FR. DENIS ROBINSON: I'll never forget my first arrival at Saint Meinrad. I came, I was picked up by a student at the airport in Louisville, came in the night, arrived in the seminary. I was met by Fr. Jonathan, who was the director of our enrollment at that time. We came up the old elevator in then-Sherwood Hall. It was an awful old rickety thing. It was like some sort of meat packing plant or something. It was just awful. We arrived on the fourth floor, opened the door, and there was a student standing out in the hallway wearing a bathing suit and I was like, "Where have I arrived? What is going on here?"
BR. KOLBE: This is Echoes from the Bell Tower.
BR. JOEL: Stories of wit and wisdom from Benedictine monks, who live, work and pray in Southern Indiana. We're your hosts, Br. Joel Blaize.
BR. KOLBE: And I'm Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski. People come to Saint Meinrad from different places, different walks of life, and for different reasons. We talked to monks, students, and oblates….
BR. JOEL: …even Abbot Kurt…
BR. KOLBE: …to hear about their experience coming to Saint Meinrad. Fr. Denis Robinson opened up our episode and we will start with his story.
FR. DENIS ROBINSON:
FR. DENIS R.: We all get here in different ways, but it's interesting, I would like to say that everybody's story is very, very unique, but I don't know that it really is. I think sometimes most of us would give kind of a common understanding of how we got here.
BR. JOEL: Fr. Denis' story is both typical and not typical. He originally came as a student in Saint Meinrad College and went on to study in the Major Seminary to be a diocesan priest for the Diocese of Memphis.
BR. KOLBE: He graduated and three years after his ordination, Fr. Denis received permission from his bishop to come back to Saint Meinrad.
FR. DENIS R.: I was very happy as a diocesan priest. I had a lot of what I would consider good success in the ministry that I was doing in the diocese, but I also became quite aware in the course of that, that God was calling me to something else.
BR. JOEL: That something else was to join the monastic community. It used to be fairly common that people would come directly from college seminary into the monastery. Then when the college closed in the late '90s, it became more typical for people to come from the outside, rather than from the school.
BR. KOLBE: A monk professes a vow of stability when he makes his final vows as a member of the Saint Meinrad community. That means Saint Meinrad is home. We live here the rest of our lives.
BR. JOEL: As junior monks who have only made temporary vows, one of our questions is "What keeps you at Saint Meinrad, besides the vow of stability?"
FR. DENIS R.: I've never considered not being at Saint Meinrad since the time I made my vows. Not to say that there aren't frustrations or there are times when you're just like, "I just want to get in a car and drive somewhere." There are, but that's everybody's life. I'm sure it's true even among married people that there's times that you want to say "You know what, I just need to go for a little drive right now." But I've never thought of not being at Saint Meinrad.
BR. JOEL: We live in a relationship of obedience with our abbot. He tells us where we are going to work and what role we'll play in the community. Fr. Denis serves as the president-rector of the Seminary and School of Theology.
FR. DENIS: I do what I do because the abbot wants me to do it and when he doesn't want me to do it, I'll do something different. If you can get that in your mind, then you'll be very happy. If you don't get that in your mind, you sometimes get very frustrated. Staying at the place is not the issue. How you stay at the place then becomes the issue. Whether that's with a heart that is open, or whether that's with a mind that is closed.
FR. WILLIAM BURMESTER:
BR. KOLBE: Seminarians are sent to Saint Meinrad by their bishops. Some bishops let seminarians weigh in on where they want to go to school and some seminarians don't have any say at all.
BR. JOEL: William Burmester graduated in May and is now a priest for the Diocese of Little Rock. If you listened to the "Day in the Life" podcast episode this past spring, we followed him around through his day in the seminary.
BR. KOLBE: Fr. William's vocation story begins as a child growing up in a Catholic household.
FR. WILLIAM BURMESTER: My parents would always pray with us. The more I think about it, my dad's voice would always be the voice of prayer. So, every morning before going to school, and every night, I would hear his voice saying a prayer. He still does that whenever I call him.
BR. JOEL: He attended Catholic school from kindergarten to 12th grade, but in middle school he went through a period where he didn't want to live out the faith.
