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Sisters’ classroom is now the world

By Mary Stamp

Since three Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM) arrived by train on June 25, 1888, to teach at Our Lady of Lourdes’ new school in Spokane Falls, Holy Names sisters have founded seven education institutions, taught at eight parish schools and diversified beyond classrooms to serve people and advocate for justice.

Mary Ann Farley

Mary Ann Farley, SNJM, recounts her experiences and 125 years of SNJM in area.

“Once, the classroom was our world.  Now the world is our classroom,” said Sister Mary Ann Farley, SNJM, community director of the Convent of the Holy Names at 2911 W. Ft. Wright Dr.

Their ministries now include collaborating with other women religious to serve underserved women in Spokane through the Transitions programs and to be a voice as stockholders calling for just practices at corporations’ annual meetings.

The Holy Names Sisters are planning a public celebration of their 125th anniversary on Oct. 6, the feast of the SNJM’s foundress, at St. Aloysius Church, 330 E. Boone.

“Blessed Marie Rose Durocher of Longueuil, Quebec, founded the order in 1843 for the mission of education, especially of girls,” said Mary Ann.

The sisters were “the backbone of education ministry” in the Diocese of Nesqually/Nisqually that split to form the Diocese of Spokane in 1913. 

In 1859, 12 sisters came from Montreal around South America’s Cape Horn to Portland.  The provincial superior in Portland sent sisters to Spokane. 

Three arrived at Lourdes in a horse-drawn carriage and went inside.  In a Wild West scenario, a dog frightened the horse.  It ran down the street.  The driver cursed the horse.  A policeman fired a shot.

“The sisters sat pale in the pews, wondering about the place where they had come,” said Mary Ann.

Father Joseph Cataldo, SJ, who founded Gonzaga University 125 years ago, had requested Holy Names sisters to teach.  Sisters of Providence, who came for health care ministry, welcomed them.

In September, they opened their school on Main Street beside Lourdes with 102 students.  Three more sisters arrived by the end of the year after enrollment tripled.  In 1891, the Academy of the Holy Names was built in the Sinto Addition. After 80 years, in which thousands of students were taught in that building at 1216 N. Superior, it became the Academy Apartments for seniors.

More sisters came.  In 1914, there were 62 sisters in the Oregon-Washington Province.  By 1962, when the province divided by state, there were 900.  Seven years ago, Washington, Oregon, California, New York/Florida and Ontario provinces formed the U.S.-Ontario Province.  Other provinces are Manitoba, Quebec, Africa and the Mission Sector.  Of 1,300 active and retired Holy Names sisters worldwide, 600 are in the U.S.-Ontario Province.

When Mary Ann attended St. Aloysius School in the 1950s, there were 800 students, and only two lay teachers. 

“When I started to teach in 1964, my salary was $30 a month.  Our lodging, utilities and furniture were provided.  We pooled money for food and lived  simply, better than early sisters’ diet of potatoes, onions and rice.  We each had two dresses.  One car was enough for 20 of us, because we lived next door to our ministry.

“We lived in a cloister in peace, quiet and renewal, but we are an apostolic community.  So although our lives of prayer, spiritual exercises and community are a priority, our ministries sometimes require that we adapt our schedules to accommodate the needs of others,” she said. 

After graduating from Holy Names Academy in 1957 at 17, she entered the order and went to the SNJM center at Marylhurst, Oregon.  After formation and two years of college, she worked in the infirmary until she pronounced her last vows.  When the province divided, there was no infirmary in Washington.  So she did a crash course on teaching.

Mary Ann taught first grade for six years at two parish schools in Seattle, and first grade for four years in Richland.  She earned a master’s in education in 1972 from Eastern Washington University.  After earning a master’s in curriculum, she was a principal for five years at St. Francis of Assisi and seven years at All Saints Primary in Spokane.

Evenings and summers she earned a master’s in moral theology and ethics at Gonzaga University.  After a year of clinical pastoral education at Deaconess, she was director of pastoral care and ethics 11 years at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, where she dealt with end-of-life ethical issues, and offered spiritual support to patients and families through pastoral visits and support groups.

In 1998, she returned to Spokane to serve at the convent, where she supports sisters as they lead the lives they choose.  She arranges daily Mass, annual retreats and other opportunities for retired sisters who live there.

“People talk of serving the poor.  No one is more vulnerable than elderly people unable to be independent,” Mary Ann said.  “At the convent, 17 are in the care center.”

