As the director of St. Gertrude’s assisted living floor, Sister Janet Barnard understands both the wisdom the aging share and also the wisdom necessary to care for the aging. On this particular morning she is navigating some perspectives regarding a sister with dementia. 

“What is hurting me is that in her confusion she can’t remember how much I care for her,” explains Sister Janet. That the sister can remember certain details of life but not the context of caring relationships is just one of the areas to navigate in working with the aging. With the St. Gertrude’s monastic community in the second half of life, it’s clear that these challenges will be a part of the path ahead. 

“We learn to make adaptions and recognize limits,” said Sister Janet. “We find a way to let sisters age in grace and love, accepting reality. Perhaps we are called to mirror that to the world — that might be one of our ministries.”

The St. Gertrude’s community is unique in that it can meet the needs of most aging sisters in an in-house, assisted living facility. The Monastery is also receiving grants and other support from the National Religious Retirement Office and Support Our Aging Religious.

Caring for the aging was part of Sister Janet’s call to religious life. She left her immediate family in Phoenix, Arizona, for Nampa, Idaho, to help with her grandfather in his illness. Soon Janet Barnard was attending retreats at the Monastery. She recalls being touched by the prayer and feeling at home with the Benedictine values of tradition and stability. A year later, she entered the community. That was nearly 40 years ago.

“There have been all kinds of intentional communities throughout history but they tend to dissolve quickly. Benedictine monastic life has endured for 1,500 years because the center is God,” said Sister Janet. “I have learned to trust that everyone here is doing the best they can to become closer to God.”

Sister Janet Marie Barnard has served as a registered nurse (primarily in labor and delivery units) and as director of vocations, employing the wisdom from her own experience to help women discern their true callings. “God’s deepest desire for each of us is to be fully human and fully happy,” she said.

Sister Janet has also served as director of Mission Integration at St. Mary’s Hospital (with clinics in Cottonwood and Orofino). She has taught childbirth classes and assisted with deliveries. She is the treasurer/procurator on the Monastery’s leadership team.

“There is something in everyone in this community for which I am grateful. Living a life well here has its impact. This wisdom is in continuing to know what are our strengths. That we are here seeking God is our strength.”