FR. WILLIAM: But it was really weird because when retreats happened, I just knew that's what I did. I would have a good time, be with friends, then get back, and really not want to go to church, sit in the back row with all my friends. But there was always some tie to the Church throughout my life.
BR. KOLBE: His mom tells a story about how, when he was little, he wrote that he wanted to be a priest when he grew up, but he first remembers wanting to be a priest in high school.
FR. WILLIAM: I do remember one day, I was standing by a priest after Mass and I said to him, "I think I want to be a priest," in 11th grade. I don't know where that came from. It just happened.
BR. JOEL: He began meeting with that priest during 11th and 12th grades and they both decided after high school William should go to college instead of the seminary.
FR. WILLIAM: The one word of advice that he gave me was, "Stay attached to the faith. Stay connected to the faith, and God will still call you at the end."
BR. KOLBE: He went to the University of Central Arkansas and stayed connected with his faith through campus ministry. He ended up getting a job with campus ministry as an administrative assistant and worked his way up to teaching catechesis. In his senior year, he decided it was time to give seminary a try.
FR. WILLIAM: The one thing that allowed me to go, that gave me the freedom to go, was knowing that going to the seminary didn't mean I was saying yes forever, that any point in formation, I could have said no, and I could have left the seminary to follow God's call somewhere else. So, that gave me a lot of freedom to enter.
BR. JOEL: William knew he was going to come to Saint Meinrad to seminary and was given the option to visit before school began.
BR. KOLBE: Since he had already said yes to seminary, he wanted to be surprised by Saint Meinrad. So, his first time on campus was the next year for welcome week.
BR. JOEL: He was a little shocked by how the campus was in the middle of nowhere; the distance to the closest Walmart was 30-45 minutes, but he thought the environment was perfect for discerning God's plan for his life.
FR. WILLIAM: With my idea of what formation would be like, what seminary would be like, it's a time away to discern God's call, I really felt blessed by the beauty of the landscape, the beauty of the buildings. Even in the midst of getting lost in this big building that first month, I still felt very calm. Some people call it the honeymoon effect of being here and not really knowing what formation's like.
BR. KOLBE: He says several things would stick with him after graduation, the rhythm of life at Saint Meinrad and the beauty of the place. He says anytime he hears bells, he will think of good memories of Saint Meinrad and say a prayer for the Holy Hill.
CRYSTAL WHITE and GINGER THOMAS:
BR. KOLBE: Crystal White and Ginger Thomas became oblates at Saint Meinrad before ever setting a foot on the Holy Hill. Here's Crystal.
CRYSTAL WHITE: Yeah, our stories kind of interweave with each other, which is really interesting.
BR. JOEL: They both lived and worked in Bloomington and they were in the same RCIA class to become Catholic at St. Charles Borromeo Parish, which has an oblate chapter of Saint Meinrad that they both decided to join.
BR. KOLBE: Monks would visit the parish and they would hear about what Saint Meinrad is like. It was their desire to learn and grow in their faith that brought them to Saint Meinrad for the first time. Here is Ginger.
GINGER THOMAS: It was interesting because we're on this parallel track. We wanted to know more; we were so hungry for knowledge.
CRYSTAL: We both were kind of pursuing, "Okay, now what intellectually? What do we want to do to further our spirituality?"
BR. JOEL: Crystal spent a year trying to find a spiritual director with little luck.
CRYSTAL: I was like, "We need more spiritual directors, and I ended up looking at Saint Meinrad because I was an oblate and I was like, "Oh, you have a theology degree. I'm okay with that, I'm going to go pursue that." And then I ended up calling up Ginger and I was like, "Hey, what do you think about maybe pursuing a theology degree?"
BR. KOLBE: Without Crystal knowing, Ginger had already been looking into a theology degree from Saint Meinrad.
CRYSTAL: We had so many questions and so many things we wanted to know more about. And both of us have the kind of, I guess, personality where we like to learn things in a really organized way, so going back to school just seemed like an obvious choice.
BR. JOEL: Crystal and Ginger finally came down to Saint Meinrad and sat in on some classes in June of 2015, the summer before their classes began.
CRYSTAL: I will never forget. It was during one of the spirituality classes for Fr. Adrian, and we just fell in love with Saint Meinrad and his style of teaching and being in the class, and we had no idea what he was saying, but it was fantastic. We've taken two classes with him since, just as a side.
