Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Adventures of BWSC Volunteer Mo Shannon-Thornton


Benedictine Women Service Corps (BWSC), an outreach of Saint Benedict’s Monastery, St. Joseph, Minn., invites College of Saint Benedict alumnae to join the monastic community in deepening relationships that support justice and service in a new location. Volunteers strive to live out the Benedictine Gospel values that were formed during their undergraduate education in a capacity that will challenge them personally, spiritually and professionally.

Mo Shannon, Erin Carey and Bethany Purkapile are the Benedictine Women Service Corps volunteers for 2016-17. On September 1, they began a year's service at Benedictine monasteries in Bristow, Va., and Erie, Pa.

Three Thursdays a month we will feature a blog post by one of these volunteers. These women will share a bit of their experience within the BWSC ministry and we ask that you pray for them as they extend Benedictine values to the world during their year of service.

(BWSC Volunteer Mo Shannon-Thornton)
Today, we introduce BWSC volunteer blogger, Mo Shannon-Thornton, to you

Hello all! I first want to say that I have the privilege of living with 27 amazing women. From the very beginning, the sisters here in Bristow have been absolutely welcoming. These women are truly a hoot! Many of them come from very diverse backgrounds, and have fascinating vocation stories. While I’m excited to be living with these wonderful women, I’m not fond of the 6:30 morning prayer, or the loud morning bell that wakes me up every morning. I remember the first Morning Prayer I attended here. I was so tired. Anyone who knows me on a personal level knows that I am not a morning person AT ALL! However, when I walked in the chapel I was greeted by Sister Charlotte’s pink fuzzy house slippers. I thought to myself, “Now she’s got the right idea.”

I’ve been in Bristow, Va., just shy of a month. Within the short amount of time I’ve been here, I’ve experienced a wide range of emotions. My first week here I felt happiness, anxiousness and sadness. This is partly because I came to Virginia with a couple of preconceived notions on how easy it would be to help people. However, that most definitely was the naiveté in me. I made up my mind that I was going to help a lot of people, and leave my job everyday feeling fulfilled. But I learned quickly that would not always be the case. For the first half of this year I have been volunteering at BARN. BARN provides housing to families who are homeless. These families can stay here anywhere from three to five months. While living here, residences are required to attend bi-weekly programs that teach them how to manage their finances, improve their education and parenting skills. The interesting thing about working at BARN is that no work day is the same for me. I enjoy Mondays and Tuesdays the best because I work directly with the children. On Mondays I tutor, and Tuesdays I work with young girls 10 to 15 years old. I specifically asked my boss if I could work with these young girls because I noticed by the second week of me working here, the girls seemed disconnected with others around them. I also found myself leaving my job discouraged because there had been many times I had to turn families down and tell them they couldn’t stay at BARN. I knew in my heart there was some way I could reach others, even if it wasn’t in the way I initially wanted to. Therefore, I started a program called BARN’S “Bright Lights.”

The purpose of my program is to serve as a safe space for young girls to flourish in an environment where they will be taught about the importance of self-esteem, body image, peer pressure and the overall importance of a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, we live in a society where women are objectified. Therefore, my hope is that my program will encourage these young girls to see past their outer, and to let their inner light shine through in every aspect of their lives.

The group of girls I work with are characters. They are all full of life (sometimes too full) and are incredibly intelligent. I’m really excited to see what the year brings me, and my new program. And I can’t wait to share my future experiences with you all! Blessings.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Visit to the Cemetery

Walking in the cemetery has often been a meditation for me.  Recalling the last days of the suffering in the lives of these Sisters while on earth as their Living Stations of the Cross, I now view my walk up and down the rows,  recalling them more like the Living Stations of the Saints.


In my last three visits to our cemetery, I saw a beautiful white squirrel jumping happily from one tombstone to another, looking a bit like playing hopscotch. It was simply being  happy jumping around as it was meant to do. Or was it simply looking for nuts that were buried around the edges of some of the tombstones?  Do these creatures sense their connection with this  holy ground?  Does the remaining ashes of these deceased Sisters enrich the soil making the grass more soft and pleasing to their tiny feet? When one looks at the surrounding green hedges, and all the beautiful trees of different kinds, different shapes, different textures, and different sizes surrounding the whole cemetery, one can’t help but wonder if part of their beauty comes from the Spirit of these Saints buried here since 1880”s.  Does this squirrel, also one of God’s creatures instinctly live out its “Godliness”  becoming a reflection of the beauty of God? And we as  human beings with the same Creator, are we attracted to all the beauty, including this white squirrels for the same reason? Even though the decayed  bodies are  still here, their ashes, or dust, are holy, making it holy ground.


