Nuns leaving Ogden, but their legacy will remain
Service • St. Benedict money will continue to flow to northern Utah nonprofits.
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After 68 years of boosting the Ogden community spiritually, physically and financially, the last of the Sisters of St. Benedict are leaving, embarking on a journey home.

The five remaining nuns plan to leave Ogden for St. Benedict's Monastery in Minnesota, the monastery from which they came decades ago.

"It's bittersweet for us," said Sister Danile Knight, who arrived at the South Ogden monastery in 1964. "We're going home, in essence, but it's [difficult to leave] the relationships that we have made with many, many wonderful people here in Ogden."

Knight, who still speaks with a Minnesota accent, said it's simply the right move for the sisters, given their ages and declining membership. The sisters now range from age 75 to 87. Sisters at the Minnesota monastery will help to care for one of the Ogden nuns, who is disabled, and the other sisters hope to continue working there.

And though the sisters are departing Utah, their mission will live on. During the past 17 years, the St. Benedict's Foundation has given more than $4.6 million to nonprofit organizations in Utah, with a focus on helping women and children, said Yvonne Coiner, executive director of the foundation.

After the sisters exit, the foundation's remaining assets — about $5 million — will continue to be distributed to 18 nonprofit organizations in northern Utah during the next five to 10 years. The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City and the United Way of Northern Utah will manage distribution, Coiner said.

"It's taken them a lot of thought, a lot of time to put all of this together," Coiner said, "but their concern was all of this money that had been raised in their community would return to this community once they go home."

Ron Thornburg, executive director of Family Counseling Service of Northern Utah, said St. Benedict's is the largest single foundation donor to his agency. He said the sisters' impact on his agency and the community has been "huge."

"In a way it's a very sad occasion for our community, but in another way we need to celebrate the fact the sisters are making a move they feel is very important for them," Thornburg said. "Their good work is going to continue on here in Weber County and northern Utah for many years to come."

The nuns came to Ogden in 1944 to build and operate St. Benedict's Hospital, which they transferred to Holy Cross Health System Corp. in 1986. In addition to working with the hospital, the nuns performed parish work, education, chaplaincy and retreat work. The sisters plan to leave once their monastery property is sold.

"It's not going to be easy for us to leave them," Knight said of the Ogden area and its people, "but we know this is what the Lord is asking us to do now, and we know this is what we need to do for all of us, but we'll leave our legacy here."

lschencker@sltrib.com