Alice St. Hilaire, SP (Sister Mary Georgetta)
Sister Alice St. Hilaire was a warm, gracious, gentle woman of Providence whose ministry was the joyful expression of a commitment to religious community service, the enthusiastic love for teaching, and the willing embrace of a deeply spiritual life shared with others. She touched many lives during the course of her seventy years as a Sister of Providence.
Sister Alice was a native of the Yakima Valley, where she was born on September 2, 1928, the oldest of eight children born to Leo and Helen (Kohls) St. Hilaire. Her family lived on a farm west of Wapato. Since Catholic education was very important to the St. Hilaire family, Alice was sent to live with her grandparents in Yakima so she could attend St. Joseph Academy. There she was taught by the Sisters of Providence, as were her mother and grandmother before her.
School came easily for Alice, but it was interacting with people that gave her special joy. She preferred singing, talking, walking, and delighting in the joys of life rather than an evening with homework. She said, “I can’t claim to be a student who loved to study, but I can claim to have learned a lot!” After graduation, she stayed on the farm for another year and helped care for her younger siblings.
During that year at home, Alice was seriously considering her life’s direction. Religious life was familiar to her – several aunts and uncles were sisters and priests. And Alice’s younger sister, Lucy, already planned to be a Sister of Providence. Alice recalled, “I was torn between two very strong desires – to do what my mother had done and marry a farmer and have a big family, or to be a Sister.” She became a postulant in 1947 and a novice in 1948. She professed first temporary vows in 1949, taking the name Sister Mary Georgetta. She professed perpetual vows in 1952.
After first vows, Alice was missioned to St. Ignatius Province. She worked in the library at the College of Great Falls and began taking classes. Then she was off to Missoula, Montana, to teach third grade at Sacred Heart Academy. She also taught at St. Catherine’s in Seattle, St. Vincent Academy in Walla Walla, and Immaculate Conception in Fairbanks, Alaska. She recalled, “I rarely told a student his or her answer was wrong. I always accented the positive, and tried to make learning a discovery rather than an experience in right and wrong. I tried to use creative ways to relate what they were learning to their own personal experiences.”
Sister Alice received her bachelor’s degree in 1956, just in time to enroll in a combined master and doctoral program at St. Louis University in Missouri. “Graduate school was the hardest exercise in self-discipline I’ve ever experienced. It was hard!” After graduation, she taught philosophy for the next thirteen years, first at Seattle University, then at the College of Sister Formation, and finally at St. Thomas Seminary in Kenmore, Washington. She said, “I loved being back in the classroom. That’s where I really had fun. I loved the relationships I was able to form with the faculty and students.”
In 1969, Alice was named to the first Formation Team for the province and was in that ministry for the next six years. In 1975, she was asked to be the province’s Director of Retirement. She said, “I’d been thinking about how I would like to be available to the Sisters for spiritual direction, workshops, just to talk. I figured this was my ticket. I was flying by the seat of my pants again.” In 1977, she took on additional leadership responsibilities when she was elected Councilor of Religious Development for two three-year terms. In 1983, she served for the next seven years as a team member of Providence Hospitality House in Seattle. She recalled, “I truly loved being with the women and children. I met beautiful, strong, faith-filled, amazing women.”
In the mid-1980’s, Alice was instrumental in helping the creation of the S.E.E.L. (Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life) program.
Sister Alice was a good writer – poetry, stories, class papers, etc. We all know the creative stories she would write on the occasion of birthdays, jubilees, and for family members. She could make words rhyme or have a meaning that fit into the story that one would never guess, but surely made us all laugh.
In 1990, Alice returned to central Washington to live with her mother, who was no longer able to care for herself. “Going back to the country was heaven.” During the four years she lived with her mother, she ministered to others as well. People of varying faiths began to call her for spiritual direction. Beginning in 1996, she also served as the Director of Candidates. In 2004, she was honored for her lifelong commitment to formation ministry by the National Religious Formation Conference at its 50th Jubilee.
Sister Alice retired to St. Joseph Residence, Seattle, in 2015. She spent her days there with prayer, exercise, reading, and enjoying the people around her. She cherished her remaining siblings (Tim, Ted, Tom, Mary and Paul) and considered hers “the luckiest family in the whole world.”
Upon reflecting on her many years of ministry, Alice said, “I am celebrating that God called me into this life and has been faithful for all the years. That is reason to be very grateful. I don’t foresee the future except that changes will continue. But I trust in it, however it will be, because I trust God.”
Alice, you were a faithful servant of God. You always put your trust in Providence whenever you met a new challenge. You served with grace, love, and gentleness. And so, we say, “Providence of God, we thank you for all.” She ended her earthly life on December 27, 2018.