Five Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia continue the congregation’s presence in Spokane, 125 years after the first five sisters came in 1890.
Sisters Elaine Thaden, Patricia Novak, Pat Millen, Joanne Clavel and Florence Poch will celebrate 125 years of service at an 11 a.m. Mass, followed by a reception, on Oct. 24 at St. Charles Parish, 4515 N. Alberta St. Bishop Thomas Daly will preside.
Much of the sisters’ work has focused on ministering to children and families.
Aware of the plight of the poor and oppressed, the sisters joined “the struggle to relieve suffering and to affect systemic change,” said Clavel. “Like Francis and Clare of Assisi, we do this as instruments of reconciliation and walk in our times as messengers of God’s peace.”
Many of the programs the sisters started are still helping families today.
Among their first acts in Spokane was to open St. Joseph Orphanage in October 1890.
There were no funds to meet expenses, said Clavel, so true to their founder, the sisters begged. Sister Oswalda went by horse and buggy, begging for food from fruit and vegetable ranchers.
By the end of 1890, there were 40 children. The city and county each donated $100 a month. Each year more children came. Many had lost both parents to disease or accidents, or their parents left seeking jobs.
“St Joseph’s helped many children grow into loving, responsible young adults,” Clavel said.
In the 1970s, Washington state changed the way it took care of children in need and required St. Joseph Orphanage to provide group homes for children and to keep siblings together. The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia built five houses behind the former four-story brick orphanage, which became St. Joseph Children’s Home.
In 1982, with the state’s decision to place children in foster homes, the mission of St. Joseph Children’s Home ended.
Seeking ways to continue to minister to children and families, after months of discernment, prayer and planning, the sisters started what is now St. Joseph Family Center in buildings of the home.
Their idea was for it to be a holistic center of healing, attending to body, mind and spirit with professional counseling, spirituality and healing arts programs.
“I am aware I am walking in the footsteps of the first sisters who came to Spokane in 1890,” said Clavel, who coordinates financial and human resources for the center. “Our ministries are the same: to help families in need.”
Novak, who taught at St. Charles School, later did vocational ministry for eight years. That gave her a foundation for her spiritual ministry at the Franciscan Place of St. Joseph Family Center. She develops and facilitates programs and retreats, as well as being a spiritual director.
She said she shares God’s unconditional love and the contemplative spirit she experienced growing up in Klamath Falls, Oregon, where she was taught by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.
“People are looking for space and time to experience the beautiful, quiet and holy, which they can do at the Franciscan Place,” Novak said.
“The underlying thread of the past 125 years has been the trust the Sisters have in God’s faithfulness,” Clavel said.
“While we celebrate all that has been in the past, we say ‘yes’ to all that the future holds as we place our trust in the same God who long ago called the Sisters of St. Francis from Philadelphia to the city that is now Spokane,” she said.
For more information, call (509) 270-3616.
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