Augmented Providence Academy

Digital media helps tell story of Mother Joseph

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



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Friday’s visitors to Providence Academy were introduced to augmented reality through a system that uses digital media to tell the story of Mother Joseph.

They also encountered what might be called “real” reality: women who graduated from Providence Academy more than 50 years ago. They include Carolyn Pleny and Klaras Ihnken, who can share their memories during docent-led tours.

Both visitor-friendly programs were rolled out during an open house hosted by The Historic Trust, a nonprofit that acquired the downtown Vancouver landmark and now is renovating it.

The event also observed the 161st anniversary of the pioneering nun’s arrival in Vancouver on Dec. 8, 1856.

Imagery of Mother Joseph will be a big part of the augmented reality experience. It features a mobile app created by the Creative Media and Digital Culture program at Washington State University Vancouver. Visitors will be able to use their smartphones or other mobile devices to access several interactive chapters of Academy history.

In addition to Mother Joseph, other episodes will feature the chapel, the Sacred Heart garden and the bell tower. Each episode will be linked to the actual place that represents that story. At a marker for the bell tower, a visitor can use the interactive app to digitally “pull” the bell rope; it will result in a recorded chime of the Academy bell.

Team members did a lot of research at the Providence Archives in Seattle, instructor Dene Grigar said.

“They were able to (digitally) recreate the entire room where Mother Joseph died.”

People who don’t have smart devices can access the same features through their computers by going to The Historic Trust website.

Project manager Johnny Fairchild, a senior at WSU Vancouver, said he was attracted to the project by Mother Joseph’s vision.

“To create something from nothing takes a special person,” said Fairchild, who will graduate this month.

Some personal narratives will be provided by a staff of 20 docents. Pleny, the lead docent, was a member of the school’s last graduating class, in 1966. During a walk-through of the upper floors Friday, Pleny recalled her first year in the place, when she was in kindergarten.

“The sisters weren’t allowed in public alone,” she said. “One sister had to go to the bank, but all the other adults were busy. She took me by the hand and we walked to the bank.”

Pleny’s family ties to Providence Academy go back even further than that. Her mother was a 1943 graduate. And, “My grandmother was in the Class of 1916,” Pleny said.

The docent office is just inside the front entrance of Providence Academy, 400 E. Evergreen Blvd., which gives Pleny another insight into the building’s past.

“It once was the principal’s office,” Pleny said.

Starting Jan. 2, the docent’s office will be regularly staffed from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Other than her 50th reunion last year, Pleny hadn’t spent much time in the building over the last 50 years.

“I’ve been to a couple of weddings” in the chapel, she said.

And now, “it’s exciting” to be part of the building’s renaissance, Pleny said. “It’s coming alive again. It was starting to droop.”

A new interpretive installation also was unveiled, featuring some artifacts and panels that tell the story of the Sisters of Providence over the span of 140 years across the West and southern Canada.