Often before leaving the cemetery, and walking between the rows, knowing they are ashes but believing that  their Spirit is alive,  I read the names of these Sister-Saints out loud and ask for their intercession, that their Spirit be very much present guiding our community  in our discernment process in electing our next prioress.  Hoping to see my white furry friend again.


  Margaret Mandernach, OSB

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Benedictine Women Service Corps Volunteer Erin Carey's Fun Experiences in Mount Saint Benedict, Erie, Pa.

BWSC participant Erin Carey

I’ve learned many things after moving into Mount Saint Benedict in Erie, Pa. While I’ve only been here for three weeks, I’ve compiled a list of what I’ve learned so far. 
  1. Most people are not as excited about planes taking off as I appeared to be on my first flight. While looking around excitedly as we rose into the air, looking for someone to share my joy and awe, the man next to me was already asleep and the woman next to him was engrossed in her book. I suppose nerves and excitement about my first flight were a bit amplified for me. Luckily, after Bethany and Mo got me to my gate everything went smoothly and I found out that I enjoy flying. Hooray!
  2. If you live in Erie, you are not really a resident until you have smelled … THE GRAPES. Being so close to the lake has its perks. One of which is being close to the grapes fields, which this time of year smell sweet and taste delicious! Another perk of living in Erie: the lake. During my first few weeks, Jessica, a volunteer from Mexico who is also staying here at the Mount, and I got to go to the beach a few times for a swim in Lake Erie. The lake is also home to some stunning sunsets!

  3. Notre Dame Football is a big deal. Also, I recently found out that I am a Pittsburg Steelers fan. (There may have been some arm twisting here.)The Benedictine Block, also known as E. 10th Street, has become my home away from home ... away from home. This is where many of the sisters’ ministries are located, including St. Benedict’s Education Center and the Neighborhood Art House.
  4. Refugees have wide smiles and inspiring stories, despite the difficult lives they’ve led. I spend my mornings tutoring refugees one on one with conversational English, reading and math. These people from Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, the Congo, Bhutan and Nepal are examples of the Benedictine values of work, community and hospitality. They work together to understand another language and culture, while providing for their children and families in a foreign place. The refugees and teachers also welcomed me into their classes and community with care.
  5. Music and laughter are a basis of communication at the Art House. I teach a general music class and assist in art classes and tutoring. For students who do not speak English, and for those who do, my class has used music, along with a lot of giggling, to make students feel comfortable around each other and comfortable making music in our little classroom. We’ve been drumming, marching to the beat, playing percussion instruments and singing.
  6. Community life is hard work! With prayer, mass, meals, ministry and now Schola practice, time each day seems to slip away! I cherish the time spent in the quiet of chapel with the sisters. (How could I not, with a view of this stained glass!)
The list could go on, but I have enjoyed settling in to Mount Saint Benedict, getting to know the community and the people who I serve and am served by every day. I am looking forward to the rest of my journey in the coming months!
Peace and prayers,

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Envy and Aliveness

Photo by Nancy Bauer, OSB
Maybe some of you rarely find yourself being jealous of others.  But for those of us who occasionally succumb to it, we may be missing an invitation to let our envy teach us something.  According to Kristi Nelson, Executive Director of A Network for Grateful Living, “Envy is painful if we leave it as unexamined covetousness.”
When our internal reserves are too depleted to “look within” for a remedy for our feelings of jealousy, we sometimes need to look outside ourselves.  We can scan the lives of those around us that inspire us and notice why we admire them. Noticing what triggers our admiration can reveal to us what we feel is lacking in our current lives and how we might choose to rediscover and foster our latent longings and belongings. Though this exploration can be an unusual and humbling process, we can actually let the roots of our envy become our guide to rediscovering what makes us feel alive and connected again. 
The choice to do this envy-exploration can potentially nudge us into remembering and naming our latent longings and belongings and recall many things that have stirred our souls. It can even alert us to simple and enlivening choices we can again begin to make.  Many of us have found that God’s face is often recognized in persons who regularly follow their authentic longings and delights.  Eventually you might even hear yourself whispering, “Alive again, alive again, Thank God I’m alive again”.