GINGER: Well, first time on the hill, the beauty of the place is striking and sort of the first impression, but also the rhythm of the day with the ongoing prayer and the living testimony of the monastic community that's here is just part of the fabric of the experience.
BR. KOLBE: They both really enjoy the spiritual aspect of taking classes at Saint Meinrad.
GINGER: People don't come here without the expectation that it's a Catholic institution, and that spirituality is part of the education. It's not just a class you're taking or a paper you're writing, that everybody walks in with an expectation that this is part of your spiritual development as well as your intellectual development.
CRYSTAL: Saint Meinrad, when you come here, whether it would be as a guest or on retreat, you really do get the opportunity for quiet and for the rhythm that really gets you out of your everyday life. It just kind of reawakens you and gives you that breath of the Holy Spirit that you kind of need.
BR. JOEL: They both agree that it has been invaluable having each other as they go through the Graduate Theology program - especially when they started.
CRYSTAL: It's been great, or at least I think so. It's really funny because for a little while until actually I think this year, we took the exact same classes.
BR. KOLBE: They could call each other up and ask questions about assignments, Crystal would remind Ginger of deadlines, and they would give extra support to each other when classes started to get tough.
GINGER: I sat down to write the first paper, and I was Googling how to drop a class from here, I was crying. Then I just got through that and wrote the paper, and everything was perfectly fine. But yeah, until last semester, we took all the same classes.
BR. JOEL: Crystal and Ginger have moved beyond that first academic paper and they're now in their third year of studies. They are on track to graduate together in spring of 2019.
BR. KOLBE: Ginger actually lives in Indianapolis now. The ladies carpool to Saint Meinrad once a month for weekend courses. Ginger does the driving.
GINGER: Well, it's funny because we have gotten into this kind of rhythm where I drive down to Bloomington, and then we come together from Bloomington down to here. The last eight miles is the longest part of the whole trip, because it's the anticipation, you know, it's right there.
CRYSTAL: We'll text each other and be like, "Okay, let's leave at this time," and then I'll be like, "I can't wait to see you." We'll make a whole entire experience out of it, and it's really nice. We'll talk about what's going on with our classes or what we think about the one we have, or as you said, that I'll be like, "Wait, no, that's due on Monday, that's not due on Wednesday," or that kind of thing.
GINGER: Crystal's taking Christology this semester, and she's been teaching me things. You know, just as part of conversation at lunch, she'll say you know, "Have you ever heard of this?" And my class is a scripture class, which she is familiar with the scripture, but we talk about it and laugh about you know, "Why is this story even in the Bible?"
GINGER: When we're really behind, Crystal reads to me as we drive, she reads aloud from our homework. We're so geeky.
CRYSTAL: Yes, we are.
BR. JOEL: All in all, their experience at Saint Meinrad has made them closer, because it's something they share.
FR. CHRISTIAN RAAB:
BR. KOLBE: Some people are introduced to Saint Meinrad by attending a retreat on campus. That is how Fr. Christian ended up at Saint Meinrad for the first time.
BR. JOEL: He was a sophomore or junior up at Indiana University in Bloomington and was part of the Catholic Newman Center. The Newman Center sponsored a retreat at Saint Meinrad and so he came down with a group of 10 or 12 people.
FR. CHRISTIAN RAAB: I was getting a little bit more serious about my faith already at that time, and I started to play a little bit around with the idea of priesthood. We came here and I was really kind of moved by this place, I think, in intangible ways. I felt a certain kind of sense of peace and freedom here that, you know, were pretty deep, and I took that to mean something. I didn't know what it meant, but I knew it meant something. Those are fruits of the Holy Spirit.
BR. KOLBE: Fr. Christian went back to school and didn't do anything at that moment, but later on as he moved along in his spiritual life, he began to think more and more about priesthood.
FR. CHRISTIAN: I pretty much knew I didn't want to be a diocesan priest, and so I started to visit religious communities.
BR. JOEL: He visited the Franciscans,
BR. KOLBE: and the Carmelites,
BR. JOEL: and the Jesuits, but no community seemed like the right fit.
