HistoryBelow is a brief summary of the history of the Center for Benedictine Life at the Monastery of St. Gertrude. Read the full account in "On the Way – The Journey of the Idaho Benedictine Sisters" by Mary Lucille Nachtsheim, OSB, edited by Evangela Bossert, OSB.
From Switzerland to Oregon to Washington
The Benedictine Sisters of the Monastery of St. Gertrude sprang forth from a humble beginning in 1882 as Sr. Johanna Zumstein, unable to speak English, closed the deal on the first living quarters for the Benedictine Sisters in Gervais, Oregon.
Soon, the three missionary sisters from a cloister in Sarnen, Switzerland, converted the run-down building into a well-run monastic community. Their first missionary endeavor was helping on the Indian mission in Grand Ronde.
The road to Idaho from Oregon meandered through Washington where our pioneering sisters were called to educate children in the rural areas near Uniontown and Colton.
In 1884, they established St. Andrew’s Convent and Academy in Uniontown. In ten years, they outgrew their space and moved to nearby Colton, Washington, where they opened St. Scholastica’s Convent and Academy.
They began several schools in the area and expanded their ministry into Idaho by staffing schools in Genesee and Cottonwood. They also conducted many summer religious schools at small missions throughout eastern Washington and northern Idaho.
And Finally, to Idaho
In 1907, the Benedictine Sisters again outgrew their space. Given a piece of land near the new prairie town of Cottonwood, Idaho, Mother Hildegard Vogler determined to relocate the motherhouse and novitiate there.
Three miles from town, the new site, with a frame house and chapel, provided a view across the prairie of the Clearwater and Bitterroot Mountains, glimpses of the rocky Seven Devils mountain range and a permeating aroma of pine which reminded the Swiss sisters of their homeland.
In the 1920s, the present Monastery of St. Gertrude was built, hewn from blue porphyry stone which was quarried from the hill behind it. The chapel is now on the National Register of Historic Places. By the time the new convent was completed and dedicated to St. Gertrude the Great, the Benedictine Sisters were engaged in many works for the Church.
The pressing needs of the pioneer families in Idaho called the Benedictine Sisters to respond quickly and effectively, first on the Camas Prairie, then throughout the state. For the next 50 years, St. Gertrude’s Monastery continued to establish and staff schools throughout Idaho.
In addition to their work in education, the sisters also became active in health care. In the 1930s, they opened Our Lady of Consolation Hospital in Cottonwood. In the 1960s, they replaced it with St. Mary’s Hospital, which they continued to operate until its management was transferred to Benedictine Health System of Duluth, Minnesota, in 1990. In 1998, St. Mary’s partnered with Clearwater Valley Health, and the organization thrives to this day.
The sisters also operated St. Valentine’s Hospital in Wendell, Idaho, opened in 1923. When that facility was closed in 1952, the sisters established St. Benedicts Hospital in Jerome, Idaho. Currently, it is managed by St. Luke’s Health System.
During the 1990s, both of the hospitals received awards rating them among the top 100 hospitals in America. Thus, the tradition of care, concern and quality health care begun by the Benedictine Sisters continues into the new millennium.
During the 1970s, new areas of need began to emerge. While maintaining their presence in education and health care, the sisters began to serve as religious education directors, youth ministers, campus ministers, retreat directors and pastoral associates. The Monastery established a mission in Bogota, Colombia, where the sisters served in the school and parish. Some of the sisters also worked in the parishes the Diocese of Boise administered in Cali. The sisters all returned from South America in 1994.
The 1970s also saw the close of St. Gertrude’s Academy and the consolidation of the schools in the Cottonwood area. Today, the buildings of St. Gertrude’s Academy house Prairie High School. The students there are receiving their public education in the same classrooms that their parents and grandparents occupied when the school was administered by the Benedictine Sisters.
Today, the Benedictine Sisters are ministering throughout the state of Idaho, and in Washington and California. Their ministries are varied because the needs of the times are so great. In 2008, the sisters were awarded the Idaho Extraordinary Witness Award by the Kessler-Keener Foundation for their work in human rights.
For over 130 years, the Benedictine Sisters have lived the gospel message through prayer and work. Their communal life of prayer and contemplation is the leaven for their lives of presence and service.
The Monastery of St. Gertrude remains the only community of women religious to be based in Idaho.
As of 2022, the Sisters, oblates, employees, friends and benefactors came together to create the Center for Benedictine Life at the Monastery of St. Gertrude, with the motto, “All of us together into the future.”