Mary Rachel Kuebelbeck, OSB

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bethany's BWSC Experience-First Day in Bristow, VA

Benedictine Women Service Corps (BWSC), an outreach of Saint Benedict’s Monastery, St. Joseph, Minn., invites College of Saint Benedict alumnae to join the monastic community in deepening relationships that support justice and service in a new location. Volunteers strive to live out the Benedictine Gospel values that were formed during their undergraduate education in a capacity that will challenge them personally, spiritually and professionally.

(Bethany, Mo and Erin) Photo by Tammy Shoemaker, OSB
Mo Shannon, Erin Carey and Bethany Purkapile are the Benedictine Women Service Corps volunteers for 2016-17. On September 1, they began a year's service at Benedictine monasteries in Bristow, Va., and Erie, Pa.

Three Thursdays a month we will feature a blog post by one of these volunteers. These women will share a bit of their experience within the BWSC ministry and we ask that you pray for them as they extend Benedictine values to the world during their year of service.

Today, we introduce BWSC volunteer blogger, Bethany Purkapile, to you.

Bethany Purkapile

“Change can be scary, but you know what’s scarier? Allowing fear to stop you from growing, evolving and progressing.” -Mandy Hale

Leaving Saint Benedict’s Monastery and getting to the airport, I was terrified. Besides going on a weeklong college visit on the east coast, I have never been east. However, my first week in Bristow has been one for the books! I absolutely love it here, besides the humidity. The sisters are so welcoming and the grounds are breathtaking. The birds, hummingbirds, deer, gophers, squirrels and deer are endless on the grounds. In addition, the monastery has cats and three dogs that they care for (I am absolutely loving that aspect)! The community is very similar to Saint Ben’s, but much smaller in numbers. I have my own room right down the hall from Mo and the “live-ins” (women who are living here and discerning about joining the monastery). It is pretty small, but I don’t spend much time in there other than sleeping and getting ready for my day. Even though I was terrified, I think this year will be such an incredible experience where I will grow and evolve in so many instances!

For the first half of this year I will be spending my time at Beacon, where I will be teaching English to adult language learners English in the classrooms using technology, both familiarizing students with English, and giving immediate
feedback on their work and technology.

For my first week at Beacon, I mainly observed how classes are taught. As I sat observing my first class of Adult English Language Learners on Tuesday, I was amazed at what I witnessed. I saw adults, many of whom are older than I am, sitting in a classroom preparing for just another day of learning English. One student from Afghanistan came to the United States in search of a safer environment, leaving behind his entire family and a high paying, governmental job. He is learning English to be able to communicate better with his customers at Walmart where he is a cashier. He is strong in his passion to learn English to better himself, but he’s doing that by leaving everything he knew, everything he was back home in Afghanistan. There was no doubt in my mind that this student, in particular, was being asked to handle a situation that I would deem unjust.

An old silo that the monastery turned into a prayer space
Later in the week, I was asked a question regarding my experience in this class: “Do you think immigrants who come to the United States should be required to learn English before getting a job?” I think my answer would have been different prior to sitting in on these classes. How could we require individuals who come to the United States seeking safety and care to learn English prior to getting a job? Is it solely so that we can easily communicate with them? Simply so that they can understand us? Just so our jobs are easier? These students sit in class for approximately 4-6 hours a week so that they can better communicate with us by learning English and “American culture,” but what am I doing as an individual to learn about them, about where they come from or about their culture? They are required to learn about American culture and our ways of living, but we disregard their culture, the troubles that they have overcome. We disregard everything they have come from and ask them to follow who we are without any attempt from us to learn about them.
Monday morning, September 12th, I start my first official day in the classroom,
A deer out on the monastery lawn
leading class all by myself! I am a bit nervous and feeling a little underprepared, but I think after my first time of just doing it on my own I will start to get the hang of it.
With all my love,
Bethany Purkapile

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Words Matter

Words have such great power, either to bless or to wound!  I have been truly blessed by Pastor Eugene H. Peterson’s rendition of the New Testament in contemporary language. He makes me want to read and read and read; I love words! But he also makes me want to stop and ponder! That’s the way it is with chapter 12 of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  I have read it every day this week.  Frankly I believe God is wanting me to ponder the message!  Listen, then—as your read—this portion of Romans 12.  Maybe God’s message will touch your ears and hearts, too:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.  Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

“I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you.  Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God.  No, God brings it all to you.  The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.

