Sisters' Words of Wisdom: Sister Catherine Nehotte, OSB
Interviewed & Written by Ann Siverling, OblSB
Wisdom, knowledge, a passion for her work and life as a sister, and a quick wit are a good summary of Sister Catherine, current Prioress of St. Paul’s Monastery. An example of her wit is when meeting on Zoom to plan for this article, and this writer’s microphone wasn’t working, Sister Catherine commented that this was some “real Benedictine silence!”
Sister Catherine grew up in South Minneapolis, where, for grades 1-4, she attended Visitation School. Her teachers at Visitation School were from St. Paul’s Monastery! Catherine knew even while she was at Visitation School that she wanted to be a Sister. In fact, she knew this already in first grade. Her first-grade teacher, Sister Francis, inspired her vocation. She could see the love of God shine from Sister Francis’ face, and that attracted Sister Catherine to seek a religious vocation.
Sister Catherine was raised in a diverse family. She has three sisters and two brothers, and when she left for college, a foster brother and sister from Vietnam joined her family. Sadly, her foster brother died in his early 20s. While in college, Sister Catherine majored in and received a B.A. in Business from the University of St. Thomas. After graduating from St. Thomas, she worked for about a year to pay off her student loans and then joined St. Paul’s Monastery. She made her first vows in 1987 and made her final vows six years later. Her parents were very supportive of Catherine becoming a Sister. Their faith was very important to them, and, in fact, they became Oblates of the Monastery after Sister Catherine joined the Monastery. When asked which saint she connects with personally, she said, “St. Catherine of Siena, whom I share with Sister Catherine Schoenecker!”
When Sister Catherine is not busy with all her work at the Monastery, she loves to spend time with her family, and she is able to do so because her younger brother and sister both live nearby in Woodbury. She is also an avid Vikings fan, even though, as she shared, “This sometimes conflicts with my Sunday obligations!”
Through her many years as a Benedictine Sister of St. Paul’s Monastery, Sister Catherine has filled several different roles. She has been:
- Oblate Director – Initial Formation
- President of the Board of the Maple Tree Monastery Childcare Center
- Monastic Council Member
- Treasurer of the Monastery
And now, Sister Catherine serves as the Prioress of the Monastery. Sister Catherine points to Canon 618 as her guide for serving her community as Prioress. Canon 618 states, “Superiors are to exercise their power from God through the ministry of the Church, in a spirit of service. They are to listen to the members willingly and foster their common endeavor for the good of the institute and the Church, but without prejudice to the authority of superiors to decide and prescribe what must be done.” She also leans on the words of St. Benedict when he says that the prioress should, with the grace of God, do and be what God calls us to be.
Her favorite passage from the Rule of Benedict is in Chapter 34, “Distribution According to Need,” and its accompanying scripture reference from Acts 4:35, “Distribution was made to everyone as they had need.” She likes these because it speaks of the early church, and in their own way, the Sisters are like the people of the early church. She shared (with a twinkle in her eye) that she also likes Chapter 3, “Calling the Community for Counsel” when it states, “God often reveals to the younger what is best!”
In her work as Prioress, she attempts to listen (with the ear of her heart) to what others say. She also thinks of her work as broader than just the sisters of the community. She also sees her role as impacting the Oblates and Associates. Her biggest joy is the initiation ceremonies. She loves being part of the Oblates’ final oblation, the annual commitment ceremony of the Associates, and guiding someone through their final oblation.
During Sister Catherine’s time as Prioress, the Monastery has faced its greatest challenge with the Covid pandemic. She has been the spiritual leader as well as defining restrictions needed to keep the Sisters safe, including requiring guests to be fully vaccinated with proof of vaccination. Other challenges during the pandemic included changing how funerals took place, including needing to meet the morticians at the front entry. Another challenge was how to safely conduct Word and Communion Services at the Monastery.
In spite of these challenges, Sister Catherine looks forward. Her hopes and dreams for the Monastery are to continue to serve as a place of hospitality and an oasis of peace and prayer for all who cross their threshold. She also states that her life of prayer is what gives her energy for living out the Benedictine mission. She especially gets energy from serving as Prayer Leader and Presiding at Word and Communion Services.
When asked which previous Prioress she would like to have a conversation with, Sister Catherine that she would like to talk with their founding Prioress, Mother Loraine Tracy. The stories that people tell about Mother Loraine say that she was easily moved to laughter. Sister Catherine appreciates laughter keeps us humble and prevents from always taking things too seriously. Sister Catherine has had the great privilege to visit to St. Walburg Convent in Eichstatt, Bavaria (to where the Sisters from St. Paul’s Monastery can trace their roots), and also to Subiaco in Italy. If she could visit another Benedictine Monastery anywhere in the world, she would like to visit Monte Cassino in Italy, where Benedict established an abbey.
For Sister Catherine’s Words of Wisdom, she chose to share the poem below. She found this poem in one of her mother’s prayer books, and since college she has treasured this poem as a reminder that she is stationed where she needs to be right now.
Thank you, Sister Catherine, for your compassion, your passion, your gifts and skills, and your joy in serving all of us.
I don’t know how to say it,
But it somehow seems to me
That maybe we are stationed
Where God wants us to be.
That little place we’re filling
Is the reason for our birth.
And just to do the work we do
God sent us down to earth.
If God had wanted otherwise
I reckon he’d have made
Each of us a little different
Of a worse or better grade.
And since God knows and understands
All things of land and sea,
I fancy that God placed us here
Just where God wanted us to be.
Sometimes we get to thinking
As our labors we review
That we should like a higher place
With greater things to do
But we come to the conclusions
When the envying is stilled
That the post to which God sent us
Is the post God wanted filled.
And there isn’t any service we can scorn
For it may just be the reason
God allowed us to be born.
- Author Unknown