Carolyn Pleny has a long history with Vancouver’s Providence Academy.
It’s where her grandmother and mother before her went to school; Pleny attended kindergarten and high school there. Now, in a twist of fate, she works in the room that used to be the Academy’s business office.
“When I was the littlest of girls, I remember my mother coming here to this window — it was split open, and there was a ledge,” Pleny said, gesturing toward the Dutch door that opens into the hallway. “I remember Mom writing her name on a check to pay our tuition.”
Pleny is a docent for The Historic Trust, which currently owns Providence Academy. As a part of the The Historic Trust, she helps facilitate tours, or “pilgrimages,” for employees of the Academy’s sister organization, Providence Health & Services.
At one such tour on Wednesday, Steven Poole and Jon Sturm, Providence Health & Services’ directors of mission integration, chronicled the Academy’s history and the journey of its founders, the Sisters of Providence. The sisters traveled from Montreal to Vancouver in late 1856. Two years after their arrival, they built St. Joseph Hospital, the first permanent hospital in the Pacific Northwest; the following year they founded Providence Health & Services. Fourteen years after that, Mother Joseph, the leader of the five sisters, designed and raised money for Providence Academy, which was built from 1873 to 1874.
Poole said that “hundreds, if not thousands” of Providence Health & Services employees had visited the Academy that shares their employer’s name.
“The connection really is that Mother Joseph, who brought Providence to the Northwest, created this place, and so this is really our heritage,” Poole said.
The chapel on the Academy’s second floor and the cemetery where Mother Joseph is buried, Poole added, are “our two very tangible connections to our earliest heritage.”
The Providence Health & Services employees on Wednesday’s tour expressed inspiration and gratitude at being able to walk the hallways where the sisters once walked.
“Being able to come here really allowed me to experience a continuation of the work that they started in Montreal,” said Lori Frank, director of PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) Services at Providence ElderPlace in Beaverton, Ore.
Sheryl Bruno, operations manager for Providence ElderPlace and a 22-year employee of the company, said that the tour was a reminder of why she does what she does.
“It reminds us of who we’re serving, which for us is the poor and the vulnerable,” Bruno said. “Having worked for Providence for so long, it’s always nice to get a refresher of that, and seeing where Mother Joseph was when she first came here was probably the best thing that could happen.”