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Our History


A Heritage of Healing

On August 3, 1890, two members of the fledgling Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace left their convent in Newark, New Jersey, bound for Fairhaven, Washington, a remote logging community in the country's far northwest corner.

Their charge: to build a hospital to care for loggers, mill workers, fisherman and their families.

The opening of St. Joseph Hospital ushered in more than a century of Catholic health care ministry in the Pacific Northwest by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and their lay colleagues.

The order's Foundress, Mother Francis Clare, was an activist Irish nun whose reformist zeal often put her at odds with Church hierarchy. She became internationally known for her work and writing on behalf of women and the poor.

By 1916, the spirit that defined and launched the health care ministry in Fairhaven had grown to include five hospitals in Washington, Alaska and British Columbia. In 1936 it reached Oregon as well.

In the early 1970s, the Sisters decided to form a separate structure to oversee their hospital services to more effectively meet the challenges of contemporary health care and to partner with qualified laypersons who shared in this important work.

The name of the organization was changed to PeaceHealth in 1994 to better reflect our mission and heritage. In March 1997 the health system board of trustees was granted status as a Private Pontifical Juridic Person to ensure the continuation of the healing ministry as a Catholic health system under lay leadership in service to the communities.

To this day, the religious community remains committed to its Foundress's vision of achieving peace through social justice in its life and ministries.

The Sisters have entrusted to their lay colleagues the important mission of carrying on the healing mission of Jesus through exceptional medicine and healing in a gracious and compassionate manner to all those come to PeaceHealth for care.

About Mother Francis Clare and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace 

Mother Francis Clare: Foundress of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace

Portrait of Mother Francis Clare, founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace

Margaret Anna Cusack was born to an aristocratic family of English origin in Coolak, County Dublin, Ireland. Her father was a doctor who was dedicated to the service of the poor.

She was raised under the precepts of the Church of England and viewed social justice through Christian concepts. In 1853 she joined the Anglican Sisterhood. She quickly became disillusioned with what she considered the petty concerns of the group. Upon leaving five years later, she wrote, "I do not believe in offering the gospel of talk to starving people."

In 1858 she became a convert to the Roman Catholic Church. One year later she entered the Order of Poor Clare nuns and took the name Mother Francis Clare.

A fierce advocate of social justice

The year 1861 brought Mother Clare to Kenmare in Ireland, where she founded the first convent of the Poor Clares in the west of Ireland. A talented writer, she published on the issues of social injustice. Her writings and actions focused on advocacy of women's rights including equal pay, equal opportunity for education, and legal reform to give women control of their own property.

The Irish Famine of 1879 plunged the country into crisis. Margaret Anna responded by raising great sums of money to feed the poor. By now her outspoken ways and success at feeding the poor made her the target of scorn from government and church leadership. Church and public resistance forced her to shut down her Famine Relief Fund and look to England for support of her vision.

Her next effort was to establish another convent and to propose development of an industrial school for women, complete with a day center for their children.

Arrival in America

In 1884 Margaret Anna founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Seeking funds to support her sisters' work with women and children, in 1885 she set off for America. Soon after arriving, she established a home for migrant women who, upon arrival in New York, often found themselves to be homeless and jobless.

The success of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace spread. By 1890 the Sisters were being asked to go west to serve the needs of frontier settlements springing up in the Pacific Northwest. It was in August of this year that two Sisters set off from New Jersey, on what was to be the beginning of PeaceHealth and the continuation of the vision of Margaret Anna Cusack

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace

A Heritage of Healing and Compassionate Care

On August 3, 1890, two members of the fledgling Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace left their convent in Newark, N.J. bound for Fairhaven, Wash., a remote logging community in the country’s far northwest corner. Their charge: to build a hospital to care for loggers, mill workers, fishermen and their families. The opening of St. Joseph Hospital ushered in more than a century of Catholic health care ministry in the Pacific Northwest by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and their lay colleagues.

Mother Francis Clare had founded the order in England in 1884. She was an activist Irish nun who became internationally known for her work and writing on behalf of women and the poor, though her reformist zeal often put her at odds with Church hierarchy. To this day the religious community remains committed to its foundress’s vision of achieving peace through social justice in its life and ministries.

By 1916 the spirit that defined and launched the health care ministry in Fairhaven had grown to include five hospitals in Washington, Alaska and British Columbia; in 1936 it reached into Oregon as well. In the early 1970s the Sisters decided to form a separate structure to oversee their hospital services, to more effectively meet the challenges of contemporary health care, and to partner with qualified laypersons who share in this important work. The name of the organization was changed to PeaceHealth in 1994 to better reflect the mission and heritage of the organization. Since change and adaptation are well known to the Sisters, in March 1997 the system Board of Trustees received the status as a Pontifical Private Juridic Person. This ensures the continuation of the healing ministry as a Catholic health system under lay leadership to the communities in which we serve. 

The Sisters entrust to their lay colleagues the important mission of carrying out the healing mission of Jesus by being dedicated to exceptional medicine and compassionate care.

Visit other web sites of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace:

A person holds the hand of a patient in a hospital bed

Exceptional Medicine & Compassionate Care

Our promise of the Spirit of Health is a continuation of the healing ministry begun in 1890 in Bellingham by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and their lay colleagues when they founded St. Joseph Hospital to care for loggers, mill workers and their families.

Our promise guides what we do and how we go about doing it. It is relationship-centered. It is based on the premise that everything in the environment affects recovery and healing. Very little is neutral; almost everything can either enhance or impair the healing process for our patients and their families.

From our faith tradition, the Spirit of Health integrates healing in a holistic sense: a focus on the physical, emotional and spiritual wellness of our patients. Our goal is to provide highly reliable, safe clinical treatment, striving to use the best that technology and science can provide.

The Spirit of Health guides us as we continue to transform our health care system through networks of care serving many communities. It guides us as we develop our models of care in service to our patients and families. It guides us in how we hire, develop and respond to the needs of our caregivers. It guides us as we design facilities. It guides us as we continuously improve systems, processes, programs and organizational infrastructures.

We will have fulfilled our vision when every PeaceHealth patient receives safe, evidence-based, compassionate care: every time, every touch.

The Spirit of Health combines the science and art, the head and heart of our health care ministry.

The Spirit of Health is the cornerstone of our culture at PeaceHealth.