Sister Carol Ann Wassmuth
Sister Carol Ann’s life is an array of vibrant endeavors woven securely together by commitment. Some of her roles, like overseeing the Monastery’s 1,400 acres of land and working in parish ministry, have brought excitement and joy while other roles, such as being the certified operator of the Monastery’s water system, bring less enthusiasm. “Forestry is my passion,” she laughs. “The forest is my heaven; the water system is my purgatory.” Her role as the Monastery’s choir director elicits a more middle-of-the-road response: “Really, I think this is God’s idea of a joke. It’s not my strongpoint but I can direct and organize. I am doing what has been asked of me to do the best I can; that’s all any of us can do.”
She explains that commitments are an act of the will and ultimately set the stage for more possibilities. “A commitment really frees a person to be real,” she says, even if that means disagreements. “When I made my Profession vows at 17, it was for life. My commitment is to the community. I am really convinced of the value of Benedictine life and the vision we have to share with the world. Diverse people with different backgrounds can come together respecting one another, caring for one another. Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we can’t live together in peace.”
She found an early example of faithfulness in the example of her parents, who were farmers in nearby Greencreek. The third eldest (oldest girl) of nine children, it was common at that time to have more than one child enter religous life. The summer after 8th grade, a cousin invited her to come and spend a weekend at St. Gertrude’s. “I have such vivid memories of that weekend…I absolutely fell in love with it.” She entered that fall.
In 1960, after graduating from St. Gertrude’s Academy, Sister Carol Ann made First Monastic Profession and was assigned to teach upper grades in various Catholic schools around Idaho. With her aptitude for math and science, she was being prepared for the math and chemistry teacher position at the Academy. But then it closed, and life took off in new directions. First she earned a degree in religious studies in one year at Mundelein College in Chicago then was hired as the religious education coordinator at Sacred Heart Church in Boise. Here, she encountered the uplifting influence of Father John Donahue. “He believed in what I could become even though I was scared. I found a whole new world, a whole new level to my ministry.” He encouraged her to attend summer school at Boston College where she completed a Masters in Education with a teaching field in theology.
In 1989 she decided to apply for the position of associate pastor at St. Pius X in Coeur d’Alene, where her brother Bill served as pastor. The siblings worked together for eight years and the parish grew and prospered. “We had the same vision for what a parish could be, full of both play and work to witness to the rest of the world.” When leadership at the parish changed, Sister Carol Ann asked to return to the Monastery for what she thought would be a year-long sabbatical. The prioress asked her to organize a Stewardship of the Land committee. One day she found a notice for a Department of Lands workshop on forest insects and disease and decided to attend. That’s when she fell in love with forestry. More opportunities came for forest education and she went on to earn her Idaho Master Forest Steward certification. In 2001 she was named Idaho Tree Farmer of the Year.
Sister Carol Ann led the Stewardship of the Land committee in a process of articulating a Philosophy of Land Use that was adopted by the monastic community in l993. It has become a standard nationwide and was recently featured in a newsletter of the Aldo Leopold Foundation. That statement begins with the community’s recognition that they have a responsibility to care for the land and affirms their commitment to it. “You care for what you have — and that’s definitely a Benedictine value.” It is not surprising that Sister Carol Ann also coordinates the community’s Social Justice Office. “I don’t see any disconnect between social justice and ecology…doing what we can to bring about justice, peace, harmony, in all of God’s creation. Everyone receives what they need. My hope is that our community can model that for others. We can live together in harmony without differences coming between us. That’s what justice is about.”