June 21, 2020
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The Sister of Touch

The Sister of Touch

Nun’s Massage Parlor Closed— This was the headline that appeared in 1983 in the St. Paul Pioneer Press after the city’s Vice Squad shut down Sister Rosalind Gefre’s massage center. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations forwarded the story throughout the country and all over the world. In the aftermath of this false scandal, and widespread media coverage, Sister Rosalind was able to transmit her message about the spiritual benefits of massage therapy around the country. In her own words she was instrumental in putting massage in a new light and bringing it out of prostitution.

Born in Strasburg, North Dakota in 1929, Sister Rosalind entered the Order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1948. As part of her ministry she became a licensed practical nurse in 1968 and was assigned to Fargo, North Dakota where she worked in nursing homes. Shortly after, her mother was stricken with a terminal illness. Sister Rosalind moved in with her and stayed for three years to care for her.

Her mother wished to receive massage therapy to help with her pain. So her daughter took her to a trained therapist who also gave Sister Rosalind a massage. The results were amazing. The therapist permanently healed her of a chronic chest pain that she had had for many years. Personally impressed with the healing power and spiritual uplift of massage therapy, she became one of the earliest proponents of therapeutic massage.

Sister Rosalind started practicing massage at the Family YMCA in Fargo in 1973.

So great was the response, she enlisted other nuns and taught them how to properly massage older adults. As a result a new form of Catholic spiritual and physical healings was born. Her first clinic opened in 1983 on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. The founding of her first school came a year later. The originality of her new ministry weaved a tapestry of controversy that entwined, not only her order but also the secular community as well.

Shortly after she opened her first massage center, the police promptly arrested her for operating a notorious massage parlor where human touch had fallen to the level of sexual perversion. Thanks to the remnants of the Vietnam War and a sordid underworld of moral and sexual perversions, the ancient art of body massage had acquired an undeserved reputation as being a front for illicit sexual activity.

Sister Rosalind changed all that. Today there are well over 30,000, mostly women who practice the art of full body massage. Most all are licensed and fully professional. Most of them owe their livelihood to this spiritually ambitious nun, who over 40 years ago bucked the closed-minded authorities in Minnesota.

Since then she has led the way in changing the local legislation covering massage by opening at least three clinics and five schools. Not only is there physical healing in massage but there is also a spiritual healing, said Sister Roz, as she is affectionately known throughout the Twin Cities.

Hers is truly a healing ministry. For over two decades Sister Rosalind and her massage students and therapists have generously donated tens of thousands of hours of free massage therapy to the community. Sister Rosalind has built a large massage ministry through her Sister Rosalind’s Schools and Clinics of Massage – (www.sisterrosalind.org) – with five professional schools and seven wellness centers and clinics in Minnesota and North Dakota.

Thanks to Sister Rosalind, massage therapy is now very popular and very accepted. But for a long period of time I had to work against a widespread negative feeling about massage and it was really hard. By being a Catholic sister, people told me I raised the image of massage and made it something respectable.

On July 29, 2002, nearly 20 years after Sister Rosalind opened her first massage center, Time Magazine ran an article titled Massage Goes Mainstream. The article featured a photograph of Sister Rosalind on site at one of her massage schools and recognized her as an early proponent of massage therapy and as a leader in changing local legislation covering massage.

Her overwhelming successes hinged on the fact that people are skin hungry and God hungry. Before Jesus helped people, he touched them, and that is the work we do. By reuniting the human body with its natural soul, Sister Roz went a long way in destroying the Platonic dichotomy that had bifurcated the human person into a body and soul, often at war with each other. Plato’s philosophy had inadvertently unleashed a pack of heresies, such as Gnosticism, Jansenism and the notorious Cathars of the 13th century that distorted the essence of God’s human creation.

One of her latest projects was to establish the Sister Rosalind Christian Ministries to develop and raise funds for a special place of healing on a donated farm property in southern Minnesota near Lake Pepin. This will be a place where people can pray and focus on not just the physical aspect of healing but on the spiritual aspect of healing as well.

Well over 10,000 people have attended schools bearing her name. Her biography, Hands That Touch, Hands That Heal, documents her remarkable contribution to the popularization of massage in spite of formidable obstacles. Many think that when she dies she should be the Patron Saint of Massage Therapists since there is no saint who has been associated with her form of healing touch. That is a thought for another time.

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Written by
William Borst