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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sisters still serving after St. Joseph center closes

The Fig Tree

Franciscan Sister Pat Millen has been going through files and finding and repacking treasures and records from the time five Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia first came to Spokane in 1890 to open St. Joseph Orphanage.

Over the years, the ministry developed into the St. Joseph Family Center, which has provided counseling, classes, hospitality and spiritual care since the 1980s. Now it’s closing.

A few weeks ago, Millen took the adoption files of orphans to the Department of Child and Health Services to be kept for people seeking information about their families.

The last day of programs and services at the St. Joseph Family Center was June 30, and the center will close for good Sept. 30.

Classes on anger management, parenting children in divorce and the Parent Project have been taken over by Northwest Mediation at 35 W. Main Ave., Suite 230. Two teachers will continue under that program.

Millen said most clients were on state insurance, which did not reimburse adequately to cover the cost of services – a major reason the center is closing.

“It was a sad decision, but the right one,” she said.

The decision is still unfortunate, she said, because Spokane is losing a nonprofit that has served the community for over 125 years, and the people the center served may not find the same quality of therapy. Also, three members of the staff are still looking for new jobs, she said.

“It’s also part of the times with fewer women in religious service in Spokane. At the cemetery, we can see the numbers of sisters who served the community,” she said. “We are the remnant.”

Millen will continue to serve in Spokane, leaving her role as director and beginning as part-time justice, peace and integrity of creation coordinator for the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia on the West Coast. By early November, she will work out of her apartment.

Millen already has been involved in several advocacy roles – the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium’s advocacy committee, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance’s public policy committee, the board of Habitat for Humanity, the board of Transitions, the Intercommunity for Peace and Justice Center board and its Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, and the City of Spokane Community Housing and Human Services Strategic Planning Committee.

Sister Elaine Thaden will still do vocational ministry in Spokane. Sister Joanne Clavel will stay in Spokane as director of the Franciscan sisters mission fund. Sister Florence Poch will continue at Kairos House. Sister Patty Novak is looking for a new ministry.

Passages Family Support has renewed its lease through next October. Sisters of Providence continue to rent a building.

The hospitality component will carry on under Sharon Eklund, the Franciscan Place director. People and groups can rent the space by calling her at (509) 995-7997. Clare House will still be available for visiting professors and private retreats through Dec. 30.

Counselors Lorraine Costanza, (509) 953-8100, and Ed Hinson, (509) 435-2756, will continue to serve clients through their private practices.

Millen came to the center in July 2010 after working 10 years with Catholic Community Services in Tacoma as director of the Family Center in Bremerton.

“As Franciscans, we respond on several levels,” she said. “Providence sisters focused on education and health care. Holy Names sisters focused on education. Franciscans have responded to diverse needs, particularly needs of low-income, blue-collar neighborhoods. They still have five health care hospitals in the Puget Sound area.

“As Franciscans, we respond to people who are not being served. That’s why we offered counseling for the working poor and court-ordered classes on anger management.”

Millen sees her new ministry as responding to Pope Francis’ call to care for the common home of people and the environment.

In this region, that will entail challenging coal and oil trains, and working for a carbon emissions tax.

She also will advocate for undocumented immigrants, refugees and Muslims.

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