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Monastery of St. Gertrude reaches fundraising goal for expansion

The following story appeared in the March 26 Idaho Catholic Register.

Judy Potter of Spokane captured this photo of the rainbow over the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood. Due to generous donors and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, the Sisters have found their ‘pot of gold’ at rainbow’s end that will now complete the expansion of their living quarters. (Photo courtesy of Monastery of St. Gertrude)

COTTONWOOD – Anyone who thinks the glory days of the Monastery of St. Gertrude are in the past has not been paying attention to what has been transpiring on the hill overlooking Cottonwood.

New programs and opportunities for women to join the community as lay oblates or Benedictine Co-housing Companions as well as a the soon-to-be-completed expansion of its residential annex means the second century of the storied Monastery will be as eventful, if not more so, than its first.

With the recent news of the approval of a grant proposal from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, the Monastery of St. Gertrude has achieved its fund-raising goal for a $2.6 million renovation project of its 72-year-old residential wing.

In late February, Prioress Sister Mary Forman, OSB, was notified that a grant proposal that had been submitted the previous fall was approved by the board of directors of the Murdock Trust.

The grant from the trust caps a robust fundraising initiative that began with major donors in 2018 who contributed about 80 percent of the project’s cost. Then the public phase of fundraising began. Mail and online appeals brought the project to 95 percent of the fundraising goal.

The Murdock Trust grant is intended to finish off the fund-raising and help cover increases in expenses that resulted in the total project cost increasing from the original $2.3 million to $2.6 million.

Headquartered in Vancouver, Wash., the Murdock Trust awards grants to non-profit organizations in the Northwest that strengthen the region’s “educational, social, spiritual and cultural base in ways that are innovative and sustainable.” The trust is named after Melvin “Jack” Murdock, a Portland native who grew his business from a small radio repair shop into Tektronix, Inc., which became the largest employer in Oregon, pioneering new technological frontiers.

“We are deeply grateful to the Murdock Trust and to all of our donors, who have supported this building remodel,” said Sister Mary Forman.

When the monastery’s main structure was finished in 1924, nearly all of the Sisters lived nearby, working in hospitals and schools. In 1948, a residential annex was completed, a five-story brick structure that was added to the original stone building. The living quarters in the annex were small because they were originally meant to be only temporary housing for Sisters who served in ministries away from home. Because of that, they were small and did not include private bathrooms.

Now, the vast majority of Sisters – 26 of 32 – live at the monastery full-time and soon oblates (lay members) and a handful of volunteers may be joining them. The entire top floor has been converted into eight living units for Oblates or for “Benedictine Co-housing Companions,” women who are retired and living the Benedictine life.

The residential wing needed updated plumbing and electrical as well as asbestos abatement. The Sisters’ individual 9’ x 14’ rooms have been enlarged and now include private bathrooms.

The renovations create an energy-efficient residence for those who live at the Monastery and coordinate ministries.

The Benedictine community will now be in a better position to welcome new vocations as well as Benedictine Co-housing Companions, volunteers, artists, and oblates in a contemporary home.

During the remodel, the Sisters moved to the nearby Spirit Center, typically reserved for guests. But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the retreat center has not been overly booked for several months.

The project coordinator, Oblate Jo-Anne Zimmer is a retired self-employed general contractor who spent her career in new construction and is a kitchen remodel specialist.

“After years of planning, design, and construction we are nearing completion,” Oblate Zimmer said. “This has required the efforts of so many to make this possible,” she wrote in a recent update. “Our 72-year-old building has been transformed into a more modern space with the major highlights being private bathrooms, larger spaces, an asbestos-free environment, added insulation to the outside walls, updated plumbing and electrical, and more. It’s a joy to watch this spring into completion.”

Sister Mary Forman praised both Oblate Jo-Anne Zimmer, “who has shepherded this project” and Arnzen Construction of Cottonwood, the general contractor, “for their many hours of labor.”

“We are looking forward to moving into our new bedrooms,” Sister Mary said. Once pandemic restrictions are lifted, the Sisters will host an open house “so our donors can see the beautiful rooms and celebrate with us,” she said. “God bless you all!”

Completion is anticipated for April and public celebrations, including tours are intended for this summer. The St. Gertrude’s leadership team is also hoping the Spirit Center can return to welcoming retreatants later in the spring.

Last July, the Benedictine community celebrated the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone for the Monastery and, on July 27, 2024, will mark the centennial of its dedication.

Learn more about the project and get updates at

Theresa Henson, director of Creative Services for the Monastery of St. Gertrude, contributed to this report.

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