Do you have a longing for something more? That’s the question Sister Teresa often asks people through a variety of projects and programs in which she is engaged. It is also the question that prompted her toward religious life.
Sister Teresa Jackson grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area of California without any particular faith tradition. She joined a Baptist church while in college and remained a steady member of Baptist congregations through graduate school and into her early career. One day, though, “it wasn’t enough anymore. I wanted to go deeper.” Soon she came across a brochure for a summer course in “Catechetics, Liturgy, and Spirituality” and decided to enroll, even though the course was hosted at a Catholic school. After six weeks of staring open-jawed and amazed at the richness of sacramental theology, she was hooked. A couple of years and several more classes later, she attended her first Catholic Mass. This was the unknown thing for which she had been searching.
Shortly after entering the church through RCIA in 1992, Sister Teresa began having persistent thoughts about vocation and religious life. After participating in a “monastic living experience” at the Monastery, she knew
that St. Gertrude’s was her home. Several more visits later, she quit her job, said goodbye to friends, and moved to the Monastery for good.
Sister Teresa made First Profession in 2000 and began working with the retreat ministry. As part of an outreach program she travelled across Idaho, Washington, and Oregon facilitating retreats as well as organizing meaningful experiences for often overlooked groups – parish secretaries and women pastors, for example – at the Monastery. She began to co-coordinate the oblate community with Oblate Jeannette Kelley in 2006. In 2007-8, Sister Teresa earned her Certificate in Monastic Studies from St. John’s University in Minnesota and returned to take on a new role as volunteer director and then vocations director from 2010 to 2017. In 2011 she became a certified spiritual director.
She believes Benedictine life is not just for sisters. In 2012 she began “Living as Monk in Everyday Life,” a cohort program at Spirit Center that forms people from all walks of life in Benedictine values and monastic principles.“ Some people can have this mentality that they can just be passive recipients while the sisters are ‘professional’ religious. I want to help people recognize the calling of Benedictine life can be for everyone.”
Sister Teresa’s influence can also be seen at Spirit Center. Musing over Brian Swimme’s new cosmology and the Monastery’s outdoor Stations of the Cross, she wanted to create something that merged the two. The text of “Passion of the Earth” was the result. She then worked back-and- forth, long-distance, with artist Melanie Weidner. The resulting project combines poetry with fabric mandalas, in a custom-designed space.
Her ideas continue to help grow the presence of the arts at the Monastery, from the Art Challenges, art exhibits, and artist-in- residence program to the now-annual “I’ll Fly Away” Gospel Bluegrass Concert where she makes a special appearance as Minnie Pearl. She also serves on St. Gertrude’s Monastic Council and the Council of the Federation of St. Gertrude.
New projects include the Oblates for the Future Symposium that is going on its third year and draws Benedictine oblates from around the world. She is also overseeing a co-housing initiative that will invite lay women to live in Benedictine community alongside the sisters after a major renovation of the residence wing is completed in 2021.
It is all driven by “the desire to help bring St. Gertrude’s into a new future with a different way of understanding Benedictine life. I have been inspired by the people who come here and find this to be a place of great spiritual depth. I have intuitively responded to that and want to help them become more connected and find ways to live the same Rule of Benedict that I do. St. Gertrude’s is more than sisters. It’s a collaboration, all of us coming alongside in all the different ways God is calling. We’re all in this together.”