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Franciscan sisters close counseling center

Franciscan Sister Pat Millen has been going through files, finding and repacking treasures and records from the time five Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia first came to Spokane in 1890 to open St. Joseph Orphanage. 

Sr. Pat Millen

Over the years their ministry developed into the St. Joseph Family Center, which has provided counseling, classes, hospitality and spiritual care since the 1980s and is now closing.

A few weeks ago, Sr. Pat took the adoption files of orphans to the Department of Child and Health Services to keep for people seeking information about their families.

The last day of programs and services at the St. Joseph Family Center was June 30. 

Anger management classes for men and women, parenting children in divorce classes and the parent project classes have been taken over by Northwest Mediation at 35 W. Main, Suite 230.  Two teachers will continue under that program.

Counselors Lorraine Costanza (953-8100) and Ed Hinson (435-2756) will continue to serve counseling clients through their private practices.  Sr. Pat said that most clients were on state insurance, which did not reimburse adequately to cover the cost of services, a major reason for the center closing.

“It was a sad decision, but the right one,” said Sr. Pat.

It’s sad for staff, three of whom are still looking for employment. It’s sad for the people the center served because they may not find the same quality of therapy.  It’s sad for the City of Spokane to lose a nonprofit serving the community since 1890, she said.

“It’s also part of the times with fewer women in religious service in Spokane.  At the cemetery, we can see the numbers of sisters who served the community,” she said.  “We are the remnant.”

Sr. Pat will continue to serve in Spokane, leaving her role as director and beginning as part-time justice, peace and integrity of creation coordinator for the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia on the West Coast.   By early November, she will work out of her apartment.

Sr. Pat already has been involved in several advocacy roles—the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium’s advocacy committee, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance’s public policy committee, the board of Habitat for Humanity, the board of Transitions, the Intercommunity for Peace and Justice Center Board and its Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, and the City of Spokane Community Housing and Human Services Strategic Planning Committee.

Sr. Elaine Thaden will still do vocational ministry in Spokane.  Sr. Joanne Clavel will stay in Spokane as director of the Franciscan sisters mission fund.  Sr. Florence Poch will continue at Kairos House.  Sr. Patty Novak is looking for a new ministry.

The center will close Sept. 30, and a decision has yet to be made about the facilities.  Meanwhile, Passages Family Support has renewed its lease through next October.  Sisters of Providence continue to rent a building.  The maintenance person will work until a decision is made.

The hospitality component will carry on under Sharon Eklund, the Franciscan Place director.  People and groups can rent the space by calling her at 995-7997.  Clare House will still be available for visiting professors and private retreats through Dec. 30.

Sr. Pat came to the center in July 2010, after working 10 years with Catholic Community Services in Tacoma as director of the Family Center in Bremerton.

“As Franciscans, we respond on several levels.  Providence sisters focused on education and health care.  Holy Names sisters focused on education.  Franciscans have responded to diverse needs, particularly needs of low-income, blue collar neighborhoods.  They still have five health care hospitals in the Puget Sound area. 

“As Franciscans, we respond to people who are not being served,” she said.  “That’s why we offered counseling for the working poor and court-ordered classes on anger management.”

Sr. Pat sees her new ministry as responding to Pope Francis’ call to care for the common home of people and the environment.

In this region, that will entail challenging coal and oil trains, and working for a carbon emissions tax.

She also will advocate for undocumented immigrants, refugees and Muslims.  Her Ukrainian grandparents came in the early 1900s and her Italian grandparents came in 1912.  She remembers experiencing discrimination against Italians growing up in New Jersey.

Sr. Pat entered the Sisters of St. Francis in 1978, earned a bachelor’s in religious studies and behavioral science from Neumann University in 1985 and a master’s in education and counseling at Loyola of Maryland in 1989 while serving as a guidance counselor at Baltimore Catholic High School.  From 1992 to 1995, she worked with Ministry of Caring in Wilmington, DE, served four years in social service programs in Alaska, and a year with Mercy Housing in California before serving at the Kitsap Family Center and in Bremerton. 

When Sr. Elaine retired in 2010 as director of St. Joseph Family Center, Sr. Pat was asked to apply.

Now she’s planning for the closing ritual liturgy, during which she will welcome people to share their memories as they tour the buildings and grounds.

Dave and Sue Rolando will lead music and Fr. Ty Schaff, whose sister Loretta Schaff is a Franciscan sister, will preside at the liturgy.  The service begins at 11 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 17.  A reception will follow.

The ceremony is for Sisters of St. Francis, companions, former members and people who served with them or were served by them.

For information, call 892-9241 for clinical records, and 995-7997 for hospitality.

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