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Sister Mary Forman, Prioress at St. Gertrude passes away

The following story appeared in the April 28 Idaho Catholic Register.


By Emily Woodham

Staff Writer


COTTONWOOD – Sister Mary Forman, OSB, prioress of the Monastery of St. Gertrude, died on April 20. She was 75.


“Sister Mary Forman was dedicated to the community and to the Church. She worked with us to make sure we lived out Benedictine values,” said Sister Janet Barnard, OSB. Sister Janet knew Sister Mary for 39 years.


“She was a deep thinker and really reflected on the Rule of Benedict, the mystics and Scriptures. She was the only one of our Sisters who taught on a Ph.D. college level,” Sister Janet said. “Her reflections on Benedictine feast days were always thought provoking, drawing us deeper into the mystery of Jesus and how to live that out as Benedictines.”


Sister Mary was elected prioress in 2015, although she had been teaching away from the monastery for years, said Sister Clarissa Goeckner, OSB. Sister Clarissa knew her from the time Sister Mary first entered St. Gertrude’s in 1973.


“When Sister Mary returned to Cottonwood as prioress, we had to get reacquainted with her. We soon found out that she had incredible amounts of energy. We also learned that she loved learning, did not shrink from work, and was a woman of deep faith and prayer,” Sister Clarissa said.


Sister Mary worked nonstop, but she never missed her day off, Sister Clarissa said. But even on her days off, Sister Mary would spend time translating Greek and Latin books into English, a pastime she found relaxing. “Many things could be said of Sister Mary, but one key point was she was a Benedictine to the core.”


Although academic and contemplative, Sister Mary also enjoyed music and the arts. A favorite memory of Sister Janet’s is watching Sister Mary perform liturgical dance, especially at Christmas time. “Sister Mary took ballet when she was a little girl and so she did liturgical dance. She and two other sisters would do a liturgical dance to ‘Gentle Woman.’ Each time I hear that song I think of her dancing,” Sister Janet said.

Both Sister Clarissa and Sister Janet remember Sister Mary’s laugh well. “We always knew she was home because of her laughter, which rose high above the rest of the Sisters,” Sister Clarissa said.


Sister Mary also had big dreams and plans for the community, Sister Clarissa said. “One of her dreams was to finish writing the community history.”


She fought cancer on and off again for the past six years. “This liver cancer was just too much,” Sister Clarissa said.


Sister Mary was born the oldest of four girls in Boise on Sept. 7, 1947, to Major Neal Forman and Eugenia T. Forman.


After earning a bachelor’s degree from Idaho State University in 1970, she worked as a pharmacist. She co-founded the Terry Reilly Clinic in Nampa, the first low-income clinic in that area.


Sister Mary came from a strong Catholic family, Sister Janet said. Throughout college and in her career as a young adult, she was dedicated to parish life. One of her aunts was a Carmelite nun, which was a part of her inspiration to pursue religious life, said Sister Janet. “She was especially drawn to the communal prayer life and liturgies.”

She entered the Monastery of St. Gertrude in 1973, professing her vows in 1976. She subsequently earned a master’s degree in theology from St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn. At the University of Toronto, she earned both a master’s degree and Ph.D. in medieval studies, and was honored with an open fellowship. Sister Mary’s friend, Abbot Placid Solari, chancellor at Belmont Abbey College, North Carolina, planned to present her with an honorary doctorate this spring.


Her ministries were varied over the decades and spread throughout Idaho, North Dakota, Appalachia, Toronto and Minnesota. She served as a pharmacist, mission effectiveness educator, pastoral associate, and director of religious education.

As a youth minister, she helped form the Idaho Catholic Youth program that continues today with the annual Idaho Catholic Youth Conference. She was a teaching assistant, adjunct professor, and visiting professor of theology, spending many years at the College of St. Benedict at St. John’s University. Her deep knowledge of Benedictine spirituality, charism and life also provided opportunities for her to minister as a spiritual director, retreat and workshop facilitator, and a consultant for men’s and women’s monastic communities.


Sister Mary was elected a council member for the Federation of St. Gertrude in the 1990s, as well as a board member and, for two years, president of the American Benedictine Academy. She also served as associate editor of the American Benedictine Review, Magistra: A Journal of Women’s Spirituality in History, and Vox Benedictina.

She wrote many articles on Benedictine topics, and two books: “Praying with the Desert Mothers,” and “One Heart, One Soul, Many Communities.”


She was on a committee for promoting connection with the arts and music at the monastery’s retreat center. She also enjoyed singing in the monastery’s schola (a small ensemble of singers).


She served as prioress for eight years. During her tenure, an extensive renovation of the Sisters’ residence was completed, as the Sisters moved toward expanding the definition of the community as the Center for Benedictine Life at the Monastery of St. Gertrude.

Sister Mary was preceded in death by her parents. She is survived by her sisters: Andy Herbert of Tualatin, Ore., and Barbara K. Allen, of Coventry, R.I.; nieces and nephews; and the members of her monastic community.


Mass of Christian Burial was held on Wednesday, April 26, at 1:30 p.m. at the Monastery.

Memorial gifts can be made to the Monastery of St. Gertrude, 465 Keuterville Road, Cottonwood, ID, 83522, or at the website, stgertrudes.org/donate.


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