Sister Michelle McGurran: Committed to Benedictine life, peace and justice
By Sister Denise Schonhardt, OSB
Sister Michelle McGurran grew up in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She taught in elementary schools in the dioceses of Crookston and New Ulm and high school at Mount Saint Benedict Academy in Crookston and Sacred Heart High School in East Grand Forks.
A deep sense of social justice impelled Sister Michelle as a social studies teacher, an advocate for peace, and the chaplain of the Minnesota State Senate. She held deeply the words of the psalmist, “I have not concealed your justice within my heart; your truth and your salvation I have declared (Ps. 39:11).”
Sister Michelle immediately faced the challenge of continuing the progress made regarding demolishing the original monastery building and constructing new spaces. Though planning for the evacuation and demolition of the original building proceeded, the Benedictine community was immersed also in other events. On April 24, 1994, the community celebrated its 75th anniversary.
On Feb. 11, 1993, wrapped in coats, gloves, and scarves, the community gathered in the original monastery building to bid farewell to the home where they spent their novitiate and formation and made their monastic profession. In September 1994, infirm sisters moved into their new bedrooms in Good Shepherd Hall. In January 1995, the administration area was completed, and sisters moved into their new offices. On March 19, 1995, Bishop Victor Balke blessed and dedicated the new chapel.
On September 1, 1994, the Benedictine Sisters started a new educational endeavor: Sunrise Center for Children and Families with Sister Judy Moen as director. Sunrise Center opened with twenty-four children. It became one of the most reputable child-care centers in Crookston.
On December 26, 1994, the sisters approved of a capital campaign with a goal of $975,000. Development director Sister Denise Schonhardt contacted various leaders in Crookston to acquaint them with the need for the campaign and the hopes of the sisters. Sister Michelle, Sister Denise and others also met with satellite committees in parishes where sisters had served in order to encourage their efforts on behalf of the Benedictine sisters. A steering committee helped to guide the campaign along with campaign director, Lori Adams, and office manager Sister Carol Jean Schroeder. After the campaign surpassed by over $200,000, more than 200 volunteers, benefactors, and friends celebrated the achievement on June 2, 1996. During the campaign, Mount Saint Benedict Foundation was set up to manage the funds so the needs of the retired sisters could be met and the historical ministries of the sisters supported.
The winter of 1996-1997 was memorable for residents of the Red River Valley because of record snowfall. It resulted in a flood of the Red River of the North extending the full length of the valley. In some places, the river grew to twenty miles wide. On Saturday, April 19, 1997, a caravan of people from East Grand Forks who fled their flooded homes in the early hours arrived at shelters in churches and schools in Crookston. Mount Saint Benedict was designated as a short-term shelter for evacuees with medical ailments and handicaps. More than sixty people found shelter at the Mount including people who did not have disabilities. Some of the survivors were not able to find permanent lodging until September.
Sister Michelle turned her attention to protecting the future of Villa Saint Vincent. Predictions had been made that stand-alone long-term care facilities would not be able to continue because of the escalating cost of healthcare. Sister Michelle assembled a 14 member steering committee to study the future of Villa Saint Vincent. Sept. 30, 1998, Michael Siekas, Administrator of the Villa, Sister Michelle and Mount Saint Benedict Council members signed the Shared Sponsorship Agreement between Benedictine Health System (BHS) and the Sisters of Saint Benedict of Crookston. Oct. 1, 1998, the Document of Separate Incorporation of Villa Saint Vincent went into effect. It stated that the Benedictine Sisters retained ownership and shared in the governance of the Villa with BHS assuming management of the facility.
On August 6, 1999, Sister Michelle turned over her position as prioress to Sister Catherine Merck. Sister Michelle spent a year at Saint Michael’s in Mahnomen before accepting a position as pastoral administrator in Dawson for six years before returning to the Mount.
Throughout her term as prioress, Sister Michelle’s desire to reveal God’s justice and declare God’s truth and salvation formed a basis for her actions.