Catherine celebrates 93rd birthday
Sister Catherine Manderfeld strode into her 93rd year with the steadiness characteristic of her familiar walk through the Monastery halls.
“I feel pretty lucky,” she said. “I am up and walking around. It’s definitely more interesting than being in a wheelchair.”
Keeping things interesting has been an enduring characteristic of her life. She made her First Profession in 1934 and began teaching elementary school in Nez Perce at the age of 16. Her education took her to Mt. Angel, University of Idaho and eventually Gonzaga University when it finally admitted women.
Her long teaching career has been honored over the years by many former students. It began with 12 years in elementary schools and then 27 years at St. Gertrude’s Academy through when it became a public school. There she taught physics, chemistry, algebra, biology and geometry.
Sister Jean Lalande remembers having Sister Catherine as a teacher in second grade: “She was a great teacher!” she says. Sister Mary Marge Goeckner is among the sisters who had Sister Catherine in high school and her sentiments are the same.
After she retired from teaching, Sister Catherine joined Sister Alfreda Elsensohn at the Historical Museum. Local scholar Dr. Sam Couch recalls Sister Catherine helping him with his dissertation when he was doing research at the museum.
Sister Catherine says that her favorite thing about living at the Monastery now is the “freedom to attend Chapel and prayer.” At mid-day Mass, Father Eamonn wished her a happy birthday and dedicated to her a reading of a poem called “Prayer” by Mary Oliver.
“I am slow,” says Sister Catherine, “but I still have plenty to do and if the Lord lets me live some more years, maybe I will get it done!”
Monastery volunteer begins Gap Year
While her peers moved into dorm rooms and shopped for textbooks, Kelly Schumann sat in prayer with the Benedictine sisters at the Monastery of St. Gertrude. Instead of pushing through crowds of students looking for her classroom, Kelly was taking walks into the Monastery forest or admiring the sunrise colors over the Camas Prairie.
It wasn’t that Kelly didn’t have a college to attend. In fact, she delayed her admission to Yale University in order to take what is commonly known as a Gap Year: a break between high school and college that gives students a rest from academia while expanding their experiences in the world.
“I wasn’t planning to take a Gap Year,” she says. “But I was working very hard – and didn’t feel satisfied.” A February blizzard during her senior year reminded her of what free time felt like and the idea of a Gap Year began to blossom.
Fortunately, Yale actually encourages students to take the year-long pause. Once Kelly made the decision to delay college, she knew immediately that it had been the right one. “I just suddenly felt so peaceful.”
Kelly planned her Gap Year to include volunteer experiences away from her Washington D.C.–area home. She is also funding her travel with money she saved from her work as a professional harpist.
And so while her friends headed to school, she headed for the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho. “I wanted to go somewhere where balance was important – because, well, I needed it…where the values would help me reset my life. It has been a good fit – I feel very at home.”
She notes the contrast between the Idaho monastery and her home in D.C.: “This was a chance to see simplicity in action. In D.C. there isn’t a lot of simplicity – and it isn’t valued.” From St. Gertrude’s, Kelly’s next experience will be on the big island of Hawaii to volunteer at an eco-resort. And then in January, she will begin serving in Rwanda for five months as an assistant English teacher at the Akilah (meaning ‘wisdom’ in Swahili) Institute, a college and vocational school for girls.
Kelly intends her Gap Year to progress in intensity: from the peaceful Monastery to work in a recovering African country.
Although her time at the Monastery has been anything but idle. “All my friends are taking classes and I was thinking, ‘What would my syllabus here look like?’ …soap-making, gardening, Benedictine ideas of balance…more important lessons than tests and essays.” She remarks at the amount of energy she experienced from women who were two, three and even four times her age.
Kelly also took on a project that has generated a lot of excitement around the Monastery. She produced a video that will soon be featured on the Monastery’s website and will also be available on YouTube. With camera-in-hand, Kelly tracked the daily lives of the Sisters, interviewing them and watching them pray, work and relax. Featuring the music of Hildegard of Bingen, the purpose of the video is to communicate the culture and values of the Monastery.
Before she left, the community sang a blessing to her. Kelly then wrote a three-page goodbye letter in which she recounted her experiences and the lessons she learned. She concluded with her own blessing back: “May this jewel of a place never lose its luster; may the radiant gleam of these people never fade. May the sun and the stars continue to shine down on this incredible place. Thank you, Monastery of St. Gertrude, for showing me a little bit of heaven.”
Monastery begins summer immersion
Sister Teresa Jackson, the Monastery of St. Gertrude’s volunteer coordinator and vocations director, is fulfilling her vision for an eight-week, summer monastic immersion experience for women aged 18 to 60. Each summer, five women would experience daily monastic life and share in the sisters’ work which includes the retreat ministry, marketing and communications, soap making, gardening, museum and gift store.
In Sister Teresa’s 13 years at the monastery, volunteers have come for weekends up to two weeks to experience monastic life in a time of transition or to help with a project.
“Most are middle-aged, but a recent young volunteer’s stay gave the sisters a chance to see how an 18-year-old would experience monastery life,” said Sister Teresa, who entered the monastery when she was 35 and made her final profession in 2003.
The community has 57 sisters, 45 of whom live at the monastery. Others minister and live in Idaho, Washington, Minnesota and California as a college professor, a second grade teacher, teacher at a charter school for gangs, nurses, hospital chaplains, pastoral associates and social workers.
“We live together as a committed community, transformed by and rooted in God, out of which we go out to the world to do different types of ministries and to manifest God’s power,” she said.
The sisters at the monastery provide hospitality for group and individual retreats, run the bed and breakfast they opened in the summer, raise much of their own food, make natural products and run a museum of the history of North Central Idaho.
Their ministries include healing, hospitality, peace and justice, prayer, spirituality, stewardship and monastery industries.
Sister Teresa said Benedictines are the oldest religious order in the Western world, founded in the 6th century. They have been around for over 1500 years. Each monastery is autonomous, but they have a loose federation for mutual support and accountability. There are over 100 monasteries for men and women in the United States.
Sister Teresa, who was not raised in a religious tradition, grew up in the San Francisco area and became American Baptist in college. She practiced law and worked in social services before she became Catholic and decided to enter a Benedictine monastery.
After “falling in love with the community” on a week-long visit there, she spent two years discerning before entering formation.
“I felt called to be here, to follow the Benedictine monastic tradition, rooted in living with a group of people on a journey together seeking God day after day, year after year,” she said.
Sister Teresa said she has become a person living for others.
While simplicity is part of community life, she said “we have computers, cars and middle-class conveniences, but we also have small bedrooms, share most of what we have and live in a way that is very different from the predominant culture.”
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