Fieldnotes – The Sister

I heard about Saint Gertrude’s Monastery from my friend Guy Hand, the talented, Boise-based radio journalist, photographer and producer of Northwest Food News Guy told me what a nice atmosphere I would find at the monastery, but I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful it would be. Driving from the north, through the pine forests of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation, the country opens up into the Camas Prairie, with rolling fields of wheat and canola stretching all the way to the Seven Devils range. Saint Gertrude’s itself has the feeling (to me) of a 19th century Bohemian or Austrian monastery.

I regret that I didn’t have time to interview more of the sisters. I did have interesting visits with Sister Katie Cooper, who entered the order as a widow and a grandmother late in life; Sister Chanelle Schuler, who has been a Benedictine nun for more than 50 years, and who was my guide; Sister Clarissa Goeckner, the Prioress, who graciously invited me to dinner, and allowed me to record and photograph the morning prayers; and Sister Carol Ann Wassmuth (who is about to celebrate 50 years at Saint Gertrude’s), the monastery’s talented forester, about whom I would like to do a story in the future.

One thing that struck me about Saint Gertrude’s is how worldly and ‘normal’ it felt. I knew that the sisters here were not cloistered, and did not wear the habit, but I still assumed the monastery would feel more isolated than it does. Instead, it seems to be completely integrated into the surrounding community. As Sister Teresa Jackson (whom I profiled) told me:

“The impact we have on people never ceases to amaze me. The folks who come here, the folks who get to know us in other ways…we aren’t somehow set off way apart, and never have any impact on anyone….The image I like to use of Benedictine monasteries is that of yeast, or salt, that a little bit makes a huge difference…Even though we’re out in the middle of nowhere in a monastery, we have a tremendous impact on the world.”