In 1827, a young Montreal socialite named Emilie Tavernier Gamelin found herself at a crossroad in her life. The loss of her husband and three sons, all in five years’ time, sent Gamelin spiraling into unimaginable grief. Yet in her sorrow, she found solace in dedicating her life and treasure to the care of the poor and forgotten of Montreal; particularly widows, the sick, the poor, the imprisoned, and orphans. Sixteen years later, this dedication to the work of charity and social reform would lead Gamelin and six other women to gather in the chapel of the Providence Asylum for the sick and homeless, where they formally made vows to establish a community of Catholic women religious we today know as the Sisters of Providence.
175 years later, the mission of the Sisters of Providence remains the same-to be compelled by the love of Christ and the model of Our Mother of Sorrows (the Virgin Mary), to live in “compassionate love and creative prophetic solidarity with the poor.” It was this same mission that inspired Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart to respond to the call to bring the work of the Sisters of Providence to the American West in 1856, and ultimately to the Montana Territory in 1864. The works of the Sisters of Providence in Montana were diverse, comprising of medical, education and orphanage ministries for both Native Americans and pioneers.
By the turn of the century, the Sisters established ministries in Great Falls, where the need for a college became apparent. In 1934, Sister Lucia Sullivan was selected to serve as superior of the newly established Great Falls Normal School for the training of teachers. As common practice for Catholic Institutions, Sister Lucia and her fellow sisters quickly took to the task of selecting a patron saint for their new college-Our Lady of Providence. The choice seemed clear for the college, which would be housed in Our Lady of Providence Hall, an annex building of Great Falls’ Columbus Hospital.
After taking control of a nearby nursing school (founded by the Ursuline Sisters in 1932), the Sisters of Providence would merge the two schools into what ultimately would be known as the College of Great Falls.
In the 1940’s, the College acquired a new parcel of land off 10th Avenue to serve as the future home of the College. War and financial struggles, however, drastically delayed development of the site until 1958. Under the guidance of Sister Rita of the Sacred Heart, the College of Great Falls would finally move to 10th Avenue in the fall of 1960. Featuring a futuristic, International/Mid-Century architectural design emblematic of Providence facilities built at the time, the new campus was comprised of two instructional buildings, the Student Center, the Emilie Hall women’s dormitory, the Library/Administration building, and the Our Lady of Providence Convent and Chapel (later Providence Hall and Trinitas Chapel).
While the name and location of the institution has changed over the decades, the mission of the University of Providence has remained the same- to continue works of the Sisters of Providence to love and to teach as Jesus did, being ever mindful of the poor and vulnerable. Humbled by the task, the University of Providence is honored to safeguard the educational heritage of the Sisters of Providence for generations to come.