, towns and cities. In the coming decades, petitions for the women religious came from many quarters: clergy, civic leaders, families, workers, Catholics, non-Catholics, Native Americans. The succeeding 150 years saw their ministries spread to six western American states and to western Canada. In the 20th century, new journeys to evolving missions in the Philippines and El Salvador were launched.
The mandate became a challenge that the foundresses, and the hundreds of sisters who followed them, accepted and responded to time and time again. The answer to Blanchet’s question has been a resounding, “Yes! We will come!”
Detail of the original 1856 decree, in French, by A.M.A. Blanchet addressing the recently settled foundresses of the Sisters of Providence in the West.
A translation of Blanchet's mandate follows:
Our Augustin Magloire Alexandre Blanchet, by the mercy of God and the grace of the Holy See, the Bishop of Nesqually; and our very dear daughters, the Sisters of Charity of Our Diocese; Greetings and Benedictions in Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
To Our Very Dear Daughters
From the very instant when, by God’s admirable judgments, we saw ourself laden with the heavy burden of the episcopal dignity, we endeavored to seek means, as well as cooperators who can help us in the accomplishment of our formidable duties. A religious establishment was not the least on which we fixed our attention.
We considered that civil and Christian education of the young, together with the care of the poor and the sick would contribute greatly in forming families where our holy Religion would be known and practiced, as well as for the return of those who have abandoned their Religion together with virtue and truth.
We have not forgotten the poor Indians whom Divine Providence has confided to our care in a very special manner; the establishment we wanted to found on the land of our residence appeared to us like a cradle which would see Daughters filled with the spirit of their vocation and thus bring to these poor people, with the knowledge of the love of their Creator and Redeemer, how to live honestly among themselves and with their neighbors.
To these motives another came to our mind and this made us feel more deeply the need of a Religious Community in our Diocese to whom we could confide the care of our residence and of the sacristy of our Cathedral.
It was only after having thought over these considerations, weighed those motives, that we decided to found a religious house. There only remained to choose a Religious Order who would reflect our point of view in the most favorable manner. Our eyes and our heart were directed, first of all, towards the Daughters which the pious and holy Bishop of Montreal formed and established in his episcopal city to carry out works similar to those needed in our Diocese, and who are called “Sisters of Charity” or “of Providence.”
We requested of the illustrious Founder to grant us a foundation with those Religious. After due reflection, the Prelate acceded to our wishes; your Community, to whom it was presented, accepted joyfully, promptly and acknowledged their happiness at being chosen to contribute to the glory of God and to the salvation of souls confided to our pastoral vigilance.
The Sisters destined for this mission came here, but, alas!...We do not ignore, my very dear Daughters, what happened later. In spite of the immense sacrifices that we had imposed on ourselves, we saw in one moment our undertakings rendered null and ineffective.
Notwithstanding this cruel trial, we never gave up on the hope of seeing our wishes fulfilled. So, on going to Canada again, we renewed our pleadings to your Superiors for another establishment of your Institute which we preferred to all others as the one most suitable for the accomplishment of our plans. We were not flattered by the lack of encouragement we received. You are not unaware of the obstacles thrown in our way, yet we can truly affirm that our hope seemed to increase in proportion to the impediments against this foundation.
Finally, the decision we were soliciting most heartily filled us with joy. We are now happy to tell you truthfully that we are overwhelmed with joy on seeing you settled in the place of our residence.
We are convinced that through your devotedness you imposed sacrifices very costly to your hearts. We are witnessed the sufferings you experienced to reach the Mission destined for you by Divine Providence. We testify most willingly to your resignation, to your courage, and the good dispositions which were evident on all occasions from the moment you bid adieu to your Community. Our Lord will bless you in return and that, without a doubt.
As for ourselves, we consider December 8th, the day of your arrival, a day with which is connected very precious souvenirs, as an epoch of blessings, of graces, and of spiritual joy.
Although you know our dispositions in your regard, my very dear Daughters, we wanted to tell you we shall endeavor to establish your Mission in such a manner that you will be able to practice of the works and Rules of your Institute and to live in perfect security according to the spirit of your Institute. Finally, we grant you the same privileges, graces, or favors enjoyed by your Mother House as though they were enumerated here in a special manner.
We are well aware that the Father of Darkness will not slumber but rather he will be watchful and try to destroy the work of the Lord; however, we are confident that Divine Providence will perfect in you the work it has begun.
Courage, my very dear Daughters, be ready to do battle against the enemy of all good. Have an unlimited confidence in Our Lord Jesus Christ whom you have embraced as your Spouse. He will battle for you. Did He not conquer the world and the devil? It is through Him, in Him, that we shall have victory over hell. The Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of Our Savior, and also our Mother whom you chose to honor together with the Holy Angels, patrons of your establishment, will protect you. Under their guardianship what have you to fear?
Finally, never forget the heroic sentiments which prompted you to come to these remote regions, and also calling to mind the works of Saint Bernard, which you can easily apply to yourselves: “Why did I come here?” You shall thus grow in virtue, in devotedness, and you shall never betray your beautiful title of the “Devoted Daughters of Saint Vincent de Paul,” which you have preferred to all others on the day of your profession.
Receive, my very dear Daughters, our pastoral blessing which we give you with all our heart as the pledge of that which Divine Goodness will shower on you unceasingly.
May the present mandate be read in chapter the first holy day after its reception.
Given at our residence in Vancouver, under our seal and signature and the counter-signature of our Secretary, the thirty-first of December in the year of Our Lord, eighteen hundred fifty-six.
† Augustin M. Al., Bishop of Nesqually
By Monsignor Louis Rossi, Priest Pro-Secretary
[Translated by Flore Marguerite Heroux, S.P., 1980]
Christmas in Vancouver, Dec. 25, 1856
The Institute of Providence: History of the Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor Known as the Sisters of Providence, Sisters of Providence of Montreal, vols. II and V (1949)
A.M.A. Blanchet Mandate, 1856. A.M.A. Blanchet Correspondence. Religious Community Collection. Providence Archives, Seattle, Washington.