OGDEN — In 1944, the first Sisters of St. Benedict arrived in Utah from Minnesota to establish a hospital in Ogden. Over the next 68 years, 155 Benedictine sisters served various roles in northern Utah. Now, however, the last five sisters are making preparations to leave the community where they are known for living by the motto of their order’s founder: "Treat each person as Christ."
The number of sisters at the Ogden monastery has dwindled steadily over the past years; those who remain are past retirement age but continue to be very active: Sisters Stephanie Mongeon and Mary Zenzen are employed at Ogden Regional Medical Center, Sister Luke Hoschette volunteers regularly for the hospital and serves on the Board of Directors. Sister Danile Knight manages the daily monastery’s activities and works directly with the Foundation Board, while Sister Jean Gibson is available for what is needed at the monastery. All of the sisters participate in the monastic community life.
Last year, after much discernment and prayer, they chose to merge with their founding monastery in Minnesota, as Benedictine Sister Danile Knight, monastery spokesperson, said at the annual St. Benedict’s Foundation Funds of Love banquet on Sept. 12.
"That means that one day we will be leaving Utah," Sr. Danile said. "A date for that to happen has not been determined at this time, and there are many things to be taken care of here so much time might go by before that will happen.
"And St. Benedict’s Foundation, established and located in Ogden, is being transferred to a reputable Foundation in Minnesota," she continued. "St. Benedict’s will be managed in a manner that is very comparable to the way it now functions and in accord with the purpose of St. Benedict’s Foundation. The purpose is to provide financial support primarily for agencies in northern Utah which impact the lives of women, children and families in crisis. The entire fund and all interest will be used solely for this purpose. The goal is that the annual distribution of funds will be accomplished within a maximum period of 10 years. The sisters of Mount Benedict Monastery have identified the program agencies to receive funding and the percentage of the annual distribution these agencies will receive, so our legacy will go on."
Sr. Danile’s announcement that the sisters are preparing to leave the community was met with audible dismay from the 400 gathered for the dinner in Ogden’s Union Station, but they responded by generous bids at the live auction that followed: The first item, a painting, went for $501 and several of the items went for $1,000 or more.
Many of those at the dinner had a personal story to tell about the sisters. For example, Jeanne Nowak Hall, who gave words of tribute, recalled her first experience at St. Benedict’s Hospital, when she was in her 20s. She visited one of her neighbors who was dying, and "I had never experienced a person dying," she said. "I was just overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to think, I didn’t know what to do."
A Benedictine sister came into the room, put her arm around Hall, and told her to tell her neighbor she loved her, Hall said. "I was grateful for the comfort of that wonderful and precious sister who was there to serve me that night as I gave love to my friend."
Last year, as a member of the Utah Commission of Volunteers, Hall presented the Sisters with the Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award for service. "I cannot think of any other people in the state of Utah more deserving of that award of lifetime service and love and compassion for citizens in this state than the sisters," Hall said at the Sept. 12 dinner. "Beloved sisters, you have blessed our lives and you are a confirmation of the goodness of God by the service that you give."
Also among those at the dinner were Ken and Dee Ladd, and Evelyn Ladd, Ken’s step-mother. The Ladds left Ogden in 1983, but came from Las Vegas specifically for the dinner, Ken said.
He recalled the sisters’ care of family members who were in the hospital; Evelyn spoke of their care of her children – her oldest son had encephalitis. "You really do need someone there to support you and to help you because you don’t know which way it’s going to go," she said.
Dee Ladd, one of the first directors of the St. Benedict’s Foundation, said she learned a lot from the Sisters.
"What isn’t special about the sisters?" she asked. "They were my first education of what it’s like to be Catholic and what it’s like to be a nun," she said.
Another of those who attended the dinner, Saint James the Just parishioner Rebecca Ory Hernandez, also has special memories of the sisters. Her son was in the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital, and "the sisters prayed and prayed and prayed for him for three months, because he was born three months early."
The sisters are "an amazing resource for the community, both financially and spiritually," Ory Hernandez said. "I just can’t imagine Ogden without them."Funds are being collected for installation of a stained glass window at Holy Family Catholic Church in Ogden in honor of the Sisters of Saint Benedict. To donate for the window, contact Holy Family Parish, 801-479-1126.