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Our story begins
In September 1873 two Sisters of Charity of the House of Providence from Kingston, Ontario, Canada came to St. Jerome’s Church in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Once there, they asked pastor Father Patrick Harkin’s permission to solicit funds from his parishioners for their ministries back home. He agreed on the condition that once they returned to Canada, they ask their superiors to send Sisters open a mission in his city.

His proposal was accepted and four Sisters returned to Holyoke for that purpose on November 7, 1873. Within a week, they were caring for their first orphan and on December 2 of that year they admitted their first hospital patient.

The orphans and patients in their care quickly grew in number. And, when they were not tending to those in their House of Providence, they were making home visits to the poor, nursing them in their homes, spending nights with the dying, or preparing the dead for burial.

Two years later, Father Harkins asked the Sisters to teach in the parish’s boys school. Though not a work for which their community was founded, they agreed, and four more Sisters arrived to take up the task. Sister Mary of Providence (Catherine Horan), who in time would be called Mother Mary of Providence, the foundress of our community, was among them.

father harkins
Father Patrick Harkins was the pastor of St. Jerome’s Church in Holyoke, Mass, in 1873.

 

 

When the newer arrivals were free from school responsibilities, they helped the other Sisters with their never-ending work with orphans, the aged and the infirm. They even relieved their counterparts for night duty, whether at the House of Providence or elsewhere—for nursing through the night, praying with the dying, comforting the grieving, burying the dead, all were their works, too.

A historic petition
In 1892, the Bishop of the Springfield Diocese, of which Holyoke is a part, received permission from Rome to have a congregation of Providence Sisters based in Holyoke instead of Kingston. The Sisters who were missioned in Holyoke had the option of returning to their Motherhouse in Canada or remaining as members of our new community—the Sisters of Providence of Holyoke.

Thirty of these pioneer women religious, including Sister Mary of Providence, felt a call from Providence to remain in Holyoke. Others heard a different Providence call and returned to Kingston.

The next years were as grueling and rewarding as the years that preceded them. We opened numerous works of charity and made sharp inroads into alleviating the social needs of western and central Massachusetts.

File photo Sister in ministryOur ministries included several hospitals, schools of nursing, an orphanage, nursing homes, residences for working girls, homes for unwed mothers and day nurseries. Other social services of ours aided the poor and needy.

Later we rebuilt many of our institutions since some were more than 50 years old and others needed expansion or modernization. And, at the same time, we worked on obtaining the advanced educations we needed for the leadership roles our modernized, sophisticated health and human service ministries were going to demand.

In the 1950s, we became pioneers in much the same way as our first Kingston Sisters when we opened a small, rural hospital in Murphy, North Carolina.

As the years unfolded, we found ourselves in other ministries in that state including at St. Joseph of the Pines Hospital in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Today that ministry has grown into the St. Joseph of the Pines Health System with continuing care retirement communities and home and community based services.

Responding to changes
When Vatican II called for the renewal of religious life, we took that call seriously. We were ready to let go of our traditional and more ordered way of life to attend to the changing needs of a contemporary society. Gradually we adapted our traditional ministries and embraced new works.

In 1984, we brought the health care facilities we owned and operated together to form the Sisters of Providence Health System. Then some 15 years later, the Sisters of Providence Health System joined with the Eastern Mercy Health System and the Allegany Franciscan Health System to form Catholic Health East. That multi-institutional health system was in 11 states along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida. In 2013, Catholic Health East merged with Trinity Health, a system spanning ten states from Maryland to California.

Today, the Sisters of Providence Health System we founded in 1984 is a member of Trinity Health, the second largest Catholic health system in the nation. Trinity Health has 87,000 employees serving people in 21 states from Maryland to California. Its extensive network includes 82 hospitals, 89 continuing care facilities, and home health and hospice programs providing nearly 2.8 million visits annually.

Land of Providence

As time went on issues of global concern, such as hunger, poverty, racism, discrimination, care for the Earth, and peace caused us to deepen our focus on worldwide social issues. Today those issues and others are still of paramount concern for us. As one of our responses, we are committed to making all of our decisions based on their possible impact on women, Earth, and those who are poor.

Now, as we walk these early years of the 21st Century, we remain steadfast in our mission to be the face of our Provident God in our efforts to bring hope and healing to a hurting world.

 

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