In rural Cottonwood in north central Idaho is the home of the Sisters of St. Gertrude Convent.

In the monastery, decorated with many crosses and a red roof, the sisters have served and shared their Benedictine faith since the 1920s. .

“I think the main idea (of the convent) is that there are, you know, people … looking for a deeper commitment to the faith to actually live it as their main life commitment,” said Sister Teresa Jackson of St. Gertrude. Monastery.

But at the beginning of the 21st century, the number of young people joining the sisterhood decreased in such monasteries as the Saint Gertrude Monastery.

According to a 2022 report by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Apostolic Studies, more than 80% of nuns in the United States are over 70 years old. As the share of religiously identified young people declines, enrollment in the monastery also declines.

St. Gertrude Convent suffered two tragedies when two sisters, Benita Hasler and Mother Superior Mary Foreman, died in mid-March and late April, respectively.

But the sisters of this rural monastery made efforts to ensure the prosperity and continuation of their home.

St. Gertrude’s legacy lives on through Facebook Live streams, their active artist-in-residence program, and a growing community of oblates.

Jackson joined the sisterhood when she was 39 because she wanted a deeper commitment to her faith.

“God has a very strange sense of humor,” she said. “One fateful day, I saw a small print that said, ‘Come to the monastic life in Cottonwood, Idaho.’ And I said, “Cottonwood, Idaho?” I mean Idaho? I was in California so is it like Idaho? But I fiddled around, finally applied and went up and said, “Well, I heard Idaho is beautiful.” It’s going to be a nice little vacation.” »

When Jackson completed her trip, she realized that the monastery experience was exactly what she was looking for. It’s been 25 years since Jackson settled in a monastery for herself and her cats.

Sister Janet Barnard was Catholic all her life. When she first visited the monastery for a retreat in September 1979, it felt like she had finally returned home.

Barnard joined St. Gertrude’s Convent a year after her grandfather died of a heart attack.

“I like to pray psalms and I like to sing hymns. And I love our chapel. It’s so beautiful and it’s such an easy place to pray, but that’s what kept me here,” she said.

The monastery is not only a spiritual home for the sisters, but also for the oblates. Oblates are persons who dedicate themselves to faith and God, but are not religious or monks.

During the week, the sisters follow a schedule. They start with breakfast at 7:30 a.m., followed by morning prayer. They sing, read the Holy Scriptures and Psalms from the Bible. On Tuesday mornings they have noon prayer at 11:40 a.m. and Mass at 11:30 a.m. the rest of the week. After that, they have mid-day meal, evening prayer at 5:00 p.m., and dinner at 5:30 p.m. in the evening

“Most nights between 7 and 8 we do things together in our community room; we call it a vacation. Some of us play cards, some do puzzles, some knit and crochet. Some of us just sit in a circle and talk,” Barnard said.

On weekends, they spend less time in the chapel. On Sundays, they hold Mass, which is streamed live on their Facebook page.

Jackson said during the Mass that they have a chaplain who is a Benedictine monk from southern Idaho.

“The idea is that it’s an integral part of our day. It’s easy to think, “Oh my God, I have so much work to do.” I don’t want to interrupt that by going to pray.” But hopefully eventually we will start thinking that work interferes with prayer,” she said.

The future of the monastery

Jackson said that about 60 to 70 years ago, many men and women went to churches to become sisters or priests.

“The Catholic Church hasn’t really changed in, like, 400 years, and all of a sudden, you know, people started thinking in a completely different way and saying that maybe what was before could be different. And so I think (the mindset) has changed the culture,” she said.

Barnard said that at the turn of the 20th century, women and men were called to serve in the religious life. Women didn’t have many opportunities to get an education, but if you were called to serve in a sisterhood, you could learn to read and write.

She said society has changed a lot and women have more choices whether to live a religious-spiritual life or not. There are different types of careers and women can take advantage of the opportunity to even travel, which was not so common decades ago.

With fewer women being called to sisterhood, the convent still found ways to be active in its community.

Jackson said there is an artist-in-residence program where artists can stay at the convent for a month, creating their own work that is displayed for the sisters to view.

The monastery employs employees who are not part of the sisterhood. Employees work in a local gift shop on the grounds, a hotel and a spiritual center where many retreats are held.

“Traditionally, people say, ‘Well, the staff works for the sisters,’ and we say, ‘Well, we all work together.’ And so I think it creates a different level of commitment, you know, a different type of creativity and willingness to do things in a new way,” Jackson said.

Barnard said they plan to start a cohabitation program where women can stay with them without religious commitment. They also have an Oblate program with almost 100 Oblates participating.

“I think there will be a convent of St. Gertrude… I think it will not be just sisters and eventually it may not be any sisters, it may be all oblates and volunteers and staff. But it depends on God,” she said.


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