Former Vancouver teacher will oversee nuns across West

Joseph Province's new leader has local ties

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 
photoSister Judith Desmarais

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Mother Joseph Province is named for the nun who arrived in Vancouver, with four other companions, on Dec. 8, 1856.

A former Vancouver second- and third-grade teacher has been chosen by the Sisters of Providence to become provincial superior of the Mother Joseph Province.

Sister Judith Desmarais taught third grade in Vancouver at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School from 1967 to 1969, then taught third grade and second grade at St. Joseph Catholic School from 1969-1974.

Sister Desmarais (pronounced "Demo-ray") currently is one of three provincial counselors based in Renton.

In her new role, she will be the top administrator of a province that includes Alaska, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and El Salvador.

Sister Desmarais has a couple of particular causes, including a long-standing focus that started when she was in Vancouver.

"While at St. Joseph, I worked with Catholic students at the Washington State School for the Deaf," she said.

Along with a group of Lutherans who worked with students from their faith, "We had religious education classes one evening a week," she said, "and we transported some to Mass on Sundays.

"I took some initial sign language classes in the Vancouver area -- pretty basic," she said.

After moving to Seattle in 1974, Sister Desmarais took sign-language training at Seattle Central Community College and eventually spent 14 years as director of ministry for the deaf.

Sister Desmarais also became involved in the fight against human trafficking as a member of the board of UNANIMA International. Affiliated with the United Nations, the organization consists of 17 orders of Catholic nuns who work in 72 countries, addressing issues that include women in poverty, refugees and immigrants.

"In ministering with the deaf, I saw a justice issue," Sister Desmarais said. The international collaboration with 16 other orders of religious women addresses issues of peace, justice and human dignity, she said.

And, Sister Desmarais added, she will lead nuns working in traditional fields such as parish ministries and the Providence health care system.

The other three provinces are headquartered in Montreal, Quebec; Edmonton, Alberta; and Santiago, Chile.