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Looking over Camas Prairie from the hill behind St. Gertrude’s/Gen Heywood - SpokaneFāVS

Where We Gather: St. Gertrude’s Monastery

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Where We Gather: St. Gertrude’s Monastery

Where We Gather is a project to tell the stories of our many spiritual practices in the Pacific Northwest through words and pictures. Any group that would like to be part of the project can contact Rev. Gen Heywood at genheywood@att.net.

By Gen Heywood

About 1,500 years ago, St. Scholastica first gathered women to follow the rule of her brother St. Benedict. For more than 100 of those years, the Benedictine sisters at St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho, continue to “seek God together through monastic profession and respond in healing hospitality, grateful simplicity, and creative peacemaking.” (from St. Gertrude’s Monastery’s Mission Statement).

Theresa Henson, director of creative services, livestreams Mass/Gen Heywood- SpokaneFāVS

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the life at the monastery has changed dramatically while other parts remained steadily the same. On March 15, 2020, the doors closed. The place where people of the world came to visit, rest, and reflect, now, reached out to those in the world required to stay home. The community made this change in their ministry through the use of cell phones, computers, and hand written letters. They livestreamed Mass, as well as, offered spiritual direction, retreats, art classes, and monastic studies. Theresa Henson, St. Gertrude’s director of creative services, used her cell phone with and additional microphone to share the Mass, “We have reached people whom we might never have connected with.” This ministry will continue in some form as they move toward reopening.

Sr. Mary Forman, prioress, speaks at midday prayer about sharing their faith with others/Gen Heywood-SpokaneFāVS

In May 2021, the monastery will welcome their first retreat group of 22 attendees. Sr. Mary Forman, prioress, commented, “To ensure a successful reopening and to keep everyone safe, we established Covid safety protocols and guests will be asked to sign a Covid-19 Expectations Agreement upon arrival.” Spirit Center is open as of May 2.

Night sky from the prairie side of The Inn at St. Gertrude’s/Gen Heywood – SpokaneFāVS

The ministry of healing hospitality is felt at The Inn at St. Gertrude’s, an award winning Bed and Breakfast. There are rooms for one to four people to rest, visit the monastery, experience the ecological stewardship, hike the trails, and soak in the view. While every season has its own joy, Henson recommends October saying, “The fall colors are just stunning.” The Inn is currently closed, however, for updates go to https://www.innatstgertrude.com.

These forward looking, prayerful, creative, Benedictine sisters have long planned for a stable future ministry of St. Gertrude’s. As such, changes to their annex reflect the changing needs of our time. Henson reflected that ,”The monastery would have been closed even without the pandemic due to the updating of the more than 70 year old residential wing.” The changes in the building offer the sisters a more comfortable residence including the unique offering of small apartments on the fifth floor for single women who want to live as Benedictine Co-housing Companions. They will be living an intentional Benedictine community alongside the sisters. They will pay a monthly stipend that includes room and board. Here is more info.

Sisters at evening prayer/Gen Heywood – SpokaneFāVS

Throughout these months, the life of worship and prayer remained steadfast. The tower bells have rung out as always, calling the sisters and the oblates to share morning prayer, Mass or midday praise, and evening prayer. Sr. Chanelle Schuler even rang in the new year as part of their tradition. 

Rev. Meinrad Schallberger celebrates Mass/Gen Heywood – SpokaneFāVS

The Rev. Meinrad Schallberger, has led the Masses at St. Gertrude’s for most of the last 20 years. His faith and justice based messages reflect the dedicated lives of the sisters. His commitment to the community has allowed them to shared the Eucharist when most of the world could not. Since all at St. Gertrude’s were fully vaccinated by Palm Sunday, they celebrated by singing together again.

“One thing that has been marvelous is to be able to sing for Easter,” remarked Sr. Chanelle, “Alleluia, alleluia!”

Sisters study the news and add concerns to daily prayers/Gen Heywood – SpokaneFāVS

No matter what the world may experience, the sisters patiently let prayer awaken them, justice impel them, and compassion move them to act. (From the vision statement of St. Gertrude’s Monastery).

As Benedictine sister, they value learning and study. Sr. Chanelle described, “Some things that kept us going during the past year were our regular Wednesday evening discussions on different articles. During Advent, we had discussions on articles of reflective silence in preparation for the feast of Christmas. During January and February we were focussed on articles on building community and on leadership in preparation for our discernment process for the election of Prioress at the first part of March. We also had some Zoom meetings in the fall with the two discernment leaders, sisters from other Benedictine communities, in looking at our goals for the coming years, and then only after discernment and prayer at the end February, we began to focus on who could lead us in carrying out those goals. We then re-elected Sr. Mary Forman for the next four years.”

Cemetery where sisters are laid to rest/Gen Heywood – SpokaneFāVS

Keeping a prayerful life during the pandemic did not spare their community from suffering. Only eight of the sisters came through the year with no Covid symptoms. While Sr. Agnes, Sr. Joan, and Sr. Bernadette died, only was one death was officially from Covid. The three urns wait in special place behind the alter for a summer funeral with family and friends.

A display honoring Josiah Red Wolf, local cobbler and survivor of the war between the U.S government and the Nez Perce people/Gen Heywood – SpokaneFāVS

The museum at St. Gertrude’s reflects the sisters long history of embracing knowledge. Exhibits honor the stories of the sisters who came from Switzerland to create a refuge in North America. There are references to the their work in establishing a hospital on the prairie, their daily lives at the monastery, and their world ministry. A replica of the first museum that Sr. Alfreda started in the attic of the school includes minerals, a bugle, a shotgun, many taxidermy animals. The museum exhibits stories of locals like Josiah Red Wolf, Frances Zaunmiller Wisner, Buckskin Bill, Polly Bemis and Winifred Rhoades Emmanuel. The museum gift shop offers soaps, ointments, handmade shawls, baby sweaters, made by the sisters as well as raspberry jam and wine made from the berries grown at the monastery.

Sunday Mass with sisters and oblates/Gen Heywood – SpokaneFāVS

St. Gertrude’s more than 100 years of ministry continues. They live prayerfully, justly, and compassionately with nature, visitors, and each other. Their practice of healing hospitality includes private retreats and a unique artist in residence program. They care for their forest, gardens, and Sr. Placida Wemhoff has recorded the weather for over 40 years. The welcoming continues online and in person retreats begin this May. This fall the co-housing program will help strengthen the stability of the monastery. The sisters continue to observe and respond to the needs of our time with healing hospitality, grateful simplicity and creative peacemaking. Learn more at www.StGertrudes.org.

About Gen Heywood

Rev. Gen Heywood has been active in parish ministry for more than 30 years. From small towns to big cities, she always lets the needs of the community and the congregation be her guide. Gen credits the supportive leadership of Veradale United Church of Christ for including her work to overcome racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation as part of her ministry. “Veradale UCC is a small church with a powerful faith. They are the reason I can be a witness for a world where we do justice, live with compassion, and walk humbly with the Divine.”

Gen grow up in rural Maine. She received a BA in Music Therapy and German from Emmanuel College in Boston, MA and her M.Div. from Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, MA. She is a life long learner who lives in Spokane Valley, WA with her three dogs as well as, sometimes, with her amazing young adult children.

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