reflects on 74 years of monastic profession
When Sister Theresa Mary Stroeing made her Perpetual Monastic Profession on March 21, 1938 religious life at St. Gertrude’s looked rather different than it does now. She reflects on the changes – as well as what is unchangeable – with clarity and a breadth of perspective indicative of her 96 years.
“Back then our sisters were either teachers or nurses,” she explains. “Now our sisters serve in a wide variety of ministries. We have more freedom. In the old days you were told what to do. Now I can say ‘no’ if I don’t want to go somewhere and ‘yes’ if I am willing. I definitely prefer the present life.”
While she celebrates the increased freedom, she also believes there are areas where monastic leadership should abide by the old customs. She believes the prioress, whom she prays for every night, shouldn’t be so lenient with novices.
Prioress Sister Clarissa Goeckner smiles and acknowledges that the strict way in which novices were treated was a kind of test to see if the women had truly come to the Monastery to seek God – a motivation that remains as important as ever in monastic life. “Sister Theresa Mary has always inspired me with her commitment to seeking God, prayer and community.”
“She is also very fun-loving,” continues Sister Clarissa. “A high point for me was a summer I spent working with Sister Theresa Mary at a girls’ summer camp in Covington, Louisiana. While we worked hard during the week, she really enjoyed the weekends: We went to the French Quarter, the Biloxi Coast, Grand Isle… and we would go horseback riding on hot summer evenings. I will never forget her laughter as my horse decided to take a dip in the river with me on him!”
Sister Theresa Mary also enjoys a challenge at cards or cribbage. Sister Wendy Olin, during one round of games, received a dubious compliment. Sister Theresa Mary exclaimed: “You are fun to play with. You don’t mind losing.”
However St. Gertrude’s is not where Sister Theresa Mary first attempted to enter. Her parents were the caretakers of a sheep farm owned by the Benedictine brothers at St. John’s Abbey in West Union, Minnesota. She had two aunts, a great-aunt, a great-great aunt, and several cousins who were in religious life. All her grammar and high school years she was taught by Benedictines. Having known she would be a sister since third grade, she entered St. Benedict’s Convent in St. Joseph, Minnesota.
Theresa was assigned to take care of the sisters’ turkeys. Unfortunately, the birds made her sick with a painful rash on her face and arms. She went home twice, returning after her skin healed. Each time she was placed on turkey duty and each time she had to leave once more. When she returned again, she met Sister Johanna Uhlenkott from a convent in Cottonwood, Idaho. Within a month, Theresa was on a train bound for there. She made profession on March 21, 1938 and began a career as a teacher.
Sister Theresa Mary taught grade school in Cottonwood, St. Maries, Grangeville, Rupert, Nampa, Lewiston, and Boise. She also did home care with the elderly and parish work at St. John’s in Boise. She retired and moved back to St. Gertrude’s in 2000 where she has helped care for the gardens and is active in prayer ministry.
Does she have any advice for her sisters as they live their own religious commitments? “Be faithful to prayer and the Divine Office,” she quickly answers. “And love each other.”