Thursday, May 25, 2017

BWSC Bethany's last BLOG

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.

The women's year of service is coming to an end. This week Bethany Purkapile shares her final thoughts about her experience.


When I reflect back on why I decided to volunteer a year with the Benedictine Women Service Corps (BWSC), I remember how lost I was. I was graduating college and while everyone else had these big plans to get their dream job, I was not even sure what my dream job was. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had ideas of what I thought I would have liked to do but I never really knew what exactly those fields would entail. I needed more experience and that was one of the reasons that led me to BWSC.

The other reason was avoidance. I did not realize I was doing it, but I was avoiding going home. I was avoiding dealing with the problems that would surround me when I got there. My parents’ divorce finally went through and I knew that going home meant that I had to face the issues left behind from my father leaving, not only for me but for my younger siblings as well. The turmoil left over from that scared me, and it was easier to avoid it than to face the pain that came along with that.

(Photo submitted by Bethany Purkapile)
I often say that my time in Bristow was healing. That is truly, what it was: a year for me to experience fields that I would not get the chance to experience otherwise and to find myself, to heal from past pains and to further develop a relationship between me and God. I got all of those things while volunteering and it is exactly what I needed to feel comfortable and equipped to face my future, whatever it is that God has planned for me.

It has been 270 days of healing and growth. That is how long I have been here in Bristow.  Fortunately, I have way more than 270 memories of my time spent here. Every day has been a new experience and each of these last few days holds even more.

I am going to miss my Friday night hangouts with the sisters; where we begin our evenings with the news, Jeopardy. Our “party nights” filled with yummy snacks and drinks while we watched MacGyver, Hawaii 5-0, and Blue Bloods were something that I looked forward to every week. Every Friday I could count on the same sisters staying up late to hang out, the same laughter from the ridiculous stunts that MacGyver pulled and the same tears that began to fill our eyes with the sweet moments from Hawaii 5-0 and Blue Bloods.

I am going to miss the consistency of my schedule here with the sisters; going to prayer, work, and meal times. Spending dinners with the sisters has created some of my fondest memories. It is where we share stories of our days, our pasts and where I have learned the most about the sisters. It is where they tell me stories of their past, stories of how they came to be.

(Bethany, third from left, with her students
Photo submitted by Bethany Purkapile)
I am going to miss my students and teaching. As much as I don’t enjoy lesson planning, I’m going to miss getting up in the morning and dreading going to class, but the feeling of energy I get from seeing my students smiling and ready to learn. I am going to miss laughing at how ridiculous the English language is and protesting it with my students.

I am going to miss my time at BARN and the strength of each of the residents. The courage and strength of each of the individuals cannot be put into words. I am going to miss spending time with the children watching movies, playing outside and doing arts and crafts. I will miss their sweet hugs when they come home from school and find me in the office.

Most of all, I am going to miss the Sisters. I have created so many bonds and friendships that leaving is going to be very hard. The memories created with the Sisters here in Bristow are memories that will last me a lifetime. I found family here in Bristow, one that will remain with me for many years to come. Like I tell the Sisters, I might be leaving, but this is definitely not good-bye.

Thank you to everyone who has followed my year here in Bristow through my blog posts! Thank you for your continued prayers and support as well as the wonderful emails of encouragement.   


Bethany Purkapile


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wait Patiently for the Master's Arrival

I love the Letter of St. James to his early Christian Church because it is so real!  When they (or we!) gather, we know that everything that can do wrong eventually does; that our Christian churches seem to collect sinners!  St. James, however, is able—lovingly, honestly and wisely-- to bring to the surface, diagnose and deal with the quirks and misbehaviors present in his community.  I especially appreciate how Eugene H. Peterson renders the corrections and encouragements of James in contemporary language (The Message).  Listen, also, as you read the conclusion of the Letter of St. James:

. . . Friends, wait patiently for the Master’s Arrival!  You see farmers do this all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work.  Be patient like that.  Stay steady and strong.  The Master could arrive at any time.

Friends, do not complain about each other. A far greater complaint could be lodged against you, you know.  The Judge is standing just around the corner.   Take the old prophets as your mentors.  They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honoring God.  What a gift life is to those who stay the course! . . . .

Are you hurting? Pray.  Do you feel great?  Sing.  Are you sick?  Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing- prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet.  And if you have sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out.

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.  The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.  Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it would not rain, and it did not—not a drop for three and a half years.  Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did.  The showers came and everything started growing again.

My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered from God’s truth, do not write them off.  Go after them.  Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God.


Common Ground Garden
Green Beans Coming Up
Good advice for us too?  I think so.  It’s the merry month of May and the farmers are showing us how to live in quiet expectation  awaiting the Master, the new rains, the crops, and our willingness to live in our Easter communities, helping, healing, praying, forgiving, loving one another and the God who raised Jesus from death unto LIFE.  Alleluia!  He is risen and we, too, shall rise again, on the last day! Alleluia!


