I wasn't surprised to learn that Sister Brigid Collins, the Catholic nun who ran St. Joseph Hospital during the 1960s before taking on a new career as a social service leader in the community, is being added posthumously to the YWCA's Northwest Women's Hall of Fame.
I was surprised to learn, however, that she hadn't already been inducted.
After all, she oversaw the construction of St. Joseph's new hospital in the north end of town, helped start Whatcom Hospice, and promoted programs at the hospital and in the community to help at-risk mothers, pregnant women and abused children.
Some of her efforts live on in programs at Brigid Collins Family Support Center, the social service organization in Bellingham that honored her shortly after her death in 1990 by memorializing her name.
"Her spirit has stayed alive through the work that we're doing," said Byron Manering, the center's executive director.
Sister Collins was born in 1918, one of eight children of a poor farm family in County Galway, Ireland. She decided to devote her life to her faith, so at the age of 18 she sailed to America, then crossed the country to Bellingham for nursing training and to become a nun with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.
She took her final vows and began her nearly five-decade-long health career in 1941, at St. Joseph Hospital. She soon became nursing supervisor for pediatrics, then advanced to become hospital administrator in 1960. During her tenure, she led the process of choosing and buying land, and constructing the current St. Joseph hospital at 2901 Squalicum Parkway.
In 1967, she stepped down to pursue a master's degree in social work, then returned to St. Joseph to become the hospital's first director of social work. She had been busy before, no doubt, and didn't let up in her new role.
Sister Collins created a hospital fund to provide emergency items for needy families with infants - with a closet in her office filled with donated clothes, diapers and other items - and started a food bank at the hospital for patients and employees.
She didn't just do good things in-house. She also worked with community members to improve prenatal care for needy people and improve services and treatment for children who were sexually abused.
"She put a face on those needs and mobilized people to respond to them," said Sue Sharpe, who worked for the hospital while Sister Collins was social work director and is now executive director of St. Luke's Foundation. "She really cared, and people felt it."
On Sept. 21, 1990, Sister Collins returned from her last visit with her family in Ireland. Although she wasn't feeling well, she spent the evening visiting patients in the hospital. The next day, she died.
Sister Collins was remembered for many things, many of them related to her work. People also remember that while she was a strong advocate and a capable administrator, she had a light side, too.
"She was fun-loving," Sharpe said. "We could always hear laughter coming from her office."
Along with honoring Sister Brigid Collins, three Whatcom County women will be inducted into the YWCA Northwest Women's Hall of Fame during a celebration dinner at 4:30 p.m. March 24 at Northwood Hall, 3240 Northwest Ave., Bellingham:
Melinda Shenk, founder of Marianne's House, which bears the name of her late sister, Marianne Barden. A day activity center, the house enriches the lives of adults with developmental disabilities.
Cyndie Shepard, volunteer director of Compass 2 Campus, which introduces middle-school students to higher education and provides Western Washington University student mentors for them through 12th grade.
Vi Zurline, a successful businesswoman in the 1960s, she became a model and coach for emerging women entrepreneurs and a longtime supporter of women's athletics.
Reservations, $30, and disability requests should be made by March 19 at 360-734-4820, ext. 101, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Extra: A video about the life of Brigid Collins, prepared by Bellingham historian Brian Griffin, will soon be available for checkout from Bellingham Public Library.
Reach Dean Kahn at email@example.com or call 715-2291.