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Ministry of Benedictine sister has had impact on area outreach centers

By Theresa Henson of the Monastery of St. Gertrude

Sr. Meg Sass visits with friends at recent event honoring her.

Forty friends, family and ministry partners gathered recently in Boise to celebrate the birthday, monastic profession and ministries of Sister Meg Sass of the Benedictine community of the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho. 

At the event, Mary Schmidt, St. Gertrude’s CEO of external ministries, announced the creation of the Sister Meg Sass Honorary Fund to help sustain the Monastery of St. Gertrude. 

“Sister Meg has made a difference for many people,” she said, telling how she has lifted people up, inspired them by her example and reminded them of God’s love.

The fund will help sustain her home at St. Gertrude’s, which is a spiritual home to nearly 20,000 who visit each year to seek spiritual inspiration and growth.

Raised in Twin Falls, she began to explore her vocation, completing her junior and senior years of high school and starting college as a novice. After finishing a bachelor’s degree at Gonzaga University and the University of Idaho, she made her first monastic profession in 1962. Then Sister Meg taught school for 13 years before heading to Chicago’s Loyola University for a master’s degree in pastoral studies.

In Chicago, she experienced different cultures and had her first engagement with social organization.

Back in Lewiston, Idaho, Sister Meg began working with an ecumenical team of ministers, focused on improving care of the elderly.

Soon she was the head of parish social ministries for the Diocese of Spokane.

In that role, she helped found an outreach services center called Our Place in 1987.  Our Place still serves the West Central neighborhood.

Sr. Meg developed it after going with a team from neighborhood churches to visit homes and learn about the needs of people.

She carried on that model to develop ecumenical community outreach ministry centers in Medical Lake, Cheney, Spokane Valley Outreach (now Spokane Valley Partners), Caritas in North Spokane now at the Spokane Friends Church, Omega for the Garfield neighborhood at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church (now closed), and the North Spokane Community Outreach Project, which first served Mead and Riverside School districts, and is now part of the New Hope Center beside Colbert Presbyterian Church.

After 13 years in Spokane, Sister Meg was called to the monastery to be assistant prioress to work with Sister Jean Lalande.

In this role, she was involved in building the Spirit Center, a retreat center that now serves more than 3,000 people a year.  They come to retreats in Benedictine spirituality, in spirituality and the arts and for individual or group retreats.  Recent and upcoming ones are on iconography, living as a monk in everyday life, a writers’ contemplative retreat and an inward journey in life’s second half.

Its two conference rooms and 22 guest rooms use partial solar power, and geothermal heating and cooling.

“Like everyone else in the world, even the monastery is challenged to walk in uncertainty, but we make a commitment and whatever the future brings, God is already there,” Sister Meg said.

From 2006 until 2014, she served at the Boise diocesan center as regional coordinator for parish life and faith formation, working with the northern part of the state from Riggins to Canada.

Then she moved back to St. Gertrude’s where she is taking an active role in liturgy, especially in playing the organ for Mass and prayer.

Sister Meg said she has an enduring call to prayer in service to the wider world.

“There is so much that we really can do and believe that we can do. We are that leaven. We are that access to God’s grace,” she said.

“Our prayers and our actions do matter,” she said, adding that “if we can all pray together for one thing: that gift of peace, I do believe God hears us.”

In comments on the St. Gertrude Monastery website, Sister Meg said she has pondered how a monastic community in rural Idaho can change the world.

“There are so many problems in the world we can’t even imagine,” she said. “Many people don’t even have a cup of water. The monastery says maybe we can’t fix these problems, but can keep our commitment to prayer. We can tap into the power of God for whom nothing is impossible.

“I wake up every morning and make a commitment to what God is asking. I promise to listen and then to say yes. There is such a power in commitment,” she said.

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