Renee Domeier, OSB

Friday, May 19, 2017

Mo's last Blog

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.

The women's year of service is coming to an end. This week Mo Shannon Thornton shares her final thoughts about her experience.
I have about two weeks left here in Bristow. While I’m extremely excited to return home, I’m also sad to be leaving my students behind. I didn’t expect to form such a close bond with them. In my previous blog post, I mentioned how I didn’t think I would enjoy teaching ESOL as much as I did. I didn’t think I had what it took to be a good teacher. I didn’t think I had enough patience, or the passion to be able to teach others effectively. Boy, was I wrong! Not only have I gained patience, but I’ve also gained satisfaction from seeing my students blossom. In November, when I first started teaching, many of my students could not communicate with me or with each other. They were scared to speak the little English they knew in fear of being made fun of. I have students who are from Afghanistan, China, the Congo, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. As one could imagine, it was very difficult trying to get my students not only communicate with me, but also with each other. Not only were they in a new environment but they were also being exposed to different nationalities.
When I hear stories of my students accomplishing their goals against all the odds stacked up against them, it makes me realize that anything is possible! Recently, one of my students got a job in housekeeping at the local Marriot Hotel. This student in particular started out with a very thick French accent, couldn’t hold a conversation with anyone in English, and hated to speak in front of the class. Fast forward to present day, she is one of my strongest students. She now loves to participate in class, and in fact gets a little upset with me if I don’t call on her to answer a question. To see the tremendous progress she has made is truly inspiring. To go from not being able to hold a conversation in English, to obtaining a job that requires one to speak English takes dedication and perseverance. And I’m blessed enough to see that dedication and perseverance in all my students. 
Besides missing my students, I’ll also miss the sisters whom I’ve made a special connection with. I’ll miss playing Rummy every Sunday night with Sister Mary Ellen and Sister Henry Marie. I’ll miss talking about Southern cooking with Sister Connie Ruth, and I’ll definitely miss the needed hugs given to me by Charlotte Lange. There have been many other special moments and acts of kindness I’ve experienced while being here. While living in Virginia I’ve experienced a lot of change in my life. I’ve also experienced A LOT of uncomfortableness. Both which have led me to be more self-aware of who I want to be as a person, and to be conscious of the mark I choose to leave on others. 
My students and the Benedictine sisters of Virginia will always have a special place in my heart. And for that I am truly thankful to have met them! 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The WOW Prayer

(Photo by Nancy Bauer, OSB)
I remember a retreat time in which Brother David Steindl-Rast shared his reflections on how our senses connect us to our God. He invited us to find a “holy card” before the conference he was going to give on what our eyes can discover.  The holy card he envisioned was simply a 3x5 card in which a pinhole was made with a large safety pin.  He then invited us to use that hole to look very closely at the structure of a leaf or flower, the legs of an insect, or maybe the fibers in a piece of cloth.  It was his way of giving us a pathway into what it is like to shut down enough of the details around us to focus on just a small aspect of something in our environment. This tender gazing can give space to sacred awe, to the inner and outer expression of “Wow”!  The twin sister of awe is gratefulness. Steindl-Rast has written a book entitled, “Gratefulness the Heart of Prayer”.  Maybe whether we are looking at a person, creature or a breathtaking event and “wow” comes to our lips, we have spontaneously opened a grateful place in the heart.  Is every “Wow”, actually the vibrating presence of God-life and one of the simplest heartfelt prayers we can utter?

Mary Rachel Kuebelbeck, OSB

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What is an Oblate?

(Photo by Karen Streveler, OSB)
When someone asks me what my weekend plans are and I’m going to the monastery for an event, I always pause because I know I’ll have to answer that question.  It’s not that I want to be a secret oblate.  It’s just a tough question because I want to say so much.  Yet I know I have only 15-30 seconds to answer before I see the questioner’s eyes glaze over. 

So what is an oblate?

My latest answer:  Someone who wants to be part a supportive community, exploring/living in a way that brings us closer to God and each other. There, that was about seven seconds, I have eight to spare!

That answer is the tip of the iceberg and doesn’t address why I’m still an oblate.

I became an oblate when I graduated from the College of Saint Benedict in 1987. I wanted to maintain a relationship with the sisters I had come to know and love during my time at college. My oblate practice has ebbed and flowed since then.

Inquirers often ask, “How much time does it take to be an oblate?” It depends how much time you have and how much time you want to give. There have been years when I didn’t devote much time to my practice. Now I meet regularly with others, study the Rule of St. Benedict and pray  Lectio Divina (a monastic way of prayerful reading). 

Another Benedictine practice I’ve been exploring is hospitality. Being an oblate guides how I respond to my life and to others. How do I respond to my friends and family? My co-workers? How do I respond to the person holding the cardboard sign on the street corner? How do I respond to God’s voice calling me to a fuller life?

All of these practices are as important to me as getting a good night’s sleep. They help me to show up, hear God’s voice and respond (hopefully kindly) to all the people and events in my life.

