Notable Alumnae & Awards
| Life-saving and life-changing|
As Christy Stutsman '06 leaves for work in the pre-dawn darkness, she reminisces about the cool mornings she loved as part of the crew team her first year at Saint Ben's. The simplicity of waiting for the sun to rise as boats glided across the misty lake are memories that have stuck with her over the years. Little did she know that five years later, she would be watching the sunrise from halfway around the world.
After graduating with a degree in nursing, Christy volunteered in Kenya for one year through the Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB). She worked in pediatrics at a remote hospital, but after working with sick children and the limited resources of the hospital, she switched to assisting new mothers in labor and delivery.
When her commitment with CMMB was completed, she returned to Minnesota. She was back for only one month when she realized she was not where she was called to be. "I didn't know why I was here," remembers Christy. "Felix (Christy's now husband) was still in Kenya, my heart was still in Kenya - I had to go back."
She soon returned, earning her nursing license through the Kenyan Board of Nursing, and moved to a hospital closer to Felix where she practiced for an additional three years. Throughout that time, Christy worked to make a difference in labor and delivery by working one-on-one with the mothers after their delivery. She explains how, when babies are born prematurely in parts of Kenya, there is no known way to care for them since the hospitals don't have adequate resources.
"It weighed on my heart," says Christy, "An unfortunate culture developed where the mothers became desensitized to infants passing and would leave...so I would take those babies and hold them until they passed away."
In the face of such tragedies, Christy remained optimistic through the hope cultivated from the many lives she saved. She tells of one mother in particular who gave birth to twins and went into a coma after delivery. Christy and her co-worker cared for the children, despite strong opposition from family members who feared the babies would have no one to care for them if the mother died.
Despite that resistance, she continued to care for the twins. Three days later when the mother came out of the coma, she was elated; she and the babies were safe. She named the baby girl Christine after her.
"It changed my life," Christy says of the experience. "Here [in the U.S.] you're a nurse and you have this big team that's all working for the common good. There, people just give up hope because they see so much death."
It's immeasurable how many lives Christy saved or touched in a profound way during those three years. Her own live changed significantly as well - she got married and had her first daughter. It was shortly thereafter when she and Felix decided to move back to Minnesota. She is now working as a Labor & Delivery nurse at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.
Christy considers her time at Saint Ben's as the foundation for her experiences in volunteering abroad. With the school's many service-related distinctions, including being placed on the Peace Corps' annual list of the top 25 volunteer-producing small higher education institutions, it is clear that Bennies are equipped for service.
"There are a multitude of diverse volunteer opportunities available as a student," Christy says. "CSB/SJU does a fantastic job at cultivating a social justice mindset in students."
Though her student life may be behind her, her international volunteering life may not be. "I am always open to any opportunity which presents itself. Anything is possible...so I'm curious to see what the future holds."
Liz Fogarty '98 wants to be part of the solution to problems in the foster care system. That sounds simple enough, but Liz's contributions toward change are particularly stirring because her approach touches lives in three distinct ways - she advocates for foster children in the court system, she travels the country instructing teachers on how to best reach and challenge gifted learners and she is a proud foster parent herself.
Liz's journey began at Saint Ben's with dual degrees in elementary education and psychology. "So much of what I learned about education I learned at Saint Ben's," says Liz. "When it comes to learning how to be a teacher, there is probably no better place to learn than at CSB."
After graduation, Liz taught 5th grade while completing her master's program and then went to the University of Connecticut for her Ph.D. in educational psychology. Shortly after, Liz and her husband moved to North Carolina where she became a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), also called Guardian ad Litem. In this volunteer position, she conducts interviews, writes reports and meets with the foster children she's representing to advocate for them in the court system.
"I loved this volunteer position and still do it to this day," says Liz. "But as I worked with kids in foster care, I began to see how much need there was for foster parents. At the time, my husband and I did not have any children and decided to become licensed therapeutic foster parents. Our first foster child came to live with us just two months before our son, Holden, was born."
Liz is now an associate professor at East Carolina University, teaching undergraduate and graduate level education students and working in the Honors College. She is also a public speaker and travels to schools across the U.S. to help teachers be better educators to gifted children. "A common experience for new teachers is a feeling of uncertainty when working with gifted kids," explains Liz. "Almost no one does really well in this area because there is little emphasis on it in pre-service education programs. That's why I felt compelled to learn more about these kids, what makes them tick and how to best teach them."
Liz's work has benefited countless lives and she encourages others to consider advocating for foster kids or becoming foster parents. "Whether it's my biological children or foster children, being a mom is the toughest and most important job I've had," says Liz. "People often think, 'The foster system is not my issue. They're not my kids. I take care of my own kids.' But it is everybody's issue. It's the idea that we're all in this together. I think that's one of the greatest lessons I learned at Saint Ben's - great things can be accomplished when you work as a community. Plus as alums, no matter where we go there's a sister who's got your back (sometimes literally a Sister). We are in this together."
|The gift of music|
Katie Corbett Phenow '02 remembers getting teased for choosing a profession that paid so little, but she can now proudly tell all the naysayers that her career in music ministry has been one of life's greatest gifts. "When I'm singing at church or directing choirs for mass, it doesn't feel like work," says Katie. And as a busy mom of six, with twins following after four kids, it's easy to understand why it's a blessing to have a career that never feels like a job.
Katie came to Saint Ben's with a love of music, but in addition to the lessons learned while studying K-12 music education, she was also inspired by the examples she saw in her classmates and professors of the Benedictine values in action.