She finds it life-giving to learn from the 42 “wisdom women” at the convent, the home for sisters who served or had roots in the former Washington Province.

Mary Ann said the community lost many sisters in the 1960s and 1970s, both those who missed having a stable, tight-knit community, and those called to other ministries.  Those who stayed find energy in the freedom to pursue their dreams for ministry in the context and support of the community, she said. 

The main change since Mary Ann entered is that there is more personal choice with accountability to the community. 

“How I live our charism and values is my responsibility, being open to be challenged by the community,” she said.

Locally, sisters volunteer at Our Place, The Fig Tree, the Women’s and Children’s Free Restaurant, Pax Christi and the Spokane Alliance.  They do spiritual direction, retreats, advocacy, chaplaincy, peace and justice education, aging and spirituality workshops, care of creation, music and art, ministries of presence and the apostolate of prayer. Some are English conversation partners with Japanese students at Mukogawa. Some from here serve in Boston, New York and Arizona.

In 1976, Sister Mary Hurley opened a community home for developmentally disabled men.  It was turned over to L’Arche in 1986.

In 1984, Holy Names sisters established Mississippi Mission programs—an early childhood education center and a service center—with poor black families in Jonestown, Miss. 

For several years, the convent has been raising funds to support AIDS orphans in the SNJM Province in Lesotho.

In 1985, Dominican Sisters of Spokane helped fund expansion of the care center.

In 1986, Miriam’s House of Transition for abused women opened as a collaborative venture of Dominican, Franciscan, Good Shepherd, Providence and Holy Names communities.

Holy Names sisters have also supported ministries to Hispanics in Central Washington and to people in Haiti.

“Living in community is as much a decision as living in any relationship.  With 42 living in the house in peace, it gives me hope for peace in the world,” Mary Ann said. 

Working in schools, a hospital and the convent, she has helped people find the holy in their lives.

“God calls us to wholeness, goodness and holiness,” she said.  “Wired to love, we need to be open to the fullness of life and to opportunities to grow.”

When Holy Names sisters first came to Spokane, they wore plain, matching dresses with capes and bonnets like what lower- and middle-income women then wore.  Over the years, as they wore the same style, they stood out, she said.

In the 1960s and 1970s, they again began to wear clothing like what contemporary lower- and middle-income women wore.  No longer dressing alike, they do not stand out. 

While less visible in dress, she said, Holy Names sisters make their presence known in other ways.

They pool investments through the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, an arm of the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, formed in 1990, so they can change the world and challenge systemic injustices.

Their representatives on corporate boards have challenged such corporations as Walmart on the discrepancy between pay of CEOs and workers, accountability in the global supply chain, workplace inclusiveness and sustainability practices; Glaxo SmithKline, Pfizer and Merck on global health; Halliburton on human rights; Hersheys on the food supply chain and child labor; General Electric on lobbying expenditures, and Chevron on environmental impact and groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracking. 

Holy Names sisters founded UNAIMA, non-governmental organization composed of 16 religious communities. They work to stop trafficking of women and to ensure that everyone has access to potable water.

Holy Names sisters’ legacy of education and formation in Catholic faith, began with the founding of the Holy Names Academy at Our Lady of Lourdes in 1889 and moving it to N. Superior St. in 1891.   

They started the two-year Holy Names Normal School in 1907 in the Academy.  It became the four-year Holy Names Liberal Arts College in 1939, moved to Fort Wright in 1960, and was renamed Fort Wright College of the Holy Names in 1963.  When Fort Wright College closed in 1982, sisters retained Holy Names Music Center on campus. That year, they opened Heritage College for rural, multicultural students on the Yakama Reservation in Toppenish.

The Convent for the Holy Names was built in 1967 on 57 acres of former Fort Wright property they purchased.

Sisters taught in schools of Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Patrick, St. Aloysius, Sacred Heart, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Paschal parishes in Spokane, St. Boniface in Uniontown, Holy Rosary in Pomeroy and Christ the King in Richland.

“For more than 50 years, we have been involved with lay people in the parishes, doing Bible studies, religious education and advocacy,” she said.  “As our numbers decrease, lay men and women have increasingly become teachers and role models.  Our teaching and ministry continue to have impact locally and globally.”

Since 1978, there have been Holy Names associates, with 63 lay men and women now serving in Spokane. Associates identify with the SNJM charism, support and are involved in SNJM ministries.

For information, call 328-4310.

Copyright © June 2013 - The Fig Tree