Sister Sarah Smedman, OSB, age 91, was called home on March 19, 2023 in her 68th year of consecrated life. Born on June 18, 1931 to Leonard and Ida Lenore (Bourg) Smedman in Norway, Michigan, she moved at age 10 with her family to Hibbing, Minnesota when her father was transferred by his mining company to the Iron Range. There she was taught by the Benedictine Sisters at Assumption Hall and first became acquainted with religious life. After high school she studied at The College of St. Scholastica, became friends with many of the Sisters and, after graduating with a B.A. in English in 1953, entered St. Scholastica Priory. She made her triennial vows in 1955 and her perpetual vows in 1958. Recalling her college years, she said, “At St. Scholastica I was encouraged to think for myself. I became a risk-taker, voicing my thoughts freely, and discovering that others did not always think as I did.”
As a much-loved teacher, Sister Sarah spent her first ten years in local schools. She taught English and History at Stanbrook Hall High School and was also the school librarian. Moving to Virginia, Minnesota, she taught seventh grade and some music classes at Marquette School. In 1962 she returned to Duluth to teach English at Cathedral High School for a year. She was instructor in the English Department at The College of St. Scholastica and later became an Associate Professor.
After completing her Ph.D. in English at the University of Indiana, she became one of the first Duluth Benedictines to teach in a state university, accepting a faculty position at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. She said, “Welcomed into a diverse community of educators, scholars, and colleagues, I became ever more aware of my responsibility to be a true Benedictine.”
At UNCC she developed a specialty program in Children’s and Young Adult Literature. This subject became her passion, and she published many scholarly articles and book reviews. She served the International Children’s Literature Association as board member, committee chair, and president, earning an international reputation in the field. Years later, she wrote a series of articles in Pathways on books for young readers.
In 1990 she returned to Minnesota to teach as professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead. She was able to visit her elderly mother in Hibbing and attend monthly meetings of the Monastic Council when elected. She also served as trustee on the Board of St. Mary’s Hospital and nursing home in Detroit Lakes.
In 2004 she returned to the Monastery, adjusted again to its rhythm of communal prayer and work, and rekindled friendships with other Sisters. ‘Easing into retirement,’ as she once called it, she served on the Monastic Council, as trustee of the College and various medical institutions, and as archivist. She directed the program for continued education and life development for the Sisters and was a Board member for the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue that brings together monastics of various religions. Inspired by the changes of Vatican II, she helped found the Community’s Feminist Theology program.
After a long life of service to God, her Community, and her students, she celebrated her 60th Jubilee in 2015, the Year of Consecrated Life. When asked why she stayed for so long when many others left the Order, she replied, “I believe because of God’s inexorable grace, the sacredness of my vows, my willingness to take risks, and the support of my prioresses and Sisters.”
Sister Sarah will be remembered for her deep love of God, her keen mind, and her love of children’s literature. She was preceded in death by her parents and brother John Paul Smedman. She is survived by her sister-in-law Marlene Smedman, nieces Susan Byers (Mark) and Diane Teichman (Bill), the Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery, and many friends. A wake service and Morning Prayer with visitation will be on Saturday, March 25, at 10:00 a.m. in Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel in the Monastery. Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11:00 a.m. with Father William Fider presiding, and burial follows in Gethsemane Cemetery. Funeral arrangements were handled by Dougherty Funeral Home. Ceremonies will be live-streamed at https://www.facebook.com/dfhduluth. Memorials to St. Scholastica Monastery are preferred.