“In this way we are like the various parts of a human body.  Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around.  The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people.  Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body.  But a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much would we?  So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be,  without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.

“If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that  you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate;  if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them.  Keep a smile on your face.

“Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. . . . Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. . . .Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. . . . Discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody.  Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. ‘I’ll do the judging.’ says God. ‘I’ll take care of it.’

“Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink.  Your generosity will surprise him with goodness.  Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.”

Those words, that message are for me, Lord. May my life and my words mirror that message today. Thank you. Amen.

Renee Domeier, OSB


Friday, September 9, 2016

The Oblate Way of Life: Outreach event at Saint Benedict's Monastery, October 1

Lynda Gradert is an oblate from
Saint Benedict's Monastery,
St. Joseph, Minn.
She lives in Minneapolis, Minn.

Recently I followed up with a woman who had expressed interest in becoming an oblate. I asked if she wanted to grab a quick cup of coffee and have a conversation about it. She replied “No, being an oblate takes too much time.” I was dumbfounded. Had she been open to it I would’ve liked to ask her “What does being an oblate mean to you?”

I’ve been asking myself that same question a lot over the last year. A few of us oblates have been engaging with Sister Laureen Virnig, Oblate Director at Saint Benedict’s Monastery, on how to invite people into the oblate way of life. We are having our first “Come and See” event on Saturday, October 1, at 9:30 a.m., at Saint Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minn., on starting a conversation with those that are interested in pursuing becoming an oblate.  As a part of this event, I’ve been asked to talk about what why I choose to be an oblate.

I became an oblate when I was a senior at the College of Saint Benedict. I did so because I felt a strong connection to the sisters and I wanted that connection to continue when I was no longer living on campus. I also wanted what they had, and I felt becoming an oblate and living the same values that they lived would help get me there.

I tell people being an oblate is about seeking God in community. It’s about growing closer to Christ by how I engage in what I do each day. One of the ways I do this is by practicing hospitality. Having family and friends to my house, being present with a friend while she tells me about her day, listening to a co-worker share about her daughter’s health issues, making eye contact and greeting the person who holds the cardboard sign on the street corner asking for help are some of the ways I get to practice hospitality.

I’m moving through some difficult spiritual transitions right now. The practice of stability has always been one of the most enduring principles that I practice so “listening carefully … with the ear of my heart” to God and my life has become, at times, a minute by minute practice. This transition has been incredibly painful. I’ve been able to share this and gain perspective from my spiritual advisor and some good friends. I’m not alone in this.

I think that’s also why I chose to and continue to choose to be an oblate. St. Benedict wrote this Rule as “this little … Rule for beginners.” We’re all beginners and we all grow in holiness together by living out this Rule every day and in everything we do. 

We invite you to join us at the event at Saint Benedict’s Monastery on Saturday, October 1. The oblate way of life is a deeply nourishing lifestyle. Come, join the conversation. You can also learn more about oblates and the oblate way of life here. You can also contact the Oblate Director, Laureen Virnig, OSB, at

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Pickles and Community

Novice Bridgette, Lisa Rose, OSB, Affiliate Laura
Did you ever think that a jar of dill pickles and community living could be similar in a variety of ways? As one who makes dill pickles let me explain. The first step in the process of pickling is preparing the produce by picking and cleaning the cucumbers, onions, and dill. The second step involves preparing the jars along with the brine which is the transforming liquid of water, vinegar, salt, and sugar. As the cucumbers, onions, garlic, and dill are packed into the jar, they need one another to transform the cucumber into a pickle. Within a monastic community, we need one another to become our best self. So you see, both cucumbers and community members need assistance from their surroundings to assist them and transform them into something more wonderful. As the brine works its magic with the cucumber, prayer and daily living works its magic for each community member. In community as we pray and work side by side, we are seeking God. Our monastic commitment to one another is part of the magic. We come to realize that we need one another day after day. We take the time to pray and be transformed, thus allowing us to better service the church, the world, and one another. As day after day the pickling process takes time, monastic commitment is a day by day commitment to be lived out faithfully. If you would like more information about our Benedictine community, please contact Sister Lisa Rose at


Lisa Rose, OSB