Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Christmas of Firsts

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.

This Christmas season was full of many firsts for me: first Christmas away from my family. First Catholic Christmas. First Midnight Mass. First priest passing out in the middle of Mass (he did say it was way past his bedtime! Don’t worry, he checked out just fine!) First Christmas season that I was not “allowed” to listen to Christmas music, nor did we have Christmas decorations until Christmas. First Advent season that I have celebrated. First “Advent Angel” instead of secret Santa (by the way, advent angel is much more enjoyable!) and many more…

In all, Christmas in the monastery is something that can’t be described, it must be experienced. There is no way to illustrate for others the overwhelming sense of expectation, joy and hope that fills the monastery at this special time. Many are scurrying around completing tasks that all add up to a truly magical few days. Whether they are decorating, planning, cooking or baking, everyone has a part in the magic. And when I say magic, you should have seen my face when I saw what the chapel looked like after the few days of decorating -- it was truly beautiful.

Others had tried to tell me just how great Christmas in the monastery was, and I had believed them to an extent. I didn’t push off what they told me, but the thought of not being with my family for Christmas always lingered in the back of my mind. “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams” became a truly bitter song.  Not until I fully experienced a monastery Christmas did I understand why it was so important for me to spend Christmas in the monastery rather than with my family. It’s more than just a holiday, it’s truly a celebration filled with love and joy; one that can’t be explained and must be experienced firsthand.

The second half of my year of service, I will continue to teach my grammar class for BEACON and this semester I began teaching a high beginner class! I truly enjoyed teaching grammar and, of course, I thought teaching a high beginner class would be very similar. Plot twist… it’s not similar at all. I struggled with this quite a bit and after the first two days of teaching, I truly considered quitting. I felt like a failure. My students didn’t understand and we weren’t getting through lessons at all. I would find these really great worksheets and supplemental activities to go with my lessons, but understanding the basis of the lesson was the hardest part. So we never got to my cool handouts. I chalked the whole experience up to me not being qualified to teach individuals at that level and that I just wasn’t cut out for teaching. Then I sat down for a bit, took a few days to think over what had happened and hit the books. I wasn’t going to give up and I didn’t. I only had one lesson before I left to go home for my visit, but it went great! More to come as this endeavor continues.

As for BARN, I’m really enjoying the work I am doing. It’s exhausting, both mentally and emotionally but it’s overall enjoyable and I’m learning lots. Through my short time at BARN, I’ve realized that I don’t want to work as a case manager when I’m all grown up. The system is flawed. Case managers receive anywhere from 60-80 cases in their given field. I have one case and that takes about 80% of my two days of work. Granted, I probably have a higher standard of work for myself, but I understand why the level of care deteriorates when you only have so much time and capacity, but all of these individuals to manage and care for. It’s a system where you will never be caught up and constantly just trying to keep your head above the water.

2016 brought many firsts for me and I’m excited to see what 2017 brings! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Bethany Purkapile


My family and I having dinner during my visit.

Sister Andrea V., Sister Andrea W and I completing a Christmas puzzle.

Monastery during Christmas

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