Our Beginnings at Elbowoods, North Dakota


In 1910 Sister Pia Tegler, former prioress of St. Joseph’s Convent (now Monastery) in St. Marys, Pennsylvania, arrived in Elbowoods with three other Sisters to open a school on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in western North Dakota.

With missionary hearts, they were responding to the plea of Bishop Vincent Wehrle, OSB, the first bishop of the Diocese of Bismarck.  Almost immediately, missionary-minded women from as far away as New York and Pennsylvania came to join them, so that by 1916 they had 13 members, enough to become an independent community.

More new members arrived, so in addition to the Sacred Heart Mission school, the Sisters began accepting invitations to staff parochial schools in the diocese.

Mother Pia (Anna Elizabeth) Tegler 1850-1928

MotherPiaLargeSister Pia was born on September 12, 1850 in St. Marys, Pennsylvania. She entered St. Joseph Convent at St. Marys on May 1, 1871. After teaching school for many years in Pennsylvania, she served as Prioress of the Convent for three years.

At the age of 60 Mother Pia had already ‘retired’ when Bishop Vincent Wehrle, the first Bishop of the newly formed Bismarck Diocese, stopped at St. Joseph Convent to beg for Sisters to work among the Indians in North Dakota. She was the first to volunteer and became one of four Sisters who travelled to the Fort Berthold Reservation in 1910. She spent her remaining years in the Diocese of Bismarck, never once returning to her original home.

In 1916, with the permanent establishment of the newly formed Sacred Heart Convent at Elbowoods North Dakota, Mother Pia and the other Sisters (including eight new members) transferred their vows to the new foundation. Bishop Wehrle appointed Mother Pia as the Convent’s first Prioress after receiving the vote of the Sisters.

Sometime in the early days at Elbowoods, Mother Pia had the misfortune of breaking an arm. This was a multiple fracture and because of her advanced age the doctors in Bismarck, where she went for treatment, insisted upon the amputation of that arm. Mother Pia would not consent but asked them to bandage it so that she could stand the pain and she would consult her very special doctor, Father Paul of Moll.

She immediately began a novena to this holy Benedictine monk of the 19th century. On the ninth day when she took off all the bandages, she called the Sisters and waved her arm over her head to show that she had been cured completely in a few days of prayer without any care from doctors – no cast, no splint, nor any sling.

In 1920 the motherhouse transferred to Garrison ND, to be nearer the railroad and medical care. In July of 1922 Mother Pia’s term of office was extended to another three years by Bishop Wehrle after a visitation at the Convent at Garrison. That same year Mother Pia also celebrated her Golden Jubilee; she was 72 years old. After Sister Cecilia was elected as the next Prioress, Mother Pia was appointed sub-prioress. The Bishop requested that the Sisters continue to address the foundress using the title Mother.

On July 23, 1928 two postulants were about to receive the Benedictine habit. Mother Cecilia asked Mother Pia if she would like to name them – giving them their religious names. Due to her failing health Mother Cecilia felt this would be the last reception Mother Pia would enjoy. “Oh yes!” she replied, “Let’s name them after the two youngest candidates for canonization – Imelda and Benigna”. Five days later Mother Pia died of heart disease after a year of illness.

S. Evangelist (Rose) Ruffner 1854-1940

Sister Evangelist was born on a farm in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania on June 27, 1854.  She entered St. Joseph Convent at St. Marys on July 4, 1874, and was professed June 19, 1876.

She was one of the three Sisters who accompanied Mother Pia in September 1910 to take charge of the Indian Mission School at Elbowoods North Dakota.  In 1916 Sister Evangelist, along with the other Sisters, transferred their vows to the newly established Sacred Heart Convent.

When Mother Pia Tegler was elected Prioress of the new foundation, Sister Evangelist was appointed sub-prioress.  From that day on she was second in authority; first when she could manage it.  And even though she was no longer sub-prioress after the election of Mother Pia’s successor, Sister Evangelist was still there to give the ‘hows’ and ‘whens’ with emphasis.

Sister Evangelist had taught for many years in both parochial and public schools prior to arriving in North Dakota and continued to do some teaching at Garrison, but only until she could turn this duty over to the younger members and she could retire.

In August 1940 she became bedridden, but received Communion each morning from Father Brandner, for which she was very grateful.  Sister Evangelist died peacefully on December 14, 1940 with the Sisters gathered around her bedside.  She was 86 years old at the time of her death.

S. Cecelia (Mary) Bauer 1885-1968

S. Cecilia BauerSister Cecilia was born on September 24, 1885 in Heron Lake, Minnesota.  She taught school for a time in Minnesota; the Bauer family lived in Hankinson, North Dakota at that time.

The Sisters of Sacred Heart Convent at Elbowoods were asking for girls who wished to do missionary work.  After reading an advertisement, Sister Cecelia wrote to Mother Pia and entered the convent in 1915.  It was only then that she found out that in 1910, Mother Pia and her group of Sisters had stopped at Hankinson en route to Elbowoods, meeting with the local pastor who made arrangements for them to stay overnight at a hotel.

Following the retirement of Mother Pia, Sister Cecilia became the second prioress in June 1925, a position she held for seven years. It was in 1927, while she was Prioress, that the Divine Office was introduced into the Community.  It is on this successful foundation that we have built the Office that we say to this day.

From 1932 to 1940 Sister Cecilia once again taught school.  In 1941 she helped to open St. Vincent’s Home in Bismarck and became its first superior.  Following that she was the superior of St. Luke’s Hospital in Crosby for a short time, then returned to the motherhouse in Minot where she served as sub-prioress and bookkeeper until 1961 when her health began to fail.

