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Monument honors history of sisters in the Northwest

Catholic Cemeteries of Spokane recently constructed and dedicated the Sisters Memorial Plaza, a commemorative monument in landscape, granite, statues and waterfalls to honor the history and the ministries of women religious in the Northwest.

Jim Falkner and Sister Memorial
Jim Falkner sits beside Dominican monument.

Jim Falkner, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries since 2008, decided to build the memorial in Holy Cross Cemetery, 7200 N. Wall, after reviewing records and finding 255 Providence, 240 Holy Names, 67 Dominican, 20 of two Franciscan orders (Sisters of St. Frances of Philadelphia and Sisters of Perpetual Adoration), 16 Poor Clare and 12 Good Shepherd among the 27,000 people who are buried there.

The monument, which tells the story of sisters and their ministries in health care, education and social service with people in the region, was dedicated in an Oct. 15 Mass.

The idea for the monument started in 2009 when the Sisters of the Holy Names contacted Jim to buy more graves.  Reviewing the records and finding how many were buried at Holy Cross, he decided that it would be an appropriate site for a way to honor their contributions.

There is a history wall for each group.

“I worked with nuns for 35 years,” said Jim, who grew up in Spokane, graduated from Central Valley High School and attends St. Mary’s Catholic Parish in Spokane Valley. 

In 1975 after graduating in business and accounting from the University of Washington, he began his career working with Lemaster and Daniels, which included five years as auditor with the Dominican Sisters and doing audits for Holy Family, Mt. Carmel and St. Joseph hospitals. 

When their treasurer left, he served as their treasurer, working 15 years in that capacity and then 12 years as president of the Dominican Outreach Foundation. 

Jim also served on the Holy Names investment committee and 30 years with Providence Sisters hospital board committees.  He recently completed a three-year term as chair of the Providence Health Care Board.

To create the memorial plaza, he worked with Dominican Sisters Judith Nilles and Bernadette Ries, with Holy Names Sister Celine Steinberger and with Providence Sister Joanne Showalter.

As many sisters are aging and dying, we wanted to put a permanent recognition of what they have done and who they are,” he said, “so future generations can read about them, know their stories and stop to reflect and pray.”

Memorial overview
This overview picture shows the design
of the Sisters Memorial Plaza.

The monument includes some individual stories, along with stories of contributions of the orders and scriptural references.

Jim also said the two-level monument is symbolic, with the granite stone representing the sisters’ long-term impact and the water reflecting their collaboration with the wider church.  Three streams of water represent the three largest communities with the most sisters buried at Holy Cross—Providence, Holy Names and Dominican.

He said people have bought and donated paver bricks etched with the names of sisters or ministries.

The 80-acre Holy Cross Cemetery, which was established in 1931, paid for the memorial.

When former Bishop William Skylstad asked Jim to be executive director of Catholic Cemeteries of Spokane, he agreed.

“It’s a different way to serve in ministry, using my skills from the business world,” he said. “The ministry piece drew me.”

Jim sees his work as the corporal work of mercy in burying the dead, serving people at a time when they are vulnerable because they have lost a loved one.

“I am respectful and reverent as I help them make decisions about a family member’s resting place,” he said.

“This work is about the end of life that we hear and think about, but think won’t happen,” he said.  “It happens every day here.  We see the good and bad grieving.  It’s difficult to deal with the end of life, but the ministry side of this work says we are also dealing with the beginning of new life.”

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