Sisters celebrate 50 years
Sisters Placida (Rita) Wemhoff and Carol Ann Wassmuth celebrated fifty years as Benedictines on June 11 at a prayer service with the sisters at the Monastery of St. Gertrude. On June 27, they will renew their monastic professions before the congregations at their home churches in Cottonwood and Greencreek.
Both Sr. Placida and Sr. Carol Ann were raised in Catholic families on the Camas Prairie and felt the calling to become sisters at St. Gertrude’s at an early age. They both entered the monastery after eighth grade graduation and attended St. Gertrude’s Academy as candidates, making their First Monastic Profession in June, 1960.
Sr. Placida’s first ministry as a Benedictine sister took her to southern Idaho, where she taught in Catholic schools for fourteen years. After a year off, she took a teaching position at the public school in Cottonwood, where she remained for the next sixteen years.
When she retired from teaching, Prioress Sr. Mary Kay Henry proposed an entirely different line of work for Sr. Placida, asking her to assume the position of Maintenance Coordinator for the monastery.
Although the job was daunting at first, with the help of two fulltime lay employees and a Rolodex of professionals at her fingertips, she has managed the maintenance of the monastery grounds, the vehicles and all the buildings for seventeen years.
A couple of years into her maintenance work, Sr. Placida found she had some time on her hands during the winter months, so she asked to learn about bookbinding, as the contemplative aspects of this traditional monastic craft appealed to her. She took lessons and began putting the monastery’s bookbinding equipment and stock of supplies to use. She practiced on school library books, but today she rebinds and repairs books for customers who hear about her services on the monastery’s Web site, www.StGertrudes.org and by word of mouth. She also produces the blank journals sold in the monastery book and gift shop.
Sr. Carol Ann Wassmuth was given the name Sister Mary Elizabeth at her First Monastic Profession, but changed it back to her baptismal name when given the opportunity in 1970. She taught ten years in Catholic schools throughout Idaho. At the prioress’s request, she left the teaching ministry to earn a bachelor’s degree in religious studies at Mundelein College in Chicago and then served as the religious education coordinator at Sacred Heart Church in Boise. She later earned her master’s degree in education with a teaching field in theology from Boston College and worked as a pastoral assistant at St. Pius X Church in Coeur d’Alene.
In 1989, Sr. Carol Ann asked to come home to the monastery for a year. While at home, she began to take an interest in the care of the monastery’s thousand acres of woodlands and drew up a long-range management plan for those forests. At the end of the year, Prioress Sr. Gertrude Wemhoff asked her to stay and manage the forest, which she has been doing for the past 20 years.
Sr. Carol Ann has educated herself in the field of forestry by reading, taking classes and asking questions of “anyone who knows anything about the woods,” she said. In this way, she has been able to learn from mill owners, wildlife biologists, foresters and experts on plant identification.
In addition to her forestry work, Sr. Carol Ann is coordinator of the monastery’s social justice office. Her responsibilities include working with the community’s Social Justice Committee to provide education on peace and justice issues, connect with organizations having similar goals and coordinate outreach activities.
On June 27, Sr. Carol Ann will renew her Monastic Profession at her home parish, St. Anthony’s Church in Greencreek, at 8 a.m. Mass. Sr. Placida will renew her Monastic Profession the same day at the 10 a.m. Mass at her home parish, St. Mary’s Church, in Cottonwood.
Sr. Placida and Sr. Carol Ann invite those who wish to honor them on this special occasion to contribute to the monastery’s Fund for Alternative Renewable Energy. Set up by the Stewardship of the Land committee, the fund will support environmentally-friendly improvements to the monastery. One project for this fund will be the installation of solar panels on other buildings similar to those present on the Spirit Center.
“Our dream is that this fund will grow and, in line with our community’s commitment to care for the environment, will make possible other projects to lessen our carbon footprint,” said Sr. Carol Ann. “This is the living legacy we would like to leave from our golden jubilee.”
Donations to the fund may be sent to Fund for Alternative Renewable Energy, Monastery of St. Gertrude, 465 Keuterville Rd., Cottonwood, ID, 83522, or donate online at www.StGertrudes.org.