Sister Mary Geis
As sacristan, Sister Mary Geis is in charge of caring for the Monastery chapel and all its liturgical elements. “It’s the best ministry,” she says, “helping to make things beautiful, meaningful and powerful for everyone who comes for liturgy.”
This standard of care is implicit in the Rule of Benedict: “all utensils and goods of the monastery” are to be treated as “sacred vessels of the altar.” (RB 31:10-11) She prepares well ahead for every liturgical event, from daily Mass and prayer to Advent and Christmas to the intense three-day Easter observances (Triduum). She attends to the altar, vestments, choir and prayer books, and oversees the transitioning of the altar paintings and, along with others, helps adorn the chapel with the correct liturgical colors and decorations of the season. Past traditions are interwoven with the present to bring the liturgy to life.
“Liturgical life is different for us than other churches because this is our home,” she explains. “Most people don’t have the blessing of walking down the hall to church.”
Going to church, which now involves a simple walk down the hall, was not always as easy growing up – though always as grand. Her family lived in a remote area of the Camas Prairie called Icicle Flat. The long trip over frontier terrain did not diminish the importance of going to church in their lives. “I learned to especially love Christmas,” she recalls. “I loved the beauty, crib scenes, lights and trees brought indoors.” The family later moved to Cottonwood, with St. Gertrude’s nearby.
“My mother inspired my prayer life by example, ensuring that the rosary and other prayers were an important part of every day,” she says. “Her mother’s sister, Sister Mathilda, sent holy cards and I was always aware that, although we didn’t often see her, she was praying for us. Throughout my life, as a child and as an adult, prayer has been a powerful, sustaining presence.”
The sisters at St. Gertrude’s were a strong influence in young Mary’s life, beginning with teachers in the first grade and continuing through high school. In the fourth grade, she announced that she was going to be a sister. That desire never left and she entered the Monastery after completing high school at St. Gertrude’s Academy.
When she entered the Monastery, the sisters were still in full habit and prayed the Divine Office in Latin. Changes in dress and praying in English came in her early years, so she had a taste of the traditional ways before Vatican II and then lived with the excitement of new life in the Church.
Her 50-plus years of ministry as a Benedictine Sister have been varied. Initially, she was sent to teach in grade schools in Boise, Cottonwood, Grangeville and Greencreek, before being called to hospital work in the area of medical records and as a unit secretary. St. Benedict’s Hospital in Ogden, Utah and Seattle University provided her education in that field. She worked at both of the community’s hospitals – St. Benedict’s Hospital in Jerome, Idaho and St. Mary’s Hospital in Cottonwood, Idaho.
Other ministries served at home in the Monastery included assistant prioress, procurator, treasurer, infirmary team member and presently house coordinator and sacristan. She also keeps the Community Chronicle, a record of the daily events of the monastery. She now also oversees the Book & Gift Shop at the Welcome Center.
“I appreciate the ordinariness of everyday which is never really ordinary – there’s always something new. We are a vibrant center of spirituality and hospitality and with open hearts we are faithful to our monastic calling of reflection, silence and prayer. There has been an underlying joy in my monastic life, serving and living in Idaho and touching the whole world through prayer and love.”