The Benedictine sisters who settled near Cottonwood, Idaho, to establish the Monastery of St. Gertrude may not have imagined that, 110 years in the future, the Monastery would become a center of hospitality, art and culture for the region. Today’s sisters run a bed and breakfast, organize art workshops, make crafts for the gift shop, and operate a museum. And that’s just the beginning.
Something the pioneer sisters who settled here would have predicted is how inextricably tied to the land the Monastery community would be. That’s the way they built it from the beginning. Stories handed down depict a “do whatcha gotta do” attitude with sisters afoot in the forest looking for the cows, pinning up their habits to bring in the hay, and tending the orchard and gardens that sustained them. The Monastery was built in 1920 of blue porphyry stone quarried from the hill behind it, an enduring testament to the community’s intimate relationship with the land.
The little piece of land that promised stability to a growing band of sisters has grown to 1,400 acres overlooking Camas Prairie and the Bitterroot Mountains. Like their predecessors, today’s sisters can be found routinely in the forest, gardens, and orchards. Sister Carol Anne Wassmuth, a master forest steward, oversees management of 1,000 acres of ponderosa pine, fir, and larch enrolled in Idaho’s Forest Stewardship Program, and leads local students in hands-on forest education days. Sisters Carlotta Maria Fontes and Placida Wemhoff organize work in the garden and orchard, a collaborative effort that produces fresh produce for the community and guests. And virtually always, a sister or retreatant is likely to be ambling through the open grounds and woods near the Monastery in peaceful contemplation or joyful fellowship, appreciating the abundant wildflowers and wild birds.
Guests are welcome to individual and group retreats at the solar-powered, geothermal heated and cooled Spirit Center, and to the Inn at St. Gertrude where guests enjoy Monastery-made jam, bread, and desserts. The sisters share their tranquil, harmonious community with the public through concerts in the Chapel (which is on the National Register of Historic Places), art and writing workshops, art exhibitions, the annual Raspberry Festival, and other events.
The Historical Museum at St. Gertrude — which focuses on the rich heritage of the Monastery, Camas Prairie, Snake River, Salmon River, and surrounding areas — is in the final stages of a comprehensive, five-year remodel, and a gift shop and bookstore stocks items crafted by the sisters.
The community also welcomes artists-in-residence, is building a new co-housing program that will welcome lay women to live side-by-side with the sisters, and is exploring a variety of other ways to enable people to live Benedictine spirituality in their daily lives.
The sisters have done all of this with the grace of the Benedictine commitment to communal life and a commitment to the three core values of Healing Hospitality, Grateful Simplicity, and Creative Peacemaking. Sounds like a breath of fresh air, doesn’t it?
To do their part to stem the spread of COVID-19, the sisters have closed the Monastery to the public until May 15.
Find it 465 Keuterville Road, Cottonwood, ID 83522
Inn at St. Gertrude reservations
Annual Raspberry Festival, first Sunday in August
Learn about the Spirit Center and upcoming retreats