Sister Carlotta Maria Fontes
On a sunny, fresh morning in mid-April, Sister Carlotta is in the lower gardens preparing the vegetable beds. She is well within earshot of the St. Gertrude’s bell towers and in the opposite direction, can enjoy a broad view of Camas Prairie in its fields of new green under a pristine blue sky. Snow-capped mountains line the distance.
The vegetables and fruits grown at St. Gertrude’s help feed the sisters and their guests year-round. Seedlings of melons, squash, lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes emerge in a newly restored greenhouse. She encourages people to plant their own gardens.
“Think about your food supply,” she says. “Get your kids involved; even in the city you can grow food on your porch in five-gallon buckets.” She adds that creating a garden of any kind is also creating a sanctuary.
If not in the garden, Sister Carlotta is often busy making soap, salve, lip balm, or teas. She calls them Nature’s Gifts — and with good reason. “Our backyard is an abundant source of God’s gift of healing plants to us,” she says.
She received her Master Herbalist certificate from the Global College of Natural Medicine in Santa Cruz, CA, in May 2007. In this intensive, one-year program, she studied herbs and their effects on the human body. She learned how to identify and grow herbs, prepare them for use in making teas, tinctures, and tonics. While Sister Carlotta cannot diagnose or prescribe, she can make suggestions about which herbs to use for relief of specific ailments.
Sister Carlotta was born in Taunton, Massachussetts. Her father was in the Air Force and the family lived in several places including Japan. They moved to Boise, Idaho, in 1974 upon his retirement. As an adult Sister Carlotta worked in a manufacturing company. Then, in 2000, she went to Europe, inspired by the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina. While praying in a chapel, she saw a group of nuns enter the sanctuary. “I watched them pray and felt an overwhelming sense of wanting to belong to something like that,” she says.
Later, a friend brought her to the Monastery of St. Gertrude for a weekend. She continued discerning a vocation with personal reflection, talks with friends and family, and several more visits to the Monastery. Two and a half years later, she became a postulant and made her First Profession on March 21, 2006. She began learning about gardening and herbs from Sister Theresa Dvorak.
One of Sister Carlotta’s favorite things about being a master herbalist is when someone comes up to her and tells her how her salve has been able to help them. She also loves to find new recipes and scents and her inspiration can come from anywhere, such as from online or by simply smelling something she likes.
Sister Carlotta leads soap-making classes and the “Herbal Wisdom for Today” retreat at Spirit Center. She also teaches classes in herbal salves and tinctures with Sister Agnes. The Nature’s Gifts products can be found in the Welcome Center Gift Shop and online.