Holy Family School -- The Love of Christ Impels Us
Abstract: A few years after the Sisters of Providence moved their Provincial Administration from Vancouver, Washington, to Seattle, they were pleased to extend their education ministry to Holy Family School, which opened in 1927. Over the next sixty-five years, more than one hundred and fifty sisters taught at the school, establishing a deep and lasting bond between the parish and the religious community.
Early in 1926, the Sisters of Providence accepted administration of the new Holy Family School at the request of the Reverend John F. Gibboney, founding Pastor of Holy Family Parish. Located about five miles south of the sisters’ new provincial office, novitiate, and residence at Mount St. Vincent, Holy Family became the community’s first parochial school in Seattle. In gratitude to the community and to express his own faith in Providence, Father Gibboney selected the sisters’ motto, Caritas Christi Urget Nos (The Charity of Christ Impels Us), to guide the new school.
Holy Family School opened September 6, 1927, with 110 students enrolled. Five sisters were assigned to the school: Sisters Ignatius of Jesus, Superior and teacher of the fifth and six grades; Judith, first grade; Celine Marie, second grade; Dorothy Raridan, third and fourth grades; and Mary Afra, music. As a postulant, Sister Raridan’s assignment was temporary, and she was replaced after a few months by Sister Elenita.
During the first year, the sisters lived at Mount St. Vincent, commuting to the school by city bus. In the fall of 1928, they happily moved into the original parish social hall, which had been remodeled as a convent. Given the demands of the school day, the difficulty of the commute, and their schedule of prayer and spiritual reading, they found it much more convenient to live on the school grounds.
Holy Family Parish was one of the city’s poorest, but the parishioners were steadfast in their support of the school. The sisters worked with the parents and outside benefactors to assure that all students had proper nutrition, clothing, and medical care. Soon, Holy Family was offering a well-balanced education, with the normal academic and religious program enhanced by music, orchestra, drama, physical education, and vocational training for the older boys. Enrollment grew steadily, so that by the fourth year, there were 172 students in eight grades.
The effects of the Great Depression were felt strongly in Holy Family Parish, and for a time it was feared that the school would close. Classes were grouped together on the first floor, so that the entire building would not have to be heated, and the community agreed to a temporary reduction in the sisters’ salaries. In their chronicles, the sisters give credit to the intervention of St. Joseph, as well as many earthly benefactors for the survival of the school.
Holy Family School, Seattle, Washington3When the Reverend Ailbe M. McGrath was named pastor of Holy Family Parish in 1936, he asked the sisters to move back to Mount St. Vincent and negotiated a new contract with the community. The sisters’ return to the Mount eased the financial burden of the parish and made it possible for Father McGrath to remodel the vacated convent for his own residence. (Previous pastors had lived in cramped quarters behind the sacristy of the church.) The sisters rode the school bus in the mornings, but it was necessary to arrange a special city bus to take them home at the end of the day. Although this change was difficult for the sisters, they soon realized that Father McGrath was committed to saving the school and to reducing the crushing debt of the parish. Within a few months, he was able to begin paying the sisters’ full salaries in advance, “an unheard of precedent,” according to the chronicles. As soon as the debt was paid, Father McGrath began planning for construction of a new convent, but it was not finished until March 17, 1949.
Because of the school’s proximity to Mount St. Vincent, many young sisters did their student teaching at Holy Family. The postulants and novices made regular visits to both the old and the new convent, and the girls were invited to visit the sisters at the Mount. In 1941, Margaret Charboneau was the first alumna to make her vows as a Sister of Providence, becoming Sister Joan Frances. She was followed by several other young women over the years, further strengthening the bonds between the sisters and the school.
Enrollment at the school increased rapidly during the war years, due to better financial conditions, an influx of defense workers into the parish, and new government housing projects in the area. Classrooms were added in the basement and then in two portable buildings to accommodate hundreds of new students. By the 1954-1955 school year, Holy Family School comprised 736 students, fifteen crowded classrooms, and a staff of thirteen sisters and four lay teachers. The decade also saw construction of a new residence for the priests and a beautiful Romanesque church with its landmark bell tower.
In the early 1960s, enrollment fell to a more manageable level with the opening of parochial schools in nearby St. Bernadette and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parishes. Gradually, with fewer young sisters available and many experienced teachers retiring or moving into other ministries, the religious community began reducing the number of sisters assigned to the school. Holy Family seems to have avoided much of the conflict experienced in other parish schools during the post-Vatican II era, and the transition to a lay principal in 1969 was relatively smooth. The convent closed in the summer of 1972, when the sisters chose to move into smaller living situations. Although this marked the end of the formal staffing arrangement, individual Sisters of Providence served on the faculty at various times into the early 1990s.
Guided now by a dedicated lay staff, Holy Family School continues to evolve with the times to meet the challenges and further the mission of Catholic education within a vibrant, multicultural community.
The above text was taken from the archives of the Sisters of Providence: http://www2.providence.org/phs/archives/collections/Institutions/Documents/146FindingAid.pdf