“I never knew how Benedictine I was until I left Saint John’s.”
If you’ve cracked open the most recent issue of Saint John’s Magazine (Winter/Spring 2018), you’ve likely read this quote by SJU President Michael Hemesath. In his My Perspective column, Michael “comes clean” about his rather limited awareness of Benedictine values during his years as an undergraduate (1977-81).
He’s in good company. I think most alumni who departed Collegeville prior to the new millennium would agree that while we were profoundly influenced and shaped by members of the then-large monastic community, it was a subtle process.
They served as professors and university administrators. They celebrated Eucharist in the Church and scooped hot dish in the Refectory. They encouraged us to ratchet down our stereo volume and ramp up our study skills.
They were a constant presence in our lives, encouraging and inspiring us to become the men God intended us to become.
Today, with just over a hundred monks residing in the monastery and fewer than a dozen in the classroom, subtle no longer cuts it. The Abbey and University, in their ongoing partnership, have found the need to be more intentional to ensure that the Benedictine ethos of Saint John’s does not fade.
The Benedictine Volunteer Corps (2003) and Benedictine Institute (2009) – designed to “strengthen and promote the Benedictine character of Saint John’s in fresh and innovative ways” – have had positive impacts on current students, faculty and staff.
But what about alumni living 100 (or 1,500) miles from campus? How do we continue to nourish our souls beyond the supportive Collegeville environment? How do we carry Benedictine spirituality into the communities in which we live and work?
Dick Howard ’72, along with other members of the Alumni Board of Directors, began asking those very questions several years ago. Their response came in the form of The Benedictine Way, established as one of the pillars supporting the Alumni Board’s mission to advance the welfare – spiritual and temporal – of SJU alumni.
Dick was drawn quite naturally to this initiative. Like many college-age students, Dick grappled with issues of religion and theology. At Saint John’s he found himself surrounded by a monastic community that both inspired his desire to establish a personal relationship with God and provided a supportive environment in which to do just that.
In the 45 years since Dick graduated, he and his wife Chris (CSB ’74) have deliberately nurtured their spiritual journey and continue to use Saint John’s as a touchstone.
Thanks in part to Dick’s inspiration, leadership and financial support, a series of Benedictine Way retreats for alumni was launched in 2009 and are offered on campus annually.
These retreats focus on individual growth and spiritual formation with time allotted for group discussion and individual reflection. The sessions draw from Benedictine and other spiritual traditions such as Visio Divina, contemplative Christian prayer, and integrate the work of experts who have masterfully characterized the phases of spiritual growth. Dick often joins Br. David Paul Lange, OSB and Bill Schmelzer ’88 as a retreat facilitator.
Dick shares that working to remain grounded in Benedictine values has made a profound difference in his life and in the lives of his family. The support he and Chris provide – in the form of annual gifts and generous estate gifts to both SJU and CSB – is intended to ensure that these unique places remain spiritually robust for future generations of seekers.
Editor’s note: The next Benedictine Way Retreat is scheduled for December 13-16, 2018. You can register online here: http://sjualum.csbsju.edu/2018SpiritualRetreat
For more information, please contact Adam Herbst ‘99, Director of Alumni Relations, at 320-363-3819 or firstname.lastname@example.org