As the Mount St. Benedict in Crookston marks its centennial with a “culminating event” on Sunday, Sept. 15, a 2 p.m., a mass and reception that “absolutely everybody is invited to,” it occurs to Mount Prioress Shawn Carruth that the theme of the Mount’s 100th year celebration, “Currents in the Stream,” could not possibly be more fitting when one thinks of where the Mount has been, where it is now, and where it will be and what will become of it in the future.
“Looking at our past, present and future, we’re thinking about our legacy and about how we can continue to live on, maybe not in the here and now but somewhere, somehow,” Carruth says during an afternoon chat at the sprawling, still relatively new Mount St. Benedict residence adjacent to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. “So that’s part of what we’re thinking. It’s life. It’s about life and living on. Yes, there’s a time limit; we need to plan limits on all that. But not in a sad kind of way. …We’re not grieving and we’re not mourning, necessarily. It’s just a different kind of future. We’re remembering that we are part of a long tradition, and that’s a pretty good place to be, too.
“Put it this way,” Carruth added. “It’s really a time of grace for us.”
Standing on the shoulders of others
It’s without a doubt a celebratory year, Carruth noted, as the Mount looks back on what it’s accomplished and its current impact on the church community and the community and region beyond.
“It’s a reminder, at least to me, of how we have stood on the shoulders of many other people, and as we connect with people this year, we are experiencing them more deeply than we have before,” she said. “So many others have contributed so much to who we are and what we’ve come to be.”
She recalls a visit last year by the adult children of the Mount’s first boiler operator, Alton Ellingson. Before arriving for their visit, one of them wrote the “most beautiful narration” detailing the connection between their dad and the Mount’s first prioress. “They arrived here around the same time, and he was a young, teen immigrant from Norway, looking for a job, and Mother Eustacia was looking for a boiler operator,” Carruth recalls. “They met, and there was kind of a partnership there. The story of it all is just lovely.” Ellingson married and raised a family. “And his children, the ones who came to see us, said, ‘We basically grew up here, in this place,’” she says.
The place they remember is the monastery that was demolished in the 1990s. A generation prior to that, the Mount began at St. Vincent’s Hospital, then they purchased a house that they called the “Walsh House,” and a music conservatory on the current Mount property followed, and an addition was eventually constructed.
“When they came last summer, they wanted to see the boiler room,” Carruth recalled of the Ellingson family’s visit. “That’s where they used to see their dad.” The Mount sisters taught them in the classroom and delivered music lessons.
“They had that connection, and as we were listening to them we were connecting to them and also to our earliest sisters,” Carruth says. “It was a very shared experience, of roots held in common. That, to me, felt like a prelude to our centennial, in the flesh, if you will.
“It made me think about so many people who have been a part of our history, and not just the sisters, but the people we taught, the people who taught us, the nurses at the hospital. It goes on and on, extending out,” she says. “It’s a together thing. It feels like we’re celebrating not just our centennial; it’s more than a centennial that involves far more people than we can name.”
Young by comparison
A century in existence might sound like a lot on the surface, but the Mount St. Benedict is young by comparison. Carruth notes that Benedict was supposedly born in the year 480. In the early 500s there were monasteries in Italy and they spread. The Mount’s roots date back to Germany in, Carruth recalls, likely the 11th Century. For those looking for a more contemporary, pop culture reference, Carruth notes that the monastery depicted in the classic film, “The Sound of Music” were related to the Mount St. Benedict monastery. The Mount’s “founding house” is in Duluth.
Good citizens facing challenges
Carruth says that over the years the Mount has tried to be good citizens of Crookston and the area.
“One of the promises that benedictines make is stability,” she explains. “That means they are connected, it’s not just an isolated monastery that they belong to. It’s a particular place, a region, a culture, and all of that is part of what makes the monastery. We’ve become a part of Crookston, and Crookston in a way has become part of us. That so perfectly fits our theme, Currents in the Stream. We’re a part of their lives and they are a part of ours, flowing in the same river, if you will. That’s part of what I’ve come to think of this year.”
Carruth acknowledges the Mount doesn’t have “younger sisters.” And with so many older sisters, the new residence is designed with ease of living and getting around in mind.
While they don’t host major events at the new residence, Carruth said its primary purpose is to simply be a place that people can go. “I can’t tell you how often we have people who come, and they say it’s just so good to be here,” Carruth mentions. “It’s just so peaceful and quiet; this is our gift to the noisy world.
“We’re not out teaching, we’re not training nurses in our schools and hospitals,” she continues. “Maybe we have a different task, and that’s greeting people, welcoming them graciously and kindly, and giving them a space.”
She doesn’t want to give the impression that the Mount residence is some kind of bed and breakfast. It’s most definitely not. “We hope we give the vibe that this is a safe place, a comfortable place for anybody, a brief respite from everything that’s currently out there,” Carruth adds.
There are currently 24 sisters in the Mount residence, and there are 37 in all.
If there is an actual, working arm of the Mount’s current mission, it’s the Mount St. Benedict Foundation. It allows the Mount to support various things, mostly Catholic institutions, Carruth explains, and ministries the Mount has been involved with. The bottom line has grown to the point that the Mount is able to leverage funds toward additional grants.
There are other not only tangible but encouraging signs of the Mount and its mission carrying on.
“Many of the schools we taught in aren’t there anymore, but many exist,” Carruth says. “Look at Sacred Heart in East Grand Forks. Look at what they’re doing. It’s just amazing. They needed new classrooms, so they built a beautiful addition. They give us some credit for what we’ve done there, even though it’s been a while since our last sister was there. But they still think of themselves as benedictine in spirit.”
The Villa St. Vincent and The Summit assisted living facility across the street are other prime examples of that spirit and mission carrying on. “You think of our founding at St. Vincent’s Hospital, and it remained as a nursing home when the sisters built St. Francis Hospital, and that had a few transformations in its time, but now it’s the Summit,” Carruth explains. “Meanwhile, St. Vincent’s Nursing Home became the Villa, and there it is. Our history is tied to that; it’s another vision, another version, health care and The Summit. It’s not gone, exactly. We live on. We’re not gone.”
Certainly, Carruth knows that at the Mount, times and missions have changed drastically over the decades.
“Most importantly, yes, I want to say that we are a very different community than we were 50 years ago. There was energy and a lot of people coming and going. You don’t see that now, but it’s not a time to start singing the dirges or anything like that,” Carruth says. “It’s a good time for us, to be able to celebrate a moment like this. It’s encouraging. It’s more than a milestone; at this time in our history it’s especially important. People are talking about us and what we meant to them, what we mean to them, how we have been a part of their lives. That doesn’t go away and it’s really uplifting to hear these types of things.”