Choose Kindness: The Monastery of St. Gertrude

By MARY TERRA-BURNS

Like ice cream melting on a hot day, you can feel stress and tension melting away as you walk the grounds of the Monastery of St Gertrude.

The Monastery has been a presence on the Camas Prairie for over 100 years. In 1882, three Benedictine sisters arrived in the Northwest after a long journey from Sarnen, Switzerland.

After establishing communities and schools in Oregon and Washington, Mother Hildegard Vogler led the community to Cottonwood, Idaho, where they established their motherhouse (founding house of a religious order) in 1909.

The sisters settled on hillside property with a frame house, orchard, and chapel. Surrounded by prairie with views of the Bitterroot Mountain Range and Seven Devils peaks in the distance, they were reminded of their home in Switzerland.

The current chapel was designed by Engelbert Gier and is simply beautiful. Built from blue porphyry stone, which was mined from a hillside behind the Monastery, it was completed in 1924 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside the sanctuary, blue chairs are positioned in front of the high altar; however, most of the chapel is filled by choir stalls. Four rows of oak choir stalls on either side of the center aisle are positioned to face each other. From the choir stalls the sisters pray the Liturgy of the Hours (daily prayers, psalms supplemented by hymns), listen to Scripture, and intercede for the church and world, which is fundamental to Benedictine spirituality.

When the sisters sing hymns, one can really appreciate the acoustic quality of the chapel. Each year numerous visitors experience this auditory pleasure at concerts offered throughout the year. A variety of musical performances, such as the Palouse Choral Society, In-Between Jazz Trio, Wilson-McVey-Hilliard Trio, and Gonzaga University Choir, provide wonderful and inspiring music that brings joy to all who attend.

Approximately 20,000 visitors are welcomed at the Monastery annually. Many come for a peaceful day of walking in the gardens and forest, where they can experience award-winning ecological stewardship on guided ecology walks. The Monastery stewards a forest, which provides a source of income, as well as gardens, orchards, a farm, and grazing land.

Stations of the Cross line the path behind the Monastery that leads to the Grotto Garden and cemetery.

The Grotto Garden is a memorial place honoring major benefactors. Beyond the cemetery is the quarry where the blue porphyry stone was mined, and at the top of the hill is a fantastic view of the surrounding prairie and mountains.

If you want to take advantage of dark-sky stargazing, or any of the many other activities, reserve a room at the Inn, the Monastery’s bed and breakfast. Each of the four rooms has a wonderful view, an outdoor living space, flat screen TV, and Internet access.

At the entrance to the Monastery grounds is the Welcome Center, which houses the Book and Gift Shop as well as the Historical Museum. The museum is well designed and displays artifacts from the early days of the Monastery and surrounding area. Special exhibits include stories of the Benedictine sisters, the Camas Prairie, and surrounding areas.

Additionally, the museum sponsors fun and educational family events, including the Fall Lecture Series that shares Idaho stories, and the annual Raspberry Festival that includes arts and crafts, a car show, fun run/walk, and other activities.

The Monastery campus also includes the Spirit Center, a retreat center that hosts enriching and transforming retreats in a green facility with solar power and geothermal heating and cooling. Two conference rooms and 22 guest rooms are available for individual and hosted groups.

Through all their ministries, the sisters strive to live their mission statement: “Eager to welcome God’s transforming power in ourselves and our world, we, the Benedictine sisters of the Monastery of St. Gertrude, seek God together through monastic profession and respond with healing hospitality, grateful simplicity, and creative peacemaking.” ISI

For more information visit the Monastery’s website www.stgertrudes.org

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