Sister Agnes Reichlin
Sister Agnes Reichlin’s story with the monastery began long before she was born. Her great grandparents on her mother’s side are John and Gertrude Uhlenkott, who offered the land that brought the Swiss sisters to Cottonwood nearly one hundred years ago.
Her dad, also a Swiss immigrant, often worked for the St. Gertrude’s community as a woodcutter and farmer. Her mother grew up near the convent and her family was closely associated to the community through Mother Scholastica Uhlenkott.
When she was in first grade Agnes rode to a one-room schoolhouse west of Keuterville on a pony her father gave her. In second grade she was sent to boarding school at nearby St. Gertrude’s. “Five miles was a long way back then,” she says. Amidst the nuns she began to have a sense of her own vocation.
Still, the thought that she might best serve the world as a mother stayed in her mind. But one rainy day at school she playfully threw her gym clothes over her head and asked her teacher, ‘How do you like my veil?’ ‘Pretty nice,’ the nun replied. ‘Where will that happen?’ ‘Right here,’ Agnes blurted out. From then on she knew that St. Gertrude’s was where she belonged.
Life began to move very quickly. Agnes began working evenings and Saturdays at St. Mary’s Hospital doing laundry. Then her father died when she was just 16. On February 1st, 1952, when Agnes was 18 and much to the initial unhappiness of her mother, Agnes entered St. Gertrude’s. A year and a half later she made her First Profession. A year after that she was sent to Ogden, Utah, to study nursing.
After receiving her nursing diploma, Sister Agnes was sent to work at St. Benedict’s Hospital in Jerome. Almost immediately she began to teach LPN classes. “I had always said I’d never be a teacher,” she says, “but I discovered I like teaching adults.” Today several sisters credit Sister Agnes as influential in their own nursing careers. In 1965 she entered Seattle University, testing through many of the classes and completing her bachelor’s degree in two years. Twelve months after that she obtained a master’s degree in Nursing Administration and Maternal Child Health from University of Washington. She then became Director of Nursing, first at Jerome and then at St. Mary’s Hospital in Cottonwood, where she stayed for the next 22 years.
During her long career Sister Agnes has witnessed great change both in medicine and in the St. Gertrude’s community, particularly after Vatican II. “It’s always very interesting to be involved in change,” she says. “When I first came here, we prayed the Office in Latin. Then we changed to English. It was disappointing at first. I loved the rhythm of the Latin. But then I realized it was so nice to understand what I was praying.”
Now she is Director of Formation and facilitates retreats at Spirit Center that integrate arts, nature, and healing. “Nursing taught me to be observant and listen,” she says. “Healing has a lot to do with emotional and spiritual well-being. All of life is a healing journey and this community has a role to play in helping people heal. Jesus said, ‘I came so that you may have life and have life to the fullest.’ I do whatever I can to help people come to that.”