Sister Carol Ann Wassmuth
Like most Sisters of her community, Sister Carol Ann Wassmuth wears many hats…including a hardhat. In addition to leading the Social Justice Committee and being the certified operator of the Monastery’s water supply, Sister Carol Ann is the Monastery’s Director of Forestry.
If you had told Sister Carol Ann about the roles she would eventually take on when she entered the Monastery of St. Gertrude at age 13, she probably wouldn’t have believed you.
Carol Ann grew up as the third eldest (oldest girl) of nine children in Greencreek at a time when “just about every family had one or two girls in the convent.” The summer after she graduated from 8th grade, she filled in for her mother, who was sick that day, to serve tables at an event at the Monastery. She was too busy to go on the special tour of the Monastery that was taking place that day and to which she had so looked forward. When a cousin invited her to come and spend a weekend visiting, she was elated. “I have such vivid memories of that weekend...I absolutely fell in love with it.” When her parents came to bring her home, “we didn’t even get half a mile down the road” before she told her parents that she wanted to enter the convent. She entered that fall.
In 1960, after graduating from the Sister’s St. Gertrude’s Academy, Sister Carol Ann made First Monastic Profession and was sent off to teach. She began with upper grades, then taught junior high around Idaho, and was a principal before she turned 30. With her aptitude for math and science, Sister Carol Ann was being groomed 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. In between literally building the program from the ground up, she spent four summers at Boston College completing a Masters in Education with a teaching field in theology. By this time, Sister Carol Ann had discovered a love of adult education and the confidence to accomplish things she had never dreamed she could do.
Sister Carol Ann (second from right) and the Monastery of St. Gertrude Peace and Justice Committee.
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. Bill led by vision; Carol Ann working out the details. The parish grew and prospered with the pair at its center. “It was my Camelot,” she says with obvious fondness.
Leadership at the parish changed, and Sister Carol Ann applied to come home for what she thought would be a year-long break. Then the prioress, Sister Gertrude, asked her to begin a land stewardship plan. Soon thereafter she saw an advertisement for a University of Idaho extension course on forest insects and disease and decided to attend. With that as an introduction, Sister Carol Ann says she fell in love all over again: “I know what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a forester!” Opportunities continued to “fall in her lap” and she went on to earn her Idaho Master Forest Steward certification and was named Idaho Tree Farmer of the Year in 2001. “Everyone thought this was so unique, a nun with a hardhat.” The Philosophy of Land Use statement that she wrote for the community has become a standard nationwide.
Quality time in the woods has to be arranged around coordinating the community’s Social Justice Committee, which grew out of Sister Carol Ann’s first forays into networking and activism. She is also the Certified Operator of the Monastery’s public water system – “my purgatory” – which involves frequent water tests, continuing education classes, and being available at all times in case of emergencies. A less onerous task is making use of a stash of inherited doll parts, which she makes into hand-crocheted dolls for gifts and for sale in the Monastery Book and Gift shop.
Sister Carol Ann has taken on far more than she had ever imagined when she entered the monastery 51 years ago, but she says that her ministry is largely about “staying open...saying ‘Yes, I can do that.’” Above and before any of her other jobs, though, she says “I am a Benedictine.” Staying rooted in prayer, grounded in community, and open to God is the foundation of all that Sister Carol Ann does.
Sister Carol Ann will lead the upcoming retreat, "The Power of One in the World Community," May 10-12