Mother Blandina Murray: Advocate for Catholic education, healthcare
By Sister Denise Schonhardt, OSB
The third prioress of Mount Saint Benedict Monastery, Mother Blandina – a daughter of Frederick and Eugenia Almquist – was baptized Margaret Mary Josephine Maud Almquist (called Marjorie), on Dec. 14, 1893 in Ontogon, Michigan. So, then, how was she known as Mother Blandina Murray? The answer is her father died and her mother remarried to a man whose last name was Murray. He adopted Marjorie and her two siblings. After Mr. Murray’s death her mother was forced to take a job as a nurse and Marjorie went to live with her aunt and uncle, Tom Bouchard, in Duluth where she attended Saint John Baptist School. She admired the sisters who taught in the school and entered the Duluth Benedictine community in 1909.
In 1910, Marjorie received the habit and the name Sister Blandina.
Sister Blandina began teaching at Cathedral School in Crookston in 1912. The next year she was assigned to Saint Joseph’s School in Red Lake Falls where she became the superior and principal in 1916.
In 1919, she agreed to join the new community in Crookston. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Loras College she was assigned to teach at Cathedral High School, Mount Saint Benedict Academy (both in Crookston) and in Lefor, North Dakota, where she started high school classes. She then was appointed subprioress by Mother Monica Forkey. While subprioress she helped oversee the building of Saint Francis Hospital (now “The Summit”) in Crookston and the planning of Saint John’s Hospital in Red Lake Falls.
On June 22, 1949, Sister Blandina succeeded Mother Monica as prioress. The building of the two hospitals placed a heavy financial burden on the sisters, so Mother Blandina encouraged them to limit expenses to ease the burden.
During her six-year term, Mother Blandina welcomed 38 new members who rapidly were assigned to the expanding education ministry. The sisters were able to staff new schools in Mahtomedi, Osseo, Benson and Slayton (catechetical school) in addition to schools already staffed in Detroit Lakes, Barnesville, Moorhead (two schools), Bemidji, East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls and Crookston. The education ministry was extended to children of migrant workers when the sisters staffed summer boarding schools in Crookston and Moorhead. Mount Saint Benedict Academy began admitting African American women from Saint Louis, two Chinese students from Taiwan and one from mainland China. Mount Saint Benedict Academy became one of the first interracial boarding schools in the country.
After Mother Blandina left office, she requested to go to Browerville to continue the work she had begun, the opening of a new 30-bed hospital. She captured the respect and hearts of the hospital staff.
In 1956 she was assigned to Sacred Heart School where she served as librarian. She thrived in the school atmosphere, and she was loved by students. After serving for 18 years at Sacred Heart, she returned to Mount Saint Benedict because of declining health.
She adjusted quickly to a way of life which allowed more time for prayer and visiting with her sisters. Her favorite hobby was stamp collecting, and she spent hours poring over her precious albums. She enjoyed helping in the activity department where she processed about two hundred library books for the use of sisters in the health care unit. She kept busy doing small chores, and nothing out of order escaped her notice. During garden season she was more than busy shelling peas, nipping beans and husking ground cherries.
She entered eternal life on Easter Saturday, April 5, 1986. Her death was linked in a distinct way to the Paschal Mystery, the promise of new life.