I was born and raised on the Camas Prairie; in a certain sense “in the shadow” or better said, “in the sunlight” of the Monastery of St. Gertrude. My entire elementary education was at St. Maurus School in Ferdinand, which was staffed by the sisters. St. Maurus was a small school with two classrooms—“the little room for 1st – 4th grades, and the “big room” for 5th – 8th grades. I was blessed with gifted and inspiring teachers; among them were Sister Edith Forsmann who was my teacher in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades, Sister Grace (now Bernadette Stang), my 5th grade teacher, and my piano teacher was Sister Winifred Lorentz.
My first two years of high school were the last two years of St. Gertrude’s Academy; Sister Augustine Uhlenkott was the principal. Then Prairie High School moved into the Academy building and several of the sisters continued to teach at Prairie. Among my teachers were Sisters Bernie Ternes, Carm Ternes, Catherine Manderfeld, Jean Lalande, and Benita Hassler. The sisters nurtured my mind, imagination, and spirit. There are not many places that are so isolated—yet we were given a vision not only of a wide and wondrous world, but of nothing less than the Kingdom of God.
The seed of my vocation as a priest of the Diocese of Boise was unknowingly and silently planted and watered by the sisters. Sister Benita Hassler was my Spanish teacher at the Academy; she frequently recounted stories of her experience while on mission in Colombia. Sister Angela Uhlorn—our families are neighbors—left on her mission in Colombia while I was a student at the Academy. Their stories and example sparked my imagination and later decision to volunteer myself for four years of service in the diocesan mission in Cali, Colombia. And who would have thought that while I struggled to conjugate Spanish verbs in Sister Benita’s class that Spanish would become a primary language of my priestly life and ministry. While I served in Cali, frequent visitors, hosts, and co-missioners in Bogotá were Sisters Maria Elena Schaefers, Judy Uhlenkott, and Regina O’Connell. The example of these generous, committed, and heroic women has been a priceless gift throughout my life.
Through my 37 years as a priest in the Diocese of Boise, the sisters have been my coworkers and companions/mentors in ministry. Frequently when I pray the Liturgy of the Hours, I think of the sisters gathered in the Monastery chapel praying the same prayer at roughly the same time with me. Truly I can say I am a priest today, to a great extent, because of the sisters of St. Gertrude.