After a lingering illness, Sister Cecilia died at the age of 83 on September 30, 1968 – the Feast of St. Jerome.

S. Josephine (Anna Helen) Bednarik 1895-1991

Sister Josephine was born in Lansford, Pennsylvania on September 21, 1895 to Michael and Susan Bednarik. In 1915, she traveled west to become a missionary in the newly established Sacred Heart Convent at Elbowoods.

She pronounced her vows on October 21, 1916, the same day that Sacred Heart Monastery became independent. Her vows were received by Bishop Vincent Wehrle, the first bishop of Bismarck.

Sister Josephine obtained her B.A. degree from St Benedict’s College in St. Joseph, Minnesota and began a teaching career that spanned some sixty years. She taught a variety of subjects and grade levels throughout North Dakota in the Elbowoods Government School, Sts. Peter and Paul in Fallon, St. Nicholas in Garrison, Sts. Peter and Paul in Karlsruhe, Hague Public School, and St. Olaf’’s School in Power’s Lake, and Little Flower, St Leo’s and Sacred Heart Academy in Minot.  She also taught in White Plains, New York, Morehead City, North Carolina and Yankton, South Dakota.

Although Sister Josephine ‘retired’ to the Monastery in Richardton in 1974, she kept herself active by studying Hebrew and Russian languages, philosophy, and cultivating tulips and roses. In 1989 she became a resident at St Vincent’s Care Center in Bismarck, a facility sponsored by the Benedictine Sisters of Richardton. She died at St Vincent’s on May 20, 1991.

S. Rita (Anna) Bernert 1870-1930

Sister Rita was born in Ohio on April 21, 1870. Being the only daughter in the family she remained at home caring for her sickly mother. Only after her mother’s death did Anna enter Sacred Heart Convent on August 13, 1915 at the age of 45.

On October 21, 1916 she made her first profession and her final profession on October 22, 1919.

Sister Rita is said to have been a good cook.

On April 6, 1930 Sister Rita died of septic meningitis at St. Alexius Hospital in Bismarck, and was buried at Garrison.

S. Agnes (Frances) Daly 1884-1975

Sister Agnes was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 1, 1884, the daughter of Agnes (Rowan) and Charles Daly.

As she was attracted to the missionary life, she came to North Dakota to join the newly founded Benedictine Community at Elbowoods. It was here that she made her vows in 1916, becoming one of the pioneers of this community, which numbered six members at that time.

Sister Agnes attended Dickinson State College and the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota. She was an excellent teacher and served in many of our schools during her lifetime.

She was a teacher and librarian at Sacred Heart Academy in Minot from its opening in 1949 to its closing in 1965. During her retirement years she edited the community newsletter The Cloister Bells.

Sister Agnes died peacefully on March 23, 1975 at Sacred Heart Priory in Richardton shy of reaching her 60th Jubilee, which would have been celebrated later that year.

S. Gertrude (Hanna) Dineen 1887-1959

Sister Gertrude was born on June 6, 1887 in Minneapolis. She was the second to enter Sacred Heart Convent in Elbowoods. On October 20, 1915 she received the Benedictine habit and on October 21, 1916 she made her first profession.

For twenty-five of her forty-four years in religious life, Sister Gertrude worked among the Indians in Elbowoods, and on the Fort Berthold reservation doing Catechetical work with Sister Hildegard.

After leaving the reservation, the remainder of her religious life was spent teaching at Garrison and Fallon. Her last mission was at St. Luke’s Hospital at Crosby where she served as sacristan.

Sister Gertrude suffered much during her last years. Though old in body, Sister Gertrude was always joyful in spirit. She died on June 10, 1959 at the age of 72.

S. Rose (Catherine) McHale 1888-1918
Sister Rose was born in Minneapolis on April 19, 1888. She entered Sacred Heart Convent at Elbowoods on November 17, 1915 making her monastic profession in 1917. Despite her weakened condition she did heavy manual work without complaining. Sister Rose died of tuberculosis on March 15, 1918 about a year after making her first profession, and was buried on the Feast of St. Patrick. She was not yet 30 years old when she died.
S. Bernadette (Anna Mary) Schafer 1878-1940

Sister Bernadette was born on March 30, 1878 in Ohio. She entered the convent on April 14, 1917 and after profession taught school for many years in the diocese. By 1939 Sister Bernadette was doing Catechetical work at Elbowoods.

She was known as an excellent storyteller with a lively sense of humor, often entertaining the Sisters with her stories during recreation. Sister Bernadette was a fine teacher; another of her Sisters told of how they learned the Divine Office in Latin together right after its introduction.

It was around this time that she showed many of the Sisters how to iron altar cloths so beautifully, especially the putting in of pleats which was then so popular.

In the summer of 1940, Sister Bernadette was at the motherhouse and, as usual, was ironing the altar cloths. The weather at the time was unbearably hot so she decided to go to the root cellar to cool off.  She remained in the cool cellar too long, contracted double pneumonia, and succumbed to it on August 19, 1940.

S. Philomena (Pauline) Tschida 1893-1980

Sister Philomena was born in Illmitz, Austria in 1893 and came to the Unites States as a young girl. In 1917 she entered Sacred Heart Convent and is one of the pioneers of our Benedictine Community.

During her first years in religious life she served as prefect and cook at the boarding schools in Elbowoods and Fallon. She spent most of her life baking altar breads and distributing them to many parishes in the Bismarck Diocese.

Sister Philomena died August 17, 1980 at the mother house at the age of 87.