1910 Sister Pia Tegler, former prioress of St. Joseph's Monastery
in St. Marys, Pennsylvania, arrived in Elbowoods with three other
Sisters to open a school on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation
in western North Dakota. With missionary hearts, they were responding
to the plea of Bishop Vincent Wehrle, OSB, the first bishop of the
Diocese of Bismarck. Almost immediately, missionary-minded women
from as far away as New York and Pennsylvania came to join them,
so that by 1916 they had 13 members, enough to become an independent
More new members arrived, so in addition to the Sacred
Heart Mission school, the Sisters began accepting invitations to
staff parochial schools in the diocese. Needing better means of
communication and travel, in 1920 they decided to transfer the motherhouse
from the reservation to the town of Garrison. They lived very frugally,
but soon found their meager savings lost in the bank failures of
1926-27. Judging the community to be floundering, Bishop Wehrle
insisted that they amalgamate with the large community of St. Benedict’s
Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota.
The Sisters acquiesced reluctantly
and sadly, but God intervened on their behalf through a decree
from Rome which granted an earlier petition to form the new Federation
of St. Gertrude with two other communities: Sacred Heart Monastery
in Yankton, South Dakota, and Mount St. Benedict Monastery in Crookston,
Minnesota. This decree safeguarded their independence and gave
them the security and assistance to retain their autonomy.
number of Sisters increased, the community branched out into health
care ministry by opening St. Luke's Hospital in Crosby and St.
Vincent's Home for the Aged in Bismarck. Once again, the Sisters
decided to transfer their motherhouse to a more advantageous locality,
this time to the perimeter of the city of Minot in 1942, where they
were also able to operate a small farm. They soon built a combination
convent and boarding school for girls which prospered from 1949
to 1965. The Sisters also responded to the current invitation of
the Church to send missionaries to South America by opening a school
for girls in Bogota, Colombia (1962-75).
Always ready for new ventures, the Sisters once again focused their
sight on a new location for the growing community. In 1967, they
relocated near Assumption Abbey in Richardton, where they were offered
opportunities for spiritual formation, sacramental services, and
daily Eucharist from the monks of the Abbey.
The scope of ministries for the Sisters also expanded from education
and health care to greater involvement in various areas of spirituality,
parish ministry, and chaplaincies. Always alert to the needs of their
time and place, the Sisters focused on housing for the elderly by
founding Marillac Manor in Bismarck with 78 apartments and Subiaco
Manor in Dickinson with 10 apartments.
The new monastery near Richardton, located on a quiet, contemplative
site on the prairie, has incorporated an ecumenical retreat center,
where individuals and groups are welcomed the year round. The Sisters
have an active prayer ministry responding to requests for prayers
that come by letter, phone, e-mail, and internet.
Capitalizing on their rural location, the Sisters procured their
first llamas in 1994, and have continued raising and selling them
through the years. The wonderful llama fiber has prompted a small
cottage industry in wool works. Pioneers in wind energy in North
Dakota, the Sisters installed two wind turbines in 1997 to supply
energy for the monastery.
What is the next move for this community? If the future reflects
the past, the community will continue to journey in faith, respond
to the needs of the locality, and move on to new ventures wherever
God may lead them.