Long time servant to Alaska, Sister of Providence Claire Gagnon, marked her 75th year as a religious sister earlier this summer.
Sister Gagnon was the longest-serving Sister of Providence at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, where she worked for 28 years. She retired in 2003. A Frontiersman article from that year noted that upon her retirement she was “remembered by many as a caring soul who helped them during the darkest hours.”
According to a public notice commemorating her 75th anniversary of religious life, the now 95-year-old sister rises daily in Seattle at 5 a.m. and walks outside as she says three rosaries.
“That is what keeps me going,” said the tiny French-Canadian nun who wears the modified habit of the Sisters of Providence.
Born in 1919, on a farm in St. Prosper, Quebec, Sister Gagnon’s father died and her mother was left alone to care for seven children. She and her sister were sent to the Sisters of Providence orphanage at Trois Rivieres.
Desiring to become a nurse, she entered the Sisters of Providence in 1938 at age 19 and made first profession in 1940. She was sent to Mount St. Vincent in Seattle to help in the infirmary and to learn English, and then to Sacred Heart School in Tacoma, Wash., as a cook. She went to nursing school at St. Elizabeth Hospital, Yakima, Wash., and later graduated from Seattle University with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She served in hospitals as a nurse or nursing supervisor in Seattle, Tacoma, Walla Walla, Yakima and Portland before becoming an administrator for 13 years at St. Peter Hospital, Olympia.
In 1975, after studying clinical pastoral education at St. Mary Hospital, San Francisco, she started the pastoral care department at Providence Hospital in Anchorage, caring for the spiritual needs of patients, their families and the staff.
Upon her 2003 retirement, she left many fond memories of Alaska outdoor adventures like cross-country skiing, marathon running, jogging and the Iditarod race.
“I live very simply and think simplicity. I don’t try to impress myself,” Sister Claire said.
“It has been a wonderful life,” she added. “I am getting ready for home whenever the Lord says it is time. I hope it won’t be too long. The Lord will take me as I am because he made me that way.”