Clustered together in the Catholic section of Fairmount Memorial Park are 8 graves from the early 1900s that belong to the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. Each grave was once marked with a white marble headstone, but were falling apart and have recently been replaced with small in-ground markers. Nearby is a marble cross monument in their honor. But who were these women, and what influence did they have on Spokane?
The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia were organized and ordained in 1885, and hosted immigrant women in a small hostel, nursed the sick poor, and provided assistance during the smallpox epidemic in 1858 - all in and around the city of Philadelphia. They later expanded their ministries to teaching and operating orphanages. Their only source of financial support for their ministries was through piecemeal sewing. As the Order grew, Sisters were sent to other locations, one being Spokane.
A small group of Sisters arrived in Spokane in 1890, when Father Joseph Cataldo secured a small lot for an orphanage in the Sinto Addition near the present-day Gonzaga University campus. The community, in full support of an orphanage, raised money to build a small wood-frame building, which was dedicated as St. Joseph's Orphanage in 1891. The orphanage, however, quickly outgrew the original building. At first, there were only 6 children, but the number quickly rose to 70, then to 115 by 1893. By 1899, construction began on a new facility, which is the same building as St. Joseph's Family Center today.
Through the years, the Sisters have stayed true to their mission: "to respond to the needs of others, especially the economically poor, the marginal, and the oppressed."