In 2018, the year of their 70th anniversary, the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Paul’s Monastery established the St. Scholastica Honor. The honor celebrates the virtues of St. Scholastica (Community, Hospitality, Listening, Dignity of Work, Respect for Persons, Stability, Justice, Awareness of God, Stewardship, and Moderation), and this honor is presented to someone exhibiting the qualities and dedication to the Benedictine way of life in support of St. Paul’s Monastery. The honoree is a friend of the monastery who truly lives out the Benedictine values. Previous honorees are:
2023 - Terry Johnson
2022 - Pat Swanke
2021 - Margaret Barrett
2020 - Mary Dean
2019 - Jacquelyn (Jaci) Bush
2018 - Julianna Sandin
We are honored to announce that this year’s St. Scholastica Honoree is Maria Varsho.
Maria is a woman of faith who volunteers faithfully at the Monastery. Maria has Benedictine values as qualities in life. She is a dedicated and faith-filled volunteer at the reception desk. She is very giving of her time not only at St. Paul’s Monastery, but within the larger church, where she continues to share the Benedictine values. She welcomes all guests of the Monastery as Christ. She is present and has a love for the Liturgy of the Hours when she is at the Monastery. She is a woman of compassion and of strength like St. Scholastica. She is passionate, reliable, and supportive of the monastic community.
Maria was born and raised in the state of Idaho, where she was taught by Benedictine sisters from first grade through 12th grade. In the eighth grade, she and twelve others became candidates in St. Gertrude’s convent in Cottonwood, Idaho. They studied in a separate house and slept and ate in the monastery. Maria shares that she thinks she got a great education, and with the peaceful quiet at St. Gertrude, they did not experience the turbulence of the 1960s. Maria shared a delightful story that her dad was a convert to Catholicism, and he was concerned that once she became a candidate at the convent, she was committed to that path for the rest of her life. Maria (in her typical humor) told her dad that the monastery was not a prison, and she could leave. After her third year of being a candidate, Maria did not feel becoming a nun was the right course for her life. She shared this with Sister Lucille, the postulant mistress, and at end of that first school year, she left the convent but stayed to graduate from St. Gertrude’s.
After high school, Maria went into the Navy, where she worked in a military hospital in Norfolk Virginia as a hospital Navy Corp WAVE in the Dispensary. This is where she met her husband, as he was also working in the Naval Dispensary as a pharmacy tech!
She and her husband spent three years in the military and then moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where her husband finished pharmacy school. After he finished his education, they moved to northern Wisconsin and then to Menomonie, Wisconsin somewhere between 25 and 30 years ago, where they still live today. They are now both retired, and enjoyed traveling a lot until five years ago when she had a stroke. They now enjoy their retirement much closer to home. One fun fact about Maria and her husband is that he also explored a religious calling – he had been in a seminary in a different state before he went into the Navy.
Maria shared that she lives across the street from her church so she can go to Mass every day. She laughed as she stated, “there is no excuse for me to ever miss Mass.” There is, in fact, a Lutheran church on one side of her home and a Catholic church on the other. She says that this makes for a quiet neighborhood!
Maria is an oblate of St. Paul’s Monastery. Several years ago, her church group had come to St. Paul’s Monastery. While at that retreat, she talked with Sr. Mary Lou about what was expected for both being an oblate and for formation. She decided to become an oblate and was able to drive with fellow oblate Shirley Riedmann to their oblate formation sessions. They started formation before the Monastery closed during the Covid pandemic and finally did their final oblation on Pentecost in 2021.
Maria began volunteering at St. Paul’s Monastery after her final oblation in June of 2021. When asked why she volunteers at St. Paul’s Monastery, she said she started volunteering because they needed her. She decided it was something she could easily do, that she felt she could safely not get too far over her head because she could always transfer calls to someone who knows something! When she comes to volunteer, she comes early enough to participate in morning prayer, she then does her volunteer shift, goes to midday prayer, and eats with the sisters.
A few of Maria’s favorites:
- Her favorite hymn is “Hail Mary, Gentle Woman.” She loves it because it is so repetitive and very soothing.
- Her favorite passages from the rule have to do with obedience, because she says it’s not one of her strong suits – she grew up questioning everything.
- Her favorite scripture is Matthew 7:14: “Narrow is the road that leads to life.” (And Benedict’s words following his quote of this scripture: They no longer live by their own judgment, giving in to their whims and appetite; rather they walk according to another’s decisions and directions, choosing to live in monasteries and to have an abbot [or prioress] over them.)
Congratulations to Maria Varsho on being the St. Scholastica Honoree for 2024!