Thursday, March 30, 2017

Bethany's Life in Bristow

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 week's BLOG is written by Bethany Purkapile

(Photo submitted by Bethany Purkapile)
I am continuing to spend my days split between BEACON and Transitional Housing, BARN. Both are going well! I have a love for teaching that I never knew I would find, and a love for helping others. I spend my days at BARN completing case management and workplace skills development with some of the moms. We are working on computer skills currently, trying to master Microsoft office. For individuals my age, it’s baffling to think of having computer skills as a privilege. We grew up learning computers, writing papers in Word, learning how to use Microsoft and mastering the internet. Those ten years older than me, didn’t have this privilege. These moms that I have been working with are amazing women who have overcome very difficult obstacles and their one goal is to obtain better employment. The one thing stopping them is the skills to use a computer.

I’ve begun to think about what I want to do after my year here in Bristow, Virginia. Although I don’t have my mind made up completely, I’ve started to work with youth doing play therapy at BARN under the supervision of the volunteer counselor that comes on Thursdays. She’s taught me a few things about playing with the kids, but unlike other therapy techniques that we see on TV or have preconceived notions about, I mainly just play with the kids and give them an ally, someone they know they can trust or talk to if they ever want to. It’s something that is very new for me, but I really enjoy it. It’s led me to consider the field of school counseling and clinical psychology. Tomorrow I am actually going to observe a local school counselor to see what this role is like in a school setting.

I’m sorry my update on work is short, things have been going well and there isn’t too much to share on it! Instead, I’d like to update you all on my experience within the community, more specifically my new-found love of prayer. 

When I first started considering the Benedictine Women’s Service Corp, I knew my biggest challenge would be committing to prayer. I was not raised in a religious family. All I knew about prayer was what I saw others do and what I saw in high school and on TV. I wasn’t taught or shown that prayer is a personal communication with God, and it’s all about what you make it.

I had these preconceived ideas that prayer is this communication between an individual and God, and that it is supposed to be a specific way, that there are rules and restrictions about what is allowed and not allowed. For me, prayer hasn’t been that way at all. It’s been this personal connection where I’m able to share my victories and defeats, the highs and lows of my day and all my worries, hopes and dreams.

As I go through my days switching between BEACON and BARN, I find myself stressed and exhausted by the end of the day. I put all I have into the work I do and sometimes I give more than I have and I wear myself thin. It’s a known quality of mine. I learned early that self-care is so important and beyond running and exercise I had not found any other self-care techniques that worked. Prayer has become one of those techniques. Sitting and allowing myself to reflect and breathe would calm me in ways that other techniques could not.

Thank you to everyone for your continued prayers and emails of support! It makes my day to see just how much my blogs and experiences are not only affecting me, but others.

Sending my love,


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Place in Between

Photo by S. Nancy Bauer
During the Lenten season, nature gives us daily reminders that we are in a space where the ending of winter and not-yet spring is happening.  In-between- times rarely feel comfortable.  It can often be a challenge to remember that God typically waits patiently to speak to our hearts in open spaces.  Each of us prepares our hearts for opening up in different ways.

 Here at St. Benedict’s Monastery we have begun to nudge ourselves into creating God-spaces by looking at the physical spaces around us.  We have designated several clearing-house Wednesdays in Lent.  Each Wednesday has its unique focus, beginning with bringing lightly used clothing and shoes to a central site and then delivering them to local agencies that distribute them to those in need .  Another time the focus might be books or items that the local parish could sale at their Christmas fundraiser. 

The communal aspect of these little “letting goes” remind us of how connected we are to one another and those around us.  Simple “letting-goes” seem to provide space for highlighting the daily ways God fills and renews us.  Maybe gratitude has a twin sister called “letting go.”

Sister Mary Rachel Kuebelbeck

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Out of Gas

It was only before and during Vatican II days that school missions were not allowed to have a car.  Sisters would ask volunteers to take them to appointments or do business in town.

From 1964-69, after the Vatican Council, working at St. John Cantius Parish, St. Cloud, MN.,  our Superior, S. Delrey Kulzer had the use of her brother Tony’s second car once a month to do the necessary business in town.

This particular day bringing the car, Tony said, “This is a very good car, except the gas gauge does not work but not to worry. You will find a gas tank in the trunk when you need it.”

One day when Delrey and I were driving around town to our places given on our “to do” list, driving down 3rd street, I said, “Delrey, I keep stepping on the accelerator, but the car is coming to a stop.”

She said, “Don’t worry; there is a tank of gas in the trunk.”  So feeling confident, we got out, opened the trunk, took the can of gas, brought it up to the front, opened the hood, and thinking soon the problem would be solved. While she helped to hold up the hood, I had the tank of gas in my right hand, bending over and looking all around for an obvious place to pour it.  “Gee, where do I put it?” I asked.  I saw a knob that could have been turned, but it did not say, put GAS here.  I had my car license before  entering the convent, but it was either my Dad or one of my two older brothers who would fill the tank.  I continued to look up and down, from side to side, did not see anywhere that looked like an opening.

We closed the hood and looked in the trunk, closely checked the rounded corners, but found nothing that looked like a gas opening.

Delrey said, “Let’s look inside of the car down by the gas pedal, it would make sense to find it there.” We did not see an opening for gas.  

I waved to the next car to stop. The kind man asked, “Ladies, how can I help you?”  I answered, “Our car is out of gas and here is a tank of gas but we do not know where to put it.”

