Our Daily Bread
Swift, Tammy. "Our Daily Bread." Bismarck Tribune, 10 October 1993, sec. 1E & 3E.
Bread has always carried great symbolism. We break bread together.
We "give us this day our daily bread."
It not only represents nourishment, but the staff of life.
And so when a Benedictine sister passed the art of breadmaking
down to a younger sister at Richardton's Sacred Heart Monastery,
it meant many things. It meant Sister Jeanette Werner, who entered
the monastery 50 years ago, would no longer have to rise at 6:30
a.m. every day to mix, punch and shape the 30-some loaves. It also
meant her student, Sister Karyn Haider, had kept alive a skill that
the older sisters feared would die.
"Now I have hopes again," says Sister Jeanette.
Today, when the sisters at Sacred Heart Monastery gather to break
bread together, they eat the fruits forged by tradition and passed
on to the young.
The warm, yeasty fragrance of baking curls from the Sacred Heart
Monastery's kitchen. It's bound to turn out: Every batch is made
under a plaque dedicated to St. Martha, who prepared meals for Jesus
Christ in Bethany.
When done, the crust is sturdy and golden brown. Cut into thick
slices, the tender white insides can be slathered with butter or
clear, sweet clover honey made by Brother Gordon Barnard from the
neighboring Assumption Abbey.
Their secret? "Good flour," Sister Jeanette says. "There's
a big difference in flour. I like Dakota Maid best."
It also takes elbow grease, and experience.
Both Sister Jeanette and Sister Imelda Aberle have plenty of that.
Both grew up in the Catholic-dominated Linton/Napoleon/Wishek area.
Sister Jeanette has baked bread since age 13. She was from a family
of 10, and her mother was sick a lot. Taking on adult chores, well,
"that was just understood for girls." Sister Jeanette
says, shrugging. "Very few went to high school."
Later, Sister Jeanette baked buns, rolls and kuchen as a school
cook. She still occasionally makes sweet treats like the pink-iced
"old fashioned ammonia cookies" passed down from the main
Hands still stained red from pickling beets, Sister Imelda joins
Sister Jeanette at the table. On any given day, the high-energy
82-year-old can be found digging in the garden, canning, or doing
work that would exhaust people half her age.
Both sisters remember when bread baking was a lot more work. When
they worked at mission schools, they had to chop up coal for the
stove, then guess when the temperature was right for baking. "Sixty-three
years in the convent," sister Imelda quips, "baking bread
and shoveling coal."
"When I grew up, if we had coal we were lucky," Sister
Jeanette adds. "We had to use cow chips." Unfamiliar with
coal's strength, she overloaded it once while baking bread at her
aunt's place. "The stove got redder and redder," she recalls,
laughing. "And the bread got blacker and blacker."
Today, the monastery has a giant floor mixer and a special electric
stove for bread. But it's still a demanding job. They bake at least
once a week - on Wednesdays. Sundays, they eat fresh caramel rolls.
Around Easter, there is soft, sweet Easter buska. Christmas means
fruit cake. Another treat is "pull-aparts," bits of dough
coated in cinnamon and sugar and baked in a Bundt pan.
Sister Leona Baumstarck, the main cook, loves to decorate the Easter
cakes, plus bakes pies and doughnuts. But she's in her 70s and needs
double knee replacements. Likewise, Sister Jeanette enjoys baking,
but has been hoping lately someone else would take over her duties.
So the news that Sister Karyn wanted to bake bread delighted her.
"I told her what to do, then left her alone," Sister Jeanette
says. "Personally, I would like to learn something new without
someone looking over my shoulder."
Sister Karyn's first batch turned out beautifully. So did the next.
"You just bless it and say please," Sister Karyn says
of each batch.
"She's a good cook," says Sister Jeanette. "She's
really good in art. She's good in so many things."
On this particular day, Sister Karyn was baking so the sisters
could have fresh toast the next morning. "We're all spoiled,"
says Sister Rita Kay Rauschendorfer. "We don't like eating
And she's already experimenting. One Thursday, Sister Karyn whipped
up cottage cheese dill bread. She's also set her sights on cinnamon,
sourdough and raisin varieties.
"I love to cook," she says. "I really enjoy being
in the kitchen, and I always wanted to bake bread. It's like I'm
watching a miracle take place when it starts to raise."
While growing up in Montana, Karyn cooked at her parents' fast-food
restaurant, but never tackled bread.
Later, while working as an operations officer for First Bank in
Billings, Montana she stopped cooking. She was too busy with her
During the bank's consolidation, Karyn watched her own staff members
lose their jobs. She couldn't stand it. She loved the work, but
"my value system wasn't conducive to the bank any longer."
And, "on the other side, when God calls, you listen,"
Sister Karyn says, smiling.
Karyn took a transitional job as a religious education director
for a Billings parish. There, she heard about the Sacred Heart Monastery
through a former community member. She visited, and instantly knew
it was the right place. She joined over three years ago.
Last year, Sister Karyn studied art and business at Dickinson State
University. But then Sister Leona fell ill, and she was recruited
to stay home and help out in the kitchen. It was hard at first for
Sister Karyn, who had to reacquaint herself with the vow of obedience.
"Ultimately, I realized that it will be a wonderful year,"
says Sister Karyn, as she weighs the elastic lumps of dough, shapes
them into squares and drops them into greased tins. "There's
a lot of wisdom here to be gleaned. But a lot of the sisters are
getting older, and they just aren't going to be around someday."
One of her mentors is Sister Imelda, the unofficial house mother
who calls the younger sisters "kinde" - German for children.
"I depend on her a lot," Sister Karyn says. "I don't
know what I'd do without her."
When the bread is done, it's sliced and set out on platters for
the evening meal. Later, the sisters bow their heads and give thanks
"With grateful and prayerful hearts,
We lift up this bread to you,
May your glory surround it
And this meal. Amen."
If you need to feed a small army, here's the Sacred Heart Monastery's
recipe for a really big batch of bread. If you just have to feed
2.5 kids and Spot, hone those math skills and downsize it.
Sacred Heart Monastery's White Bread
36-40 cups of flour
6 tablespoons yeast
2 cups sugar
2 cups oil
4 tablespoons salt
Water (as needed, about 10 cups)
Knead together for 10 minutes. Add oil so inside of bowl and exterior
of dough are covered. Let raise for a half hour and punch down.
Raise for another half an hour and work into loaves. Let raise for
a final 45 minutes, then bake at 300 degrees until golden brown
(in the monastery's oven - about half an hour).
Sister Karyn works lumps
of dough into l/1/2-pound loaves.
The best part. Sisters enjoy
fresh bread for lunch.
Sister Jeanette Werner,
left, uses her decades of experience to teach breadmaking
to Sister Karyn Haider.
Once the dough is tucked
into pans, Sister Jeanette covers them so they can raise.
Reprinted with permission from the Bismarck Tribune.