Living the ordinary life extraordinarily well: Sister Karen Martin makes final profession

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Living the ordinary life extraordinarily well: Sister Karen Martin makes final profession


After earning two master's degrees and serving in the U.S. Air Force, a 'mindfulness of God' leads a former Lutheran to the Monastery of St. Gertrude.


By Theresa Henson

COTTONWOOD – On Saturday, Aug. 15, on the Feast of the Assumption, Karen Martin made her Perpetual Profession as a sister of the Benedictine community of the Monastery of St. Gertrude.

In her final vows in the formation process of becoming a nun, Sister Karen professed the three-fold promise of St. Benedict’s Rule of conversatio, fidelity to the monastic way of life lived in the monastery; stability (to seek God in relationship with God and her sisters); and obedience (listening to the voice of God calling her).

Sister Karen was born in Perham, Minn., to a farming family. She grew up Lutheran and while less than enthusiastic about church, she loved the organ music. As she grew through a childhood that she describes as a “journey of forgiveness,” she began to feel a deep sense of the presence of God.

Several influential teachers helped her overcome difficulties in family and development. By fourth grade, she could play the organ and sing hymns and was memorizing prayers and scriptures – all of which she calls a better alternative to venting her childhood frustrations by “punching the kid next to me.”

She was valedictorian of her high school class and went to the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn. After a few weeks on campus, she decided to attend Mass at Sacred Heart Convent Chapel. “At Mass I sensed a transcendence – a meeting of heaven and earth; the inspirational music and beautiful chapel certainly facilitated prayer.” At the age of 21, she was confirmed a Catholic.

During college, she had a job working in central purchasing alongside Sister Geraldine, a Benedictine Sister who became a friend and mentor. Sister Karen was first introduced to the Rule of Benedict when she became a caregiver to sisters at St. Scholastica Monastery in St. Cloud, Minn. Here, she experienced a family-like setting and was inspired by how the nursing floor functioned according to Benedictine principles. 

She considered religious life after college graduation, but decided to wait. 

She moved to St. Louis where she was a caregiver at St. Mary on the Mount Rehabilitation Hospital and the Veterans Administration hospital. 

After a year there, she entered military service as a Second Lieutenant and was on active duty for the Air Force for 6½ years. During this time, she earned a Master of Science degree in nursing. After her military service, she worked as a registered nurse until moving to Anchorage where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in medical technology. She worked as a lab tech and medical biller for the next several years.

Then what she terms as her “next huge, life-changing experience” happened – she was hired as the organist for Sacred Heart Cathedral in Fairbanks. There, she says, she was surrounded by people for whom “God was not simply a part of life, but God is life.” She learned about lectio divina, the ancient Catholic method for reading and praying with the Bible and other forms of prayer.

“Christ eventually became the center of my life. I developed a mindfulness of God,” she said. “Also, since faith is not just about God and me, I made the leap to forming lasting friendships and becoming part of a community.”

In the ensuing years, she developed a prayer life and lifestyle that was Benedictine in nature, balanced with prayer, work, recreation, and time with her faith community. “I am much more centered. I strive for stability of the heart. I try to remain open to what God is calling me to become.”

Having always heard the call to religious life, she decided to take action at the age of 53. She discovered St. Gertrude’s during an internet search for Benedictine communities. She made her first visit in January 2013. After two more visits, she became a postulant in September 2013.

“I have a desire to share a common vision of faith and spirituality with like-minded people,” she said. “I like community life. It is very transforming. I am excited about the ministries that we do and helping behind the scenes with things.”

Sister Karen plays organ for Mass and prayer and plays the clarinet with the all-sister group, “The Von Gertrude Ensemble.” She also works in the Development Office, teaches piano, and helps with a variety of other projects around the Monastery. She says she enjoys the Idaho climate that is comparatively warmer than Alaska.

“We travel on our earthly journey aware, alert, thankful, only partially at home, and with a barefooted soul,” wrote Sister Karen in a recent reflection. “We all start at different places and grow at different rates on our way.

… Each day we are called to listen to God, those around us, and God’s Holy Word. We are called to live the ordinary life extraordinarily well.”

Henson is director of creative services at the Monastery of St. Gertrude.



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