by Sister Gertrude Feick
November is my favorite month of the liturgical year. This year was no exception. I was especially blessed on All Saints’ Day when the Redwoods community formally received me into the Cistercian (OCSO) Order. Simultaneously, I began a three-year probationary period in preparation for Solemn Profession. Dear readers, this is nothing short of a miracle.
When asked to share my story, I didn’t know where to begin. In brief, my life has not been uneventful. Born the youngest of eight in Muncie, Indiana, I developed a sense of adventure at an early age that remains. Words from an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem became my mantra: “My heart is warm with the friends I make, and better friends I’ll not be knowing, Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, No matter where it’s going.” That said, I was comforted by a recent Pope Francis Tweet: “GOD is always faithful and never stops for a moment loving us, following our steps, and running after us when we have strayed from him.” I used to be a really fast runner, literally and figuratively.
By the grace of God, I entered Queen of Angels Monastery, Mt. Angel, Oregon, in 2000, making my perpetual monastic profession with the Benedictine Sisters ten years ago. The years prior to my entrance into monastic life have been described as peripatetic. What follows may give reason for such a description. The travel bug bit in 8th grade when my dad took me on a business trip to Tahiti. Through the experience I learned no distance was too great, no person a stranger. Since then, I’ve traveled to five continents and lived and worked in seven states. After graduate school in 1988, I spent nine years working in the field of health promotion in a variety of settings. Spare time was filled with training, and competing nationally and internationally in triathlons. My last race was in Perth, Australia, the 1997 ITU World Championship. Burnt out, I wondered if there might be something more fulfilling in life. After divesting myself of nearly all personal belongings, I served in the US Peace Corps in the Republic of South Africa, not without climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro before returning to the US. Not sure what to do next, I started driving across our country with tent and bicycle, no destination in mind. Then I landed in the monastery and fell in love with the Rule of Saint Benedict.
Over the last 17 years, I have been gifted with myriad opportunities to grow deeper in my relationship with God through a communal life of prayer, work, and study. Formal theological studies culminated in a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Rome, with a dissertation, “A Pilgrim’s Search for God: The Spirituality of Cardinal Basil Hume.” In addition to leading retreats and giving presentations, I taught at Mt. Angel Seminary and the University of Portland. Most recently I served as Executive Director of the Benedictine Institute, Saint Martin’s University, Lacey, Washington.
One might wonder what is next. In fact, a friend asked if I was content. I shared a recent insight that came when minding my own business: this is the first time in a long time that I am not wondering what I might do next, and where I might do it. There are days when I am overwhelmed by the love and mercy bestowed upon me by God through my Redwoods Sisters. My sisters are teaching me to love and be loved. If that is a sign of contentment, then the answer is yes. I met my first Cistercians in 2006. Through two in particular, one Nigerian, the other Irish, I was attracted to what I sensed as the utter simplicity of their lives of prayer and manual labor. They were beautiful, no-nonsense women who spoke to me in different yet powerful ways. Ever since I prayed I might one day be a Cistercian, knowing full well God would never grant such an outrageous request. Be careful what you pray for. God is full