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  • Susan Amann

The Smarty-Pants Saint

I have always love school. From my earliest school experience, I have been excited to start each academic year, eager to gather folders, pencils, and notebooks. I walked to school throughout my grade school years, and I can easily recall the happy feeling of carrying my book bag and lunch on a Fall morning, while kicking through the fallen leaves piled along the sidewalk.


I love to learn, and I know how blessed I am that it the lessons came easily to me. I was like the Cookie Monster of knowledge; I couldn’t get enough. I loved it all, but in high school I discovered my talent for Math which eventually led to earning my degree in engineering at the University of Illinois.


In my mid-20s, Steve and I got married and started a family. I was still learning a great deal, but the lessons were closer to the heart and facilitated “soul-growth” in my faith and spiritual life. If I had not met Steve when I did, at the end of my college career, there is no doubt that I would have gone straight into a master’s degree program. Our plans to start a life together put a hold on any more formal schooling for me at that time, but my desire to return to school and earn a master’s degree never left me. The topic I wanted to study did shift; I wanted to study about my faith which eventually lead to my vocation in ministry.


St. Gertrude the Great was a 13th-century, German nun of the Benedictine order. At the early age of 4 or 5, her family enrolled her in the Cistercian monastery school of Helfta, where Gertrude devoted herself to her studies with a vigor owing to her great talent for and love of learning. St. Gertrude continued her rigorous studies upon entering the Benedictine order there at Helfta, and around the age of 25, she received the first of her life-long visions of Jesus. Changed by these visions as if reborn, Gertrude turned the focus of her studies entirely on the scriptures, theology, and writings of the Church fathers, completely abandoning all secular subjects.


St. Gertrude was a mystic, a writer, and had the gift of miracles and prophecy, and she had unbounded charity for all, the rich and the poor as well as the souls who had already passed from this life. During his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI heralded her as a mystic and bestowed on her the title, the Great, to distinguish her from her abbess at Helfta who was also named Gertrude. St. Gertrude is the first female saint to be given the title, the Great.


St. Gertrude was never formally canonized which I believe reflects her tremendous humility. She was added to the liturgical office of prayer, readings, and hymns in the early 17th century. To love learning, to have a gift for study is a great joy, one that I share with St. Gertrude. Putting those talents in service of others by writing, teaching and a life of ministry as Gertrude did is an inspiring model to emulate. Pray for us, St. Gertrude the Great. Pray that we use what we have learned in the service of others as you did.


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