We are having an event on May 20, 9:30-11a.m. in Rosamond A at Saint Benedict’s Monastery for those wanting to know more about what an oblate is and how to become one. Oblates will share how they live their oblate journey and Sister Laureen Virnig, OSB, will answer questions about the process of becoming an oblate. There will be plenty of time for questions and delicious scones and coffee.  If you came to the event last October and would like to come again, please do. 

To register please email or call 320-363-7144 by May 17.  I hope to see you!


Lynda Gradert, OblSB


Friday, May 5, 2017

The Unfinished, Untold Story

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 by Erin Carey.

This is a bittersweet time of having an excitement about the next steps in my own journey and dreading the goodbyes and the change coming at the end of the month. This past weekend I got to do some reflection as I prepared to speak to an adult faith formation group at a local Presbyterian church. They wanted to know about my experience living and working with the sisters. As I prepared what I had to say, I went back and re-read some of my personal journal entries from the beginning of this experience and I stumbled upon stories I had written down from refugees, sisters and kids at the Art House. I rediscovered sayings, images, and experiences that had moved me at the time, but I didn’t have the words to describe why or how.


My brain is filled with the stories behind the images of Congolese mothers carrying their babies to daycare on their backs through the streets of Erie; the refugee camp tent that a woman sketched on her math worksheet; the shaky pencil etching out a simple letter from a hand that had never been to school; the seemingly universal words of ‘pizza’, ‘chocolate’ and ‘bomb’; the tears that come from telling about leaving and leaving behind; celebrating new jobs; celebrating a child’s first full sentence in English; handbell performances with reindeer antlers and smiles; singing the blues with seven year olds, listening to a little person explain death; listening to a sister explain death; incense dispersing in the chapel; wood on the lathe; the swing of a compassionate rocking chair; the clinking of silverware and dishes in a full dining room on Christmas; rushing to the window to greet the deer; running feet on the roadside. 


Nature is budding and blossoming
and greening all over
(Photo by Erin Carey)
I often am the recipient of stories. Many of the sisters are great storytellers, describing life ‘Pre-Vatican II’, teaching grade school, starting ministries, or the adventures of a vacation. The stories can be funny, humble and honest. The refugees practice telling their story almost daily. When I pull them out of the classroom, they tell me where they are from, how many children they have, and if they are married. Through one of those questions, they usually tell a story through broken English about leaving their country or about their children or spouse. The stories can be tearful, unimaginable, and full of perspective. The kids at the Art House tell stories in seconds and when I least expect it: during class, in the hallway between classes, or while we are playing a game. Their stories are about their family, teachers, or artwork. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected with the timing of their stories, but they are honest and simple while telling about the places that have formed the child.


I find myself left with a number of touching experiences, conversations and moments. However, these can be overshadowed by an overwhelming number of questions: Why was I here? Why did I have to change so much through this experience? What is going to happen after I leave? The author Padraig O’ Tuama has come into my life recently and I’ve enjoyed his poetry, his challenge to ask better questions, and his insistence on the importance of stories.


Narrative Theology #1


And I said to him:

Are there answers to all of this?

And he said:

The answer is in a story

and the story is being told.

And I said:

But there is so much pain

And she answered plainly:

Pain will happen.

Then I said:

Will I ever find meaning?

The Inner courtyard telling
the story of springtime
(Photo by Erin Carey)
And they said:

You will find meaning

where you give meaning.

The answer is in a story

and the story isn’t finished.


I’m challenging myself in the last month of this experience to try and quiet the questions for a while and savor the stories I’ve been blessed with. I have been graced with the opportunity to participate in the unfolding story of Benedictine monastic life and to see the world through the lens of this community. Now comes the task of unraveling the stories I’ve heard over the past nine months. Through the stories of the refugee, the sisters and the kids at the Art House, my story of the last nine months will continue on into whatever the next step is. I can pull out the stories, savor them, give them meaning and then remember that the story isn’t finished and that my forming Benedictine heart will continue writing the story wherever I am.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What is your story?

(Photo by Tammy Shoemaker, OSB)
We all have our own journey, our own story to tell. Your personal story is your history. Have you ever considered writing down your story? Your story is significant. It is in the writing of your personal story that you are able to share your struggles, challenges and victories with future generations.  A memoir for the future generations, how exciting that could be for your family to read in years to come. Today, in our computer era we do not have the personal quality of a hand written story. Instead, we create it on the computer where with a touch on the key board we can erase our personal story from future generations. Our community history, which is full of rich tradition, is preserved in several books. Two of these books are titled, With Lamps Burning and Behind The Beginnings. The latter is full of letters that were hand written. In these books is our history, it tells us about the women who made Saint Benedict’s monastery what it is today. Because they wrote their story, we know our history. As we move into the future, we are the authors of the next generation of monastic women in Saint Joseph Minnesota. If you would like more information about Saint Benedict’s Monastery please contact Sister Lisa Rose at