By the time Sister Claudia Rae Braun entered St. Gertrude’s at the age of 24, she had graduated high school as valedictorian of her class, lettering in drama, music, and sports; participated in student government and became student body president at Nezperce High School; and put herself through college with scholarships, teaching and among other things, driving a grain truck in her hometown.
Yet despite her individual accomplishments, she remained more fascinated by what could be done by a group. She was taught by the Benedictine sisters and admired their idealism, prayer life, happiness, balance of work and leisure, and the way they endeavored to bring out the best in all of their students. “I had always thought I wanted to do more than just survive,” says Sister Claudia Rae. “Working with God’s people as a group, we can do more than just working as individuals.”
The seventh of eleven children, she had grown up in a devout Catholic family on a farm in Nezperce, Idaho, where her family raised cattle, grains, hay, wheat, oats, alfalfa, peas, and clover. When she announced that she had decided to enter St. Gertrude’s her family was supportive but surprised. “I had taught for two years already,” she remembers. “I figured if I didn’t try religious life now, I would never try it.”
She entered on August 13, 1961. She began teaching high school English, religion and social studies at St. Gertrude’s Academy and then taught 8th grade at St. Anthony’s School in Pocatello. After a health crisis, her doctor advised her to explore work that didn’t require standing all day. Almost immediately, she began a Master’s program in Business Administration at the University of Portland. From there, exploring the creative potential of groups became her life’s work.
“I am most excited by anything to do with people,” she smiles. “I love the whole idea that everyone has a piece of the puzzle. Participation is a part of happiness; it’s not what life hands you but what you do with what’s handed to you that makes your life.”
Sister Claudia Rae began a long career at St. Benedicts Family Medical Center in Jerome, Idaho. She served nearly 30 years over a 43-year span. Every time she left for other work, she was put on a leave of absence so she could easily be brought back. She served there as controller, ward clerk, purchasing and personnel director, and coordinator of mission and pastoral services.
Her gaps from St. Benedicts included starting the human resources departments at Magic Valley Regional Medical Center in Twin Falls and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bellingham, Washington; serving as secretary to the administrator at Bishop Kelly High School; becoming a consultant to Mother Regina O’Connell during the Vatican II transitions; acting as treasurer and writing grants; becoming the Monastery’s first house coordinator and eventually founding the Development Office.
She has served many years on the Monastic Council and hospital boards. She most recently served as the archivist of the St. Gertrude’s community for six and one-half years. At the beginning of 2016, Sister Claudia Rae was asked to make a change in ministry to once again take up development work. “Change is the only constant in life,” she says. “What happens to you is not as important as how you react to it.”
It hasn’t always been easy. She entered St. Gertrude’s when religious life was much stricter. Before her Profession, her mother was in the hospital and Sister Claudia Rae was not allowed to go visit her. Her mother died in July; Sister Claudia Rae’s Profession was in August. “There are hard things,” reflects Sister Claudia Rae. “You don’t always get to do what you want to do the most. Grace is there to help you.”
What excites her about monastic life includes consistency of prayer life and opportunities for many different ministries. “We are forward looking,” she says. “We don’t die on the vine. We are always searching for what works. We have been richly blessed by a loving God. As I look to the future, I am filled with hope, gratitude, and deep appreciation for a loving God who continuously rejoices over all of us and renews us in love.
“The goal in life should be to do the best you can every day. Live each day as best you can. It’s not about the peak things. You don’t have to preach, your life will say it for you. It’s what is taught in Micah 6:8: ‘This is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.’”