Sister Mary Marge Goeckner
“When we were postulants, the professed sisters were not allowed to talk to new members,” remembers Sister Mary Marge. “This was very difficult, especially for Sister Angela’s outgoing personality. She would be in trouble one day and would pack her bags to leave. I would talk her out of it, and then, the next day, I would have my bags packed ready to leave. She would listen to my tears and talk me out of leaving.
“Thank God for the gift of music! Sister Angela and I were able to sing and that saved us more than once. While we didn’t yet know Latin, we were able to sing the chant and mumble the words. This got us back into the sisters’ good graces.” For each of these women, finding their way to St. Gertrude’s was the result of observing sisters firsthand in the classrooms and experiencing their gift of joy and service to others.
Sister Mary Marge entered St. Gertrude’s “because the sisters were always there … friendly, good teachers, ready to answer my questions, and even in hard times, they were happy people.” It is one thing to enter monastic life when you are 18 and idealistic. It is quite another thing to stay on in that vocation for over 50 years.
She recalls three specific times when she felt her vocation was tested. While watching the children on the playground one day, a second grader was hit in the chest by a baseball. The child died in Sister Mary Marge’s arms. It was a devastating and faith-shaking experience. “I grew up that day,” she said.
In 1964 Sister Mary Marge was sent to Minot, North Dakota, to teach sixth grade. “Mother Augustine forgot to tell me that I was not going to go back to St. Mary’s in Boise to teach. She only remembered once I was packed and heading out the door. We were both in shock and I learned quite a lesson in monastic obedience!”
One of the hardest times in Sister Mary Marge’s life was when she was asked to develop and implement the Released Time Program for the public school system after the closing of St. Gertrude’s Academy. “One day an 8th grade student, fed up with me and school and life in general, came up to my desk and spat in my face and shouted, ‘I don’t have to do anything you say be- cause my parents said this Released Time Program is a bunch of garbage.’
“With tears and spit running down my face, I wondered if our community and the town of Cottonwood could make it through this change. I sat at my desk and vowed to find a way to reach the children. I let the kids express to me their anger, pain and fear around the changes in the church and in their town.”
There have been many blessings along the way, too. “I have had many opportunities for study that I might not have had coming from a small town,” said Sister Mary Marge. “More importantly, however, I have grown in my spiritual life, not just through studies, but through trials of life.
Sister Mary Marge served as a chaplain at Holy Family Hospital for ten years and then at Sacred Heart Medical Center for ten years. “I survived cancer and a horrific car wreck that killed Sister Annunciata; I have no fear of death! These experiences helped me in my ministry of pastoral care to those dying and those who survive.”
“I have no trouble recommending monastic life to any woman who is truly seeking the Holy One,” said Sister Mary Marge. “Benedict calls us to be Wisdom Women and keep truth before our eyes. Inquiring women need to have life experiences such as college, working and dating. I also believe they have to be seeking spiritual direction, asking questions of the Church and be in dialogue with the theological questions of today. Women have so many choices today, and those who have tried to ‘do it all’ find out there is still more to discover seeking God. If they can join us in that search I will welcome them!”
Sister Mary Marge is now the assistant prioress. “I understand the Rule of Benedict better now and continue to ‘listen with the ear of my heart.’” As the Rule says, ‘Are you hastening toward your heavenly home? Then with Christ’s help keep this little rule that we have written for beginners.’ Rule of Benedict, Chapter 73