Sister Martha (Jeanette) Bechtold, age 86, died on May 1, 2023 at St. Scholastica Monastery in her 65th year of consecrated life. She was born February 26, 1937 to Lawrence and Hildegard (Feneis) Bechtold in Luxemburg, Minnesota, second in a loving family of 12 children. On the farm she learned to work hard and remain calm in emergencies. She developed interests in cleanliness, order, decorating, painting, repair, and maintenance.
She stopped attending school at age 14 to work on the farm, help raise her younger siblings, and work as a nanny. Following an employer to Duluth at age 18, she went on a retreat at the Monastery and felt, as she said, “zapped by God.” Two months later she entered as a postulant. She earned her high school degree, made her First Profession in 1957 and her Perpetual Profession in 1960. She continued her education, earning a Bachelor of Science in Education from The College of St. Scholastica in 1969 and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies from Loyola University in Chicago. Her family was very proud of her scholarly accomplishments.
Sister Martha’s love of children and creative play suited her well for her first ministry as an elementary school teacher in Hibbing, Pine City, Chicago, Wayzata, Cloquet, and Duluth. In 1980 she moved to the McCabe Renewal Center, served as Director, and oversaw maintenance and repair. In 1994, she asked the Prioress, Sister Danile Lynch, for a change in ministry. After discussing her desires, she attended summer classes at Saint John’s Abbey and returned home to become Director of Monastery Facilities, a modern title for the role of Cellarer as described in the Rule of St. Benedict. She described it as “caring for everything that is not eternal” and she thrived in her new role. She learned everything about maintaining the monastic buildings and their contents, building on a solid base of her time on the farm and at McCabe. Sister Martha exemplified the office of Cellarer. Whatever the emergency, she remained calm and handled it quietly and efficiently.
When Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are busy with many things,” that was our Sister Martha, always quietly working; but she also possessed the deep peace of Mary who sat at the feet of Jesus. She was a woman of profound prayer, rooted deeply in God, and so nothing could rattle her. For 35 years she was faithful to her Cursillo prayer group. She loved her family, her Benedictine Community, and everyone she met.
Sister Martha loved to cross-country ski, fly kites over the lake, and make balloon animals to delight children, especially her nieces and nephews. She enjoyed cards, jigsaw puzzles, and Scrabble. Whatever the weather she was outside. On returning from a winter walk on a fiercely cold and windy afternoon, she commented, “Well, it didn’t take me long today to get a lot of fresh air.” In bringing Gospel stories to life for her students, she was assisted by a marionette puppet named Shelby named after, she told them, God, from the Doxology: “…as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever Shelby.” Sister made several trips to our Twinning Benedictine community in Tanzania and enjoyed reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili. She quietly excelled at everything she did: she could cook, clean, be spiritual director, give retreats, shovel snow, cut the grass, paint, and spin on the loom. She died, very appropriately, on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
Sister Martha was preceded in death by her parents; two brothers, Lawrence (Karen) and Benedict (Joan) Bechtold; and brothers-in-law, Fred Reker, Don Prom, and Ron Skudlarek. She is survived by her brothers Leonard (Marcia), Roger (Nell), George (Marshia), and Eugene (Kathy) Bechtold; sisters Rita Reker, Mary Prom, Hilde (Kerry) Manuel, Rose Skudlarek, and Millie (Leonard) Brunn; many beloved nieces and nephews; and her Benedictine Community.
Wake and Mass of Christian Burial were held on Monday, May 8 in Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel at the Monastery, with her nephews Reverends Mitchell Bechtold and Nathan Brunn presiding. Interment was at Gethsemane Cemetery. Arrangements were made by Dougherty Funeral Home.