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Close friends Pat DeVries, Sister Betty McLellan, now in their 90s, living golden years at same retirement facility

UPDATED: Thu., June 10, 2021

Longtime friends Patricia DeVries, left, and Sister Betty McLellan are photographed with DeVries’ dog Clancy, a West Highland terrier.  (Nina Culver/For The Spokesman-Review)
Longtime friends Patricia DeVries, left, and Sister Betty McLellan are photographed with DeVries’ dog Clancy, a West Highland terrier. (Nina Culver/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Pat DeVries and Sister Betty McLellan were casual friends when they first met at Holy Names College decades ago, but even as their lives diverged onto different paths, the two women formed a strong, deep friendship that continues to this day.

DeVries, 90, grew up in Otis Orchards and went to Holy Names College in Spokane to become a teacher. McLellan, 93, grew up in Butte and planned to study sociology. “At that time, I wanted to go to a Catholic College and there wasn’t one nearby in Montana,” McLellan said.

The two met and bonded over their shared Halloween birthday. “I heard about someone who had the same birthday I did,” DeVries said. “I wanted to meet her. She was a junior and I was a frosh.”

The two were friendly, but not particularly close. DeVries left college to get married and started a family. McLellan switched her major to education to become a teacher and after she graduated, she became a Catholic nun.

McLellan said it was a college retreat that convinced her to consider entering the convent and becoming a nun. “I really admired and appreciated the sisters,” she said. “It was something I had resisted thinking about for a long time.”

DeVries would eventually have seven children with her husband Bill. When her son Patrick enrolled in first grade at Sacred Heart School, McLellan was his teacher. “The friendship came alive again,” DeVries said. “I remember going to Betty’s classroom after school just to visit.”

The Sisters of the Holy Names didn’t participate in many public activities at the time, McLellan said. That made her cherish her friendship with DeVries all the more. “We ended up having a lot of conversations, a lot,” she said. “Pat was always outgoing and interested in my life and the life of the sisters. In those days, we were more cloistered. We were quite strict back then.”

DeVries was a stay-at-home mother and her husband worked as a long-haul truck driver for Wheaton Van Lines for 10 years, which meant that he was only home for a visit every two months. DeVries said she remembers being sad when her children went back to school in the fall while other mothers she knew were celebrating it. “I loved the summer,” she said. “We had a good time.”

With her husband gone, her friendship with McLellan became even more important. “Our friendship was a blessing from the beginning,” DeVries said. “Betty is more of a sister to me, because I never had any.”

After Vatican II in the mid-1960’s, the nuns became freer to interact with people. It wasn’t unusual for DeVries to host several of the sisters, still in full habit, at her lake home. “Pat always included us,” McLellan said. “We shared good times and hard times.”

And their friendship continued to grow. “Pat always welcomed my friends and family to her home,” McLellan said. “My dad thought Pat was A No. 1 and she was.”

Along the way McLellan spent so much time with DeVries and her family that her children consider her a second mother, said DeVries’ daughter, Karen DeVries. “Betty would come along on family vacations with all seven kids,” she said. “She was a trooper.”

McLellan’s family lived far away, so DeVries and her family became McLellan’s family. “She helped raise the children,” DeVries said.

McLellan worked as a teacher for 30 years, then worked as an administrator for the Sisters of the Holy Names for another 30 years before retiring in 2016. McLellan said it just made sense to keep working.

“I had the energy, then, to do it,” she said. “When we retire, we don’t have grandkids to visit.”

Several years ago the Sisters of the Holy Names, who were all getting on in years, sold their convent and moved into the South Hill Village. DeVries moved to the same facility in January 2020 after giving up her home of 70 years, which was a difficult decision.

“I loved my house,” DeVries said. “It had lots of memories.”

“I had Sunday dinners there for more than 30 years,” McLellan said.

Still, getting to live down the hall from McLellan made the move easier for DeVries.

“That helped, because we eat dinner together and I know some of the other sisters,” she said.

As the women live out their retirement years together, they sometimes reflect on the importance of their lifelong friendship.

“It’s one of the greatest blessings of my life,” McLellan said. “You can’t buy friendship. You can’t even earn it. It’s a total gift and I am very, very grateful.”

DeVries said their friendship has also meant a great deal to her. “in all these years, we’ve never had an argument,” she said. “It’s been huge in my life because I didn’t have brothers and sisters.”

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Nina Culver can be reached at nculver47@gmail.com

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