Monday, August 17, 2009

Welcome to the Next 100 Years!

Welcome to the Next Hundred Years!
That is what we feel like today at the Monastery after our great Grand Finale. We had about 350 people with us to celebrate in the chapel with a special Mass and then a reception out on the lawn. We had a sizable representation from the oblate community who came to help us celebrate and work.

Sisters from Sarnen
It was a very blessed day and week. It started on Wednesday when we greeted two of our sisters from San Andreas Kloster, Sarnen, Switzerland. It was from San Andreas that in 1882 three sisters journeyed to America to start a new foundation in the United States. This week, to celebrate 100 years in Cottonwood, Abbess Pia and Sr. Rut-Maria travelled here to join us. As they drove up we rolled out a red “carpet,” rang all the chapel bells and everyone in the community gathered in front of the main entrance to welcome them. We sang Edelweiss, Maria Zu Lieben and Sr. Clarissa welcomed them with a short speech in German.

During this week we have given our Swiss cousins lots of chances to experience our beautiful countryside including the Salmon River breaks, Heart of the Monster in Kamiah, Tolo Lake, Whitebird Hill and numerous other places. They have been delightful company, very appreciative and grateful for their time here and the chance to share our grand celebration.

Former Sisters Reunion
As part of our Centennial we have had lots of reunions. Recently there was a special day for former members of the oblate community to come and celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the oblate program as well as the Monastery Centennial. On Saturday we had a special day for former sisters, or as Clarissa called them “forever friends.” About two dozen former members, most of whom left in the 70’s through the 90’s, joined us for this special event.

A very touching highlight of their presence came on Sunday morning for prayer (which a certain unnamed oblate coordinator had forgotten she was in charge of). At the end of prayer after an introduction by Sr. Clarissa all the former members gathered in the center of chapel and two of them spoke very movingly about how much the St. Gertrude’s community still means to them and how they continue to feel a part of St. Gertrude’s. At their request they and the whole community sang “Dear Convent Home” and then the former sisters blessed the current community. It was definitely a three hankie event for almost everyone.

Centennial Mass
The Centennial Celebration Mass was yesterday in the chapel and the chapel was full but not packed and we were very happy so many people came to celebrate with us. Many of the oblate community were a great presence and help in making the event a success.

The Catholic Bishop of Boise, Mike Driscoll was our celebrant. The entrance procession was quite a site. Our former prioresses, Srs. Mary Marge and Mary Kay were candle bearers. The book of the Gospels was held by our oldest member of the monastery, Sr. Mercedes Martzen, accompanied by our newest member, Nov. Cindy Harris. They were also accompanied by our Swiss sisters, our brother monks, the abbots and former abbots from Jerome, St. Martin’s in Lacey, Washington, and Mt. Angel in Oregon who were concelebrants. Fr. Meinrad Schallberger, our former chaplain, was master of ceremonies. Several local clergy also joined us to celebrate. Sr. Clarissa joined the bishop and celebrants in the sanctuary. At several points the bishop incensed the assembled people and the book of the Gospel. In the back of the sanctuary members of two local choirs as well as our monastic schola were arranged and provided wonderful music for the celebration. With the vestments, habits, beautiful dresses, large bouquets of garden flowers, chapel decorations, choir accompaniment and wafting incense it was a very impressive set of sights, sounds and smells!

During the Mass our Swiss sisters decorated the altar. Then descendants of the John and Gertrude Uhlenkott family, who gave us the original land on which the monastery is built, brought up the gifts. These included Sr. Agnes Reichlin (daughter of Agnes Uhlenkott) and Sr. Emagene Warren (daughter of Vincent Uhlenkott).

After the Mass there was a reception on the front lawn with a special cake and a chance for everyone to visit and help us celebrate the great event.

Perhaps the best way to close the description is to quote the words of Sr. Clarissa in the booklet for Mass: “My hope is that the vision, heroism, ingenuity, faith and spirit of service that inspired our foremothers will continue to live and burn within us.” We can only add: Amen, may it be so!

Centennial and Conversatio
As I reflect on the incredible reality that the Monastery of St. Gertrude has been in Cottonwood for 100 years it seems that the key to understanding our perseverance is the idea of conversatio. In his Rule Benedict says that monastics are to profess “conversatio.” We translate this to mean “fidelity to the monastic way of life.” In other words every aspect of our life will be about seeking God in monastic life. We will persevere with the same group of people learning to bear one another’s burdens and learning what it means to have others bear ours. We will be obedient to the will of God as expressed in the Rule and the community even when it means going where we would rather not go and doing things we can’t even imagine we are capable of. We will do this day in and day out, year after year until death when we finally join our sisters on the hill who also professed conversatio and now are interceding for us as we struggle on this way.

None of the sisters who left Sarnen for America or even left Colton for Cottonwood is still with us. But their presence, their memory, their witness of living conversatio stays with us. They had no idea what the community would look like in 100 years or even if it would last 100 years. As we look forward we have no idea what the community will look like or even whether it will be here in 100 years. But like our foremothers we know that conversatio isn’t about achievement it is about faithfulness and love. Out of love for God, for one another, for the Church and the world we will persevere, faithful to the Gospel lived out in monastic life.

Whether anyone will be celebrating our bicentennial isn’t important. What is important is that all of us, cenobitic and oblate, our supporters, friends, members past, present and to come, have lived our lives of faith and integrity knowing that together “we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.”

As we give thanks for 100 years “at home in Idaho” we give special thanks for all who journey with us, for the great gift of their presence in our community.

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