An experience in service

Three CSB alumnae are pioneers for the Benedictine Women Service Corps.

January 31, 2011

By Christa Schmidt '11

Megan Sinner '10 with the sisters she is tutoring

While many of the sisters at Saint Benedict's Monastery have green thumbs, one plant in particular holds special meaning for them.

College of Saint Benedict 2010 graduates Megan Sinner, Daisy Nevarez and Ashley Zartner presented the sisters with a Gerbera Daisy at the end of a 12-day retreat at the monastery in late August, the night before they departed for nine months of service as "pioneers" of the Benedictine Women Service Corps (BWSC).

"The women went out to the cemetery... to Mother Benedicta Riepp's grave, put this plant in front of it, and they said, 'Now you must keep it alive,' " said S. Ann Marie Biermaier, OSB, director of the BWSC. "It's in our house now. We've got a sun lamp on it... but it's alive. It's just so fun to come down every morning and think of the three of them, that they're present in our house every day."

Ashley and Daisy are both serving at Monasterio Santa Escolastica in Humacao, Puerto Rico. Ashley teaches English to three classes of kindergarteners, while Daisy helps Ashley teach one of her classes and serves as an assistant in the bilingual computer lab at the school. Megan's primary job is to work with two Benedictine Sisters from Tanzania, east Africa, at St. Placid Priory in Lacey, Wash.

 "I came here because I wanted to do some type of service after graduation," said Ashley, an English major from Bell, Calif. "It sounds so cliché, but I really am getting back so much more than I'm giving."

"My favorite part about serving in Puerto Rico is helping students take advantage of all the great resources they have," Daisy, a management major from Herford, Texas, said.

"I help them with everything from brainstorming and essay organization and grammar to registering for classes and composing emails to professors.  I often act as a guide to the American college system," Megan said. "Each sister lives an ordinary life with extraordinary faith, and their simple ways and generous hospitality makes me feel like part of their family.  I have learned so much about myself, my faith, and how I want to live my life from living with these wonderful women."

The sisters began developing the BWSC in response to numerous requests from CSB students who wanted the opportunity to dedicate a year to serving and living within Benedictine communities the way the Benedictine Volunteer Corps allows Saint John's University graduates to do.

S. Ann Marie added that beyond their service work, the three women are doing much more for the sisters in all three monasteries.

"When I was in Lacey, one of the Sisters was saying to another one, 'Megan has done so much for our community. She gets us together on Sunday nights and gets us playing some games, and she's just helping build community,' " she said. "I think new blood, new energy... those are some good things that we're seeing, what the real bonus is from this year."

Both the volunteers and the sisters treat this first year as a learning one. They plan to continue the program and have several ideas for next year, including a possible site in Chipole, Tanzania, where the volunteers would work in either an elementary or secondary school, or in an orphanage. 

"I think it's going to take two or three cycles to learn some things, but that's good. That's what learning is all about," S. Ann Marie said.  "It is absolutely energizing. I feel like I am the luckiest person in the world to be working with the program."

"'Amazing' doesn't even begin to describe it. I wish everyone could have at least a little bit of time here," Ashley said, "but every time we think about new volunteers, we get so jealous."

"I would encourage any Bennie who is interested in the Benedictine values to consider joining the BWSC," Megan said. "The experience of truly living out service, hospitality, community, respect for all things, and the balance of work and prayer has been life-changing for me."

For more information about BWSC and links to Ashley's, Daisy's and Megan's blogs, visit the monastery website.