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Young woman begins ‘gap year’ before college at monastery

Looking for a place to find balance to begin her “gap year” between high school and entering Yale University, Kelly Schumann left the busy, achievement-oriented metropolitan life of Washington, D.C., to spend six weeks this fall at the Monastery of St. Gertrude’s in Cottonwood, Idaho.

Kelly Schumann and Sister Teresa
Kelly Schumann and Benedictine Sister Teresa Jackson

While peers moved into dorm rooms and shopped for textbooks, she sat in prayer with the Benedictine sisters. Instead of pushing through crowds of students to go to class, she walked in the monastery forest or admired sunrise colors over the Camas Prairie, said Theresa Henson, communications manager at St. Gertrude’s.

Kelly delayed her admission to Yale for a break from academia and an opportunity for new experiences.  She joined in monastic life.  Next she will volunteer at an eco-resort on the big island of Hawaii, and in January begins five months of teaching English at a girls’ college and vocational school in Rwanda.

Yale encourages students to take a gap year, but she wasn’t going to take one until a February blizzard in her senior year reminded her what free time felt like, and she decided to delay college.

“Suddenly I felt so peaceful,” said Kelly, who is funding her travel with savings from her work as a professional harpist.

“I wanted to go where that balance was important, because, well, I needed it,” said Kelly of seeking a place “where the values would help me reset my life.  It was a good fit.  I felt at home.”

Her grandfather, who went to seminary before he met her grandmother, suggested that a Benedictine monastery would be a good place to find balance.

At St. Gertrude’s she found simplicity in action, quite a contrast to Washington, D.C., where simplicity has little value. 

“The Benedictine sisters at St. Gertrude’s make ancient traditions apply to today’s society,” Kelly said.  “Seeing the women on the street, they do not look like sisters, but they are spiritually dedicated to live the traditional values of simplicity, faith and prayer.  They keep the integrity of their ancient vows and translate them so they are relevant.”

Although she was active in a parish, Kelly said she had not had much exposure to the life of women religious because she attended public school.

With women two, three and even four times her age, she joined in the daily life of prayer three times a day, three meals together, soap-making and gardening, finding Benedictine ideas of balance—“more important lessons than tests and essays.”

“Spending six weeks placing God at the center of everything was powerful,” Kelly said, noting the contrast with everyday lives of people in school, in jobs or at homes where trivial things take over and dominate.

She found the monastery’s location conducive to including God in everyday life. 

“The simplicity is counter-cultural in a society dominated by materialism,” she said after returning to her home in D.C.  “Back in my big bedroom, I wonder what to do with all the stuff I have.  The values at the monastery were alternatives to stuff, money and power.  It’s another way to live.”

While there, Kelly produced a video that will be available in a few months on the monastery’s website and YouTube.   She tracked and photographed the daily lives of the sisters praying, working and relaxing.

The video conveys the monastery’s culture and values, noted Theresa.

Before Kelly left, the community sang a blessing to her and Kelly wrote a three-page goodbye letter, recounting her experiences and lessons she learned.

She concluded with her own blessing: “May this jewel of a place never lose its luster; may the radiant gleam of these people never fade.  May the sun and the stars continue to shine down on this incredible place. Thank you, Monastery of St. Gertrude, for showing me a little bit of heaven.”


Student inspires monastery to develop summer immersion

Kelly Schumann’s presence at the Monastery of St. Gertrude inspired Sister Teresa Jackson, volunteer coordinator and vocations director, to develop her vision for St. Gertrude’s and schedule an eight-week—June 15 to Aug. 10, 2011—summer monastic immersion experience and internship for five women aged 18 to 60. 

Like Kelly, they would experience daily monastic life and share in the sisters’ work, including working with the retreat ministry, marketing and communication, soap making, gardening, the museum and gift store.

In Sister Teresa’s 13 years at the monastery, volunteers have come weekends to two weeks to experience monastic life or to help with a project.

“Most are middle-aged, but Kelly’s stay gave the sisters a chance to see how an 18-year-old would experience monastery life,” said Sister Teresa, who entered the monastery when she was 35 and made her profession in 2003.

The community has 57 sisters, 45 of whom live at the monastery.  Others minister and live in Idaho, Washington, Minnesota and California as a college professor, a second grade teacher, a teacher at a charter school for gangs, nurses, hospital chaplains, pastoral associates and social workers.

“We live together as a committed community, transformed by and rooted in God, out of which we go out to the world to do different types of ministries and to manifest God’s power,” she said.

The sisters at the monastery provide hospitality for group and individual retreats, run the bed and breakfast they opened in the summer, raise much of their own food, make natural products and run a museum of the history of North Central Idaho.

Their ministries include healing, hospitality, peace and justice, prayer, spirituality, stewardship and monastery industries.

Sister Teresa said Benedictines are the oldest religious order in the Western world, founded in the 6th century.  They have been around for more than 1,500 years. 

Each monastery is autonomous, but they have a loose federation for mutual support and accountability.  There are more than 100 monasteries for men and women in the United States.

Sister Teresa, who was not raised in a faith, grew up in the San Francisco area and became an American Baptist in college.  She practiced law and worked in social services before she became Catholic and decided to enter a Benedictine monastery.

After “falling in love with the community” on a week-long visit there, she spent two years discerning before entering formation. 

“I felt called to be here, to follow the Benedictine monastic tradition, rooted in living with a group of people on a journey together seeking God day after day, year after year,” she said.

Sister Teresa said she has become a person living for others.

While simplicity is part of community life, she said “we have computers, cars and middle-class conveniences, but we live in a way that is different from the predominant culture.”

For information, call 208-962-3224 or email

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