Structure Type: built works - public buildings - schools - university buildings; built works - religious communities

Designers: [unspecified]

Dates: constructed 1961-1963

4135 Providence Drive SE
Issaquah, WA 98027

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In the 1940s, educators within the Roman Catholic Church in the US began to examine educational standards for nuns teaching in Catholic schools. Many called for broader educational curricula for sisters entering teaching, in addition to their relgious training. By the mid-1950s, "formation" curricula had been adopted, that called for five years of college, during which the first year was spent on a broad introduction to the arts and sciences. The Providence Heights Sisters Formation College opened on 07/21/1961, with an intital focus on producing teachers to fill about a dozen schools operated by the SIsters of Providence in the Puget Sound region. Its curriculim widened to enable nuns to be trained for a variety of charitable vocations in hospitals, nursing homes, and counseling programs, as well as schools. Nuns from four orders attended the college/moanstery. The church hierarchy solidly supported this new effort, as 10 archbishops and bishops appeared at the dedication ceremony for the Issaquah formation college. This included the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, the Most Rev. Egidio Vagnozzi (1906-1980).

The effort did not last. By 1971, the school was shut down, and the property put up for sale.

Building History

The Sisters of Providence Order, with its mother church in Montreal, set up its first school at Fort Vancouver, WA, in 1857. Over the years, the order expanded into healthcare and other charitable endeavors. In the early 1950s, an internal audit within the Roman Catholic church suggested that nuns had received poor training to teach, and sparked a local move in WA State to finance this new preparatory school for nuns.

Locally, the Sisters of Providence began envisioning this college for nuns in the early 1950s, prompted by larger discussions within the Catholic church; by the late 1940s, Sister Madeleva Wolff at Saint Mary's University in South Bend, IN, had begun to campaign for expanded educational expectations for teachers in Catholic schools. The theme of the 1949 convention of the National Catholic Educators Association in Philadelphia was "Relationships of Government, Religion and Education," and Sister Madeleva presented a speech entitled, "The Education of Our Young Religious Teachers," that stimulated significant discussion within church educational circles. The idea of creating a widened undergraduate curriculum in addition to religious studies became part of a nun's new intellectual "formation." A new curriculum for the education formation of nuns was completed at a national conference held at the Sisters of Providence Hospital in Everett, WA, in the summer of 1956. This impetus for better education for nuns was fostered by Pope Pius XII (1876-1958), who guided the Catholic Church between 1939 and his death. According to a 1961 article in the Seattle Times, the final decision to build the college was "'...a response to Pope Pius XII, who called on sisters to achieve professional competence equal to laymen as well as be trained in the spiritual life." (See Lane Smith, "Service of Order Recalled," Seattle Times, 07/22/1961, p. 2.) In 1957, the proposed college was put under the auspices of Seattle University. After raising about $4 million, the sisters broke ground for the Providence Heights Sisters Formation College in 1961 with classes beginning c. 1962 or 1963.

According to the Times article, the purpose for the college grew beyond acting as a normal school, but became broader in its educational focus: "The college will give sisters five years of training, preparing them for a liberal arts degree and fulfilling canon-law requirements on religious training. From there the sisters will go into professional services--hospitals, schools, homes for the aged, nurseries and other social agencies. The Sacred Heart Providence, a geographical unit of the order, operates 36 such institutions in Washington, Oregon, California and Alaska...." (See Lane Smith, "Service of Order Recalled," Seattle Times, 07/22/1961, p. 2.) This preparatory school for nuns was only one of two operating at the time, the other being the Saint Louis, MO-based Marillac College, founded by the Daughters of Charity Order in 1937. (Marillac operated under the auspices of De Paul University in Chicago.) Nuns from the Dominican Order (and two others) as well as the Sisters of Providence matriculated at Providence Heights.

The school's success was very short-lived during the tumultuous 1960s. Numerous social movements, most notably women's liberation, gained great influence during the era of protest caused by the Vietnam War. Increasingly, women began to reconsider how they would spend their lives, and began working outside the home, taking jobs in every field. No longer did women have to join a religious order, with its manifold sacrifices, to have a career. This improving secular environment for women helped to drain the pool of nuns available to the Roman Catholic Church. Due to dropping enrollments, the school closed c. 1970, and the campus, consisting of 243 acres, was put up for sale. The Sisters of Proviidence continued to use buildings on the site until about 1978, when the campus was sold to the Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI). The LBI bought the land for $4.5 million, and moved its operations to Issaquah from Seattle in 1979. By 1982, the LBI had finalized plans to build a retirement community on 180-acres of the land, a development known later as "Providence Point."

PCAD id: 19959