"In a field of performance, you'd think you would encounter a lot of competition or favorites, but I always felt bolstered by the classmates around me, like we made each other better and celebrated what each of us brought to the table," she explains. "That vigor was also present in the workplace and in the passion the professors had for sharing their knowledge with students. The sense of everyone bringing their best energy together was exciting."
Years down the road, the value of celebrating strengths and using your own to serve others was still a big part of Katie. Even with an already full schedule, she was inspired to help a cause that had been close to her heart since first learning about it as a teenager - eradicating human trafficking. With a prayer and a little Googling, Katie was soon connected with the Advocates for Human Rights of Minneapolis and the philanthropic choir VocalPoint.
"100% of donations from the concerts went to aide women and children through the Advocates for Human Rights," says Katie. "We raised thousands upon thousands of dollars for a worthy cause, and probably just as important to me was the fact that my kids saw me do this. They saw me demonstrate that no matter how busy you are, there are people suffering who need your help in whatever capacity you can give it. For me, God was quite clear - I may not be rich but I can sing!"
As a mother, music minister and VocalPoint member, Katie continues to channel those lessons cultivated at Saint Ben's into demonstrating how a personal gift can enrich the lives of others. "Bennies come from an environment that shows us how to lift up those around us, so we can't help but do that wherever we go after graduation," says Katie. "I'm incredibly proud to belong to a sisterhood of women that demonstrate the value of intelligence, motivation and service."
|A mission for Africa|
Ever since serving in Swaziland, Africa in the Peace Corps, Barb Houle '85 had been on a mission to find a way to make a positive and lasting change for the people and place she had grown to love. Three decades later, an unplanned visit to a Swaziland hospital sparked an idea that would lead to the change she had always imagined. But long before that distinctive trip, the groundwork for being undaunted by new ideas and ventures was laid during her time as a Saint Ben's student.
Barb graduated from Saint Ben's with a degree in natural science and began her professional career as a biology lab supervisor at Anoka Ramsey Community College. Wanting to advance her education and explore options, Barb decided to take a psychology course. It turned out to be a great fit and with her supervisor's encouragement, Barb went back to school for a master's degree in psychology and then attended Northern Illinois University for her Ph.D.
"Sometimes life takes a different turn and that's okay," explains Barb. "I always felt that my Saint Ben's education prepared me very well for graduate school. The skills and knowledge I acquired there could be applied to any academic discipline. My career change from natural science to psychology demonstrates that well. I am now a psychology instructor at Riverland Community College in Austin, Minn."
In 2009, Barb returned to Africa for a year-long sabbatical through school. One day during the trip, Barb and her friends visited the local hospital and noticed the room, which held a number of patients on cot-like-beds, didn't offer anything for patients to do to pass the time. There were no TVs, no magazines or books, and nothing for recovering patients to look at. Barb shared this observation with her friend and colleague Lindiwe Sibisi, who lives in Swaziland, and they started Read to Recovery, a program that provides books for recovering hospital patients.
"Sometimes you have an idea and you just go with it. Read to Recovery was exactly that. In my heart, I knew I couldn't walk away," says Barb.
The program launched later that year and has since expanded to hospitals throughout Swaziland. Barb has returned several times since then, most recently in June 2014 to expand Read to Recovery to include Christian music CDs sung by the group Spiritually Motivated.
"I believe God gives everyone special talents, and it's up to us to decide how we use them to serve others. I'm grateful for what I have been blessed with and consider it a privilege to share my talents with others," says Barb.
|Answering the call|
St. John of the Cross Episcopal Church in Bristol, Ind. was founded in 1843 and has long been a testament to the power of faith and hard work in the community. It is no surprise then that newly ordained Rev. Jennifer Coe Fulton '93 fits right in as the most recent priest-in-charge. Jen has embraced every twist and turn in her career and has used her drive and incredible faith to embrace her newest position as the leader of this historic parish.
"If someone had told me ten years ago that I would one day be an Episcopal priest, I would have laughed at them," says Jen. "But when God called me, while I resisted that call for a while, I was eventually able to submit with something akin to grace. The roots of all of that began with my family, childhood church and Saint Ben's."
Jen graduated from Saint Ben's with a bachelor's degree in English and pursued a master's degree in the same field at the University of Illinois. She began her professional career teaching at an all-girls Catholic school in the south suburbs of Chicago. She then raised two daughters as a stay-at-home-mom before joining the staff at the University of Notre Dame as the student coordinator for the Nanovic Institute for European Studies. She did all this before going back to school again for a master's degree in ministry from Nashotah House Theological Seminary.
"The connections between my Saint Ben's experience and my life now as an Episcopal priest aren't obvious," explains Jen. "I wasn't a particularly faithful or faith-filled Christian. In fact, many of my friends and professors might call that an understatement! However, being at Saint Ben's helped root me in the Christian sacramental tradition in ways that I didn't see, and even actively resisted at the time. When I finally wandered into an Episcopal church years later, it was like I had wandered back home. In addition, spending those years surrounded by the monks and sisters instilled in me a sense of respect for those who devote their lives to God and the Church, and I believe that helped me respond in faithfulness to God's call to me."
In addition to her ministry work, Jen continues to work for Notre Dame in the Nanovic Institute, empowering students to conduct research, internships or service projects in Europe. She uses her own study abroad experience in Austria to inspire more students to take a leap of faith in their college years and embrace unfamiliar territory. Through both of her current positions, Jen has been able to channel her experiences at Saint Ben's into enriching the minds of others spiritually and academically.
"Work hard and faithfully, but don't let yourself think for even a minute that you are the sole determinant of your life path," advises Jen. "Our lives often take us in directions we would never have expected. Leave yourself open to life's twists and turns and to the still, small voice of God. They might lead you to a place that you didn't expect but that is very, very good."