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Providence sister preserves compassion in health care

By Yvonne Lopez-Morton

As the only Sister of Providence employed at Sacred Heart Medical Center and Children’s Hospital, Rosalie Locati said her calling is to honor founder Mother Joseph’s vision to help the poor and vulnerable.

Her goal is to preserve the tradition of compassionate health care established in Spokane 125 years ago.

Sister Rosalie Locati
Providence Sister Rosalie Locati tells Sacred Heart story.

Sr. Rosalie, who has been director of mission and values for Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Children’s Hospital since 2000, continues to offer guidance to medical and operational staff on how to continue the sisters’ mission to reveal God’s love for all through compassionate service.

“We have a mandate for employees and physicians at Providence to be true to our mission,” she said. “Because I know the Sacred Heart story, my gift is to help people remember it as we write our new story.”

In 1887, Sacred Heart welcomed the first patient to the frontier town’s first hospital, which had a signed contract from the county to care for the poor at a rate of $1 per day.

Sacred Heart expanded over the years under the Sisters of Providence, particularly under the leadership of Sister Peter Claver in the 1970s.  She was the order’s 19th and final administrator.  After her retirement in 1988 and as their numbers declined in the 1990s, the Sisters of Providence developed a team of lay ministers to administer their ministries.

The lay leaders were not affiliated with a religious order, but believed in Catholic values and how those values related to providing health care to those in need.

In 2006, Sacred Heart joined the Providence Health and Services system with a common mission of integrating operations and sharing their expertise.

More than 55,000 people serve in the nonprofit Providence network that spans five states—Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Montana and California.  More than 8,000 serve in the Inland Northwest alone.

Today Sacred Heart’s campus features a 14-floor medical center, a children’s hospital, a doctor’s building, a women’s health center, a neonatal intensive care unit, a surgery center and a faith and healing center.

While Sr. Rosalie said serving the poor and vulnerable has been the core of Sacred Heart’s work and that the legacy of the sisters runs deep, she also believes the hospital is more than the ministry of the Sisters of Providence.

“It is Jesus’ mission,” she said.

She encourages the physicians, nurses and staff to embrace and tell stories about those who went before them, such as Mother Joseph, Sister Peter Claver, other women religious, and lay men and women.

 “I tell employees they are writing the new story about compassionate care and in 50 years the story will be theirs,” she said.

Sacred Heart is intentional about hiring people who have a call as servant leaders, she pointed out.

“Part of the mission is to help employees become transformed, be compassionate and become good stewards,” she said.

Sr. Rosalie believes the workplace must be a place where people are treated with dignity, respect and justice, and the employees who address the physical, mental, social and spiritual needs of those they serve should also be supported.

“It is how we carry out the mission people see everyday,” she said. “They know when they have been loved.”

She recognizes the challenges of a difficult economy and what that means to institutions that provide critical services.

We see the needs of the community broadening and escalating when coupled with a poor economy,” she said.

In 2010, Providence in Eastern Washington provided free and discounted care to more than 14,000 patients and invested $87.4 million to ensure people in the region have access to essential services including health care, family support, nutrition, shelter and more.

“I experience deep concern about how we at Providence can be vigilant in service to the poor and vulnerable, while understanding the challenge of being financially able to provide services,” she said.

The early sisters had to make difficult choices and practiced prayerful discernment, Sr. Rosalie said.

“It was not always easy, but it enabled us to be where we are today,” she said.

“I see our leaders struggling today with a desire to be faithful to our mission while finding the resources to take care of the needs. We always need to find new ways to provide services,” she said.  “We’re not here to make people happy, but to make them whole.”

Sr. Rosalie acknowledges that healing is more than physical.  It includes emotional and spiritual wellbeing, such as programs at the Faith and Healing Center.

“Healing is emotional and faith is a partner with physical health. We’re not afraid to pray with people,” she said.

Sr. Rosalie grew up in an Italian-American family in Walla Walla.  At 18, after graduating from DeSales High School, she entered the Sisters of Providence.

After earning a degree in social sciences and her teaching credentials, she spent nine years teaching elementary school in Montana. She also holds a master’s in theology from St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. 

She moved to Spokane in 1980 to serve as co-director of vocations for the Diocese of Spokane.

In 1984, Sr. Rosalie moved to Pullman, where she was part-time and then full-time campus minister at Washington State University for 15 years.

While her heart was in education, she was always aware of health care ministries. After two years of discussion and discernment and a year’s sabbatical, she left WSU to assume her current duties at Sacred Heart.

She recognizes that Providence ministries are part of a larger community to which they must be faithful and in regular dialogue. Sacred Heart partners with people of many faiths and expects the diversity within the ministry to grow as demographics change.

 “I see our mission as offering the hope we need so we serve as a guiding light for compassionate health care,” Sr. Rosalie said. 

For information, call 474-3040.