Sister Gertrude (Helen Elizabeth) Ballew died unexpectedly on October 25, 2009, after a long and fruitful life as a Cistercian in Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey. She was born in Phoenix, Arizona on January 5, 1924, the second of three sisters. The family later moved to Salem, Massachusetts, where she went to school to high school, then graduated from Salem Hospital School of Nursing. Then she went to Boston College where she earned her Bachelor of Science. Her next step was into the U.S. Nursing Corps during World Word II, serving in the United States and reaching discharge with the rank of Second Lieutenant. After the war she taught nursing at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
She entered our monastery on October 11, 1950, just a year after its foundation. It must have been an enormous change, though her Army training and discipline would seem helpful for the life as it was lived at that time! She went through the various stages of monastic formation and reached the landmark of her Simple Vows on April 6, 1956. At that time we were not allowed to take Solemn Vows, but the day came for that too, and she was among the 18 Sisters to take Solemn Vows on June 28, 1957.
Over the years Sister Gertrude held a number of important positions in the monastery: infirmarian twice, Novice Director twice, teacher of monastic history, and member of the Abbess’ Council. On the international level she served a term on the Order’s Law Commission and within the U.S. Region she served on the Cistercian Publications Editorial Board for a number of years. In her later days she helped out in the infirmary and kept the community well supplied with homemade yogurt and vitamin supplements. She also worked in the Art Department, keeping us supplied with community cards to sign when the occasion called for a remembrance for a community friend. Although she had a strong, no nonsense character, she had a good sense of humor, and could lighten otherwise trying moments for those she worked with by her “one liners.”
Sister Gertrude died on March 10, 2001. She was a good friend to many in the community, supportive, and wise. And she was an utterly dedicated soul, faithful, and true.