I gave him the can of gas; he walked back to the rear fender on the driver’s side, opened the lid and poured the gas into it.  Problem solved.

Smiling, he handed the tank back to me. As we graciously thanked him, I could tell by the look on his face that he had a good story to share with his friends for the rest of his life. 


Margaret Mandernach, OSB


Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Best Thing to do is Breathe

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 week's BLOG is written by Mo Shannon-Thornton


(Bethany Purkapile, Erin Carey and Mo Shannon-Thornton)
Can you believe I have two more months left in the program? While I’m excited to go home and see my friends, family and fiancé, I’m not excited to be leaving my students. As many of you may know, I began the BWSC program at BARN. BARN is a transitional housing facility started by the Benedictine Sisters of Bristow. I thought I would enjoy working at BARN more than I would at BEACON. However, I’ve come to love teaching English to my students. There is honestly never a dull moment in my classroom. There is always laughter, jokes and chocolate. It never fails, but my students seem to always laugh at me. Mainly because I go on long rants about how I hate the English language and how I wish it wasn’t so complicated. Keep in mind the only reason why I go on these long rants is because I get frustrated because I find myself not being able to give a proper definition of words such as “things”.

While there are many days where I feel burnt out in life, my students seem to always teach me important lessons about living. Many of my students have children and grandchildren. Their life is far busier and more hectic than mine. Yet, they find time in their busy schedule to learn English. One of my students reads fairy tales to her daughter to practice English. While she admits that she does not always understand the words she is reading, she feels proud of herself for even trying. Witnessing things like this truly inspires me. And helps me put things into perspective. There are many days where I find myself complaining and stressing about EVERYTHING! Small matters that aren’t even relevant in the grand scheme of things.

It’s ironic because while I’m teaching my students English, they are teaching me something more valuable. They’ve taught me that just because I’m having a bad day, doesn’t mean I have a bad life. So the best thing do is breathe!

God Bless,


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

God Never Gives Up!

Photo by Tammy Shoemaker, OSB
As I sat at my desk one day on a very windy day, I caught glimpse of a shredded garbage bag hanging from one of our trees high up. I have no idea how long it had been there. It made me wonder and clearly, I had no idea how it had gotten so high up in the tree. The wind blew and blew this day and I do not know how the garbage bag hung on, but it did. As I watched the bag hang on to the tree, I began to think of life and how so related we are to the bag persevering to endure the windstorm. The purpose of the garbage bag was to hold trash, leaves, clothes etc. There was a plan for it. However, that plan was changed one day by the stirring of the wind. It was nudged to take a path different from the one imagined. And though it fought its path, the bag flew into the arms of a strong tree that held it and would not let it go. While many outside sources affected the bag, it persevered, though tattered, from the storm. Its perseverance paid off.

Some days I wonder how I got to where I am in life. The plans I had did not play out in my life. In fact, the direction of my life changed rapidly without my consent. I followed without a choice. Like the bag, I did not know where I would end up, but hung on with all my heart and persevered. Sometimes hanging there left me tattered, but I still hung on. What I found is that by persevering, I landed in the arms of a loving God. A God that would never let me go. What is it that is stirring in us? Where will the winds of life lead us? Like the bag, we never know, but I trust that God has me right where I need to be. I have weathered the storms of life because I hang on to what God is calling me to be and trust that God will never let me go. God never gives up!


Tammy Shoemaker, OSB


Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Little Adventure

cid:DD1C914D-C865-40FC-B3F2-743B8F702F00Benedictine 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.

In the past few weeks since my last blog, I have been afforded the opportunity to do some amazing things. I was able to go to Washington, DC, to see most of the monuments. Sister Andrea Westcamp and I did 6.5 miles, starting in the very center of the National Mall and walking our way to each monument, starting with the Washington Monument. It was a long walk! The 6.5 miles we did was completed in just under 4 hours, but it was amazing to see the history of the United States - something I’ve only ever seen in a historical textbook.



The very next day, the community planned a trip to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation and house. It was incredible to be able to spend the entire day with the sisters (and Greg, an oblate), but also to be in Thomas Jefferson’s house and to see and live the history. I’ve never been much of a history fan, but being able to walk through history and imagine what life would have been like back in time was something I know I would like to do again.  

It’s amazing how quickly an individual or group of individuals can affect your life. I’ve personally experienced this while spending my time here in Bristow. As May quickly approaches, so does the dread that I eventually have to leave this wonderful group of women and begin my adventure into the unknowns of adulthood. As I reflect on what I want in my future, I quickly come to the question of when next I will be able to visit the sisters here in Virginia. 

In just a few short months, the sisters here in Virginia have become my second family. Sometimes the love that comes with that can be a bit smothering, but then again, so can the love of a mother or grandmother. They care, they love me as much as I love them. As I spent the last week recovering from an outpatient laparoscopic surgery, the sisters did more than take care of me. They made me feel comfortable, as if I was at home. Many people had asked if my mother was going to be coming to Virginia to be with me through the surgery. As I think about this, it wasn’t necessary. I was not afraid or nervous because I knew I had 30 women waiting for me at home, ready to take care of me just like my mother would have.

I would like to thank all those that have kept me in their prayers over the past week! Surgery went better than expected and I am almost back to being my bubbly self (I have to keep the bubbles down, no strenuous activities for a few more weeks!)

Sending my love and prayers,


 (The pictures above are both from Monticello. The flowers are through a window in the cellar, looking onto one of his small gardens).