FR. CHRISTIAN: I started to do this kind of Goldilocks and the Three Bears thing where "This is right, but this is not quite right, this is right, this is not," I had a spiritual director that says, "Well, surely there's got to be a place that seems like the right fit. Is there some place that you're comparing everything to?" "Well, actually, yes. To be honest, I keep comparing it to this place I visited when I was in college, Saint Meinrad in Indiana." He says, "Well, why don't you go back and visit again?" I was like, "I don't know why I didn't think of that," so I came back and had another visit.
BR. KOLBE: During his visit, he had that same sense of peace and freedom he felt before, so he knew he was in the right place.
FR. CHRISTIAN: Also in my mind, it all kind of stacked up. They had a wonderful sense of community life. I felt like there were people here I could get along with, become friends with. The older monks seemed like the kind of people I wanted to be, that's who I wanted to be when I grew up.
They had beautiful liturgy, but in addition to having the community life, they had time for solitude. They had a great intellectual tradition. That was important to me. You know they weren't just monks who prayed, they had a real concrete, tangible outreach that they were doing here for the Church. It's been a wonderful place to be for the last 13 years.
BR. JOEL: Mike Gramelspacher, who is the director of Human Resources at Saint Meinrad, is from Jasper, Indiana. He went to a prep seminary in high school.
MIKE GRAMELSPACHER: Called the Latin School in Evansville.
BR. JOEL: Through that, he had his eye on studying for the priesthood.
MIKE: Definitely had a number of parish priests that were encouraging me and recall still to this day my parents and I coming to Saint Meinrad, to the grounds. Being just wowed by the whole atmosphere and meeting some of the seminarians from Evansville and basically fell in love with the place at that time.
BR. KOLBE: Mike attended college at Saint Meinrad and graduated in 1976.
MIKE: I left for seven years and there was an opportunity in the Development Office. So I recall checking into that and I was hired in 1983.
BR. JOEL: Two years later, he became involved with Human Resources. He has worked here now for almost 35 years! When asked what has kept him working here for so long, we think he has a pretty great answer.
MIKE: I would think the one thing that I've grown to love and appreciate so much is the monastic community, and I cannot imagine any job, position, responsibility that could be any better than working for a place like this, where your ownership cares about the co-workers. Your ownership wants you to treat people with respect and with kindness and how the values that the monastic community represents can be filtered through the workplace.
And for me, you know, it's not a job. It's something you love to do and you know you have the support of the monastic community behind you.
TAMMY: I've said you can leave Saint Meinrad, but Saint Meinrad never leaves you.
BR. KOLBE: Tammy Becht is the director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Formation and director of One Bread, One Cup, in Saint Meinrad's Seminary and School of Theology.
BR. JOEL: Her relationship with Saint Meinrad began long before she was a co-worker. She's just finished directing her fourth summer of the One Bread, One Cup youth liturgical leadership conferences and, ironically, OBOC was the reason she first came to Saint Meinrad in 2002.
BR. KOLBE: In case you've never heard of OBOC, it is a five-day conference for high school youth who come to Saint Meinrad to learn about their faith, the liturgy and to build community with one another. They learn how to take on roles within the liturgy and beyond.
BR. JOEL: OK, back to 2002. Tammy was a parish youth minister at that time and someone in her parish was on the Board of Overseers at Saint Meinrad.
TAMMY: He gave me a flyer and he said, "Tammy, I would really like if you would check this program out. I think we need to send some youth to this." So I brought young people to the conference at Saint Meinrad, One Bread, One Cup, that first time.
BR. KOLBE: Right before that first conference, she was going through a difficult time in her life. Her youngest son lost his best friend to a car accident.
TAMMY: As a parish youth minister, there was that side of it, trying to minister not only to my son, but also to all the young people in my parish, because this young man was part of our youth group. He was also, as I said, my son's best friend, which also meant that he was part of our family. That was a very difficult time, and it had happened just six weeks prior to my first visit here at Saint Meinrad.
BR. JOEL: When she got to Saint Meinrad, she was able to slow down and begin to heal.
TAMMY: I had been so busy for that six weeks, trying to make sure everybody else was okay, that I hadn't had time to really look in the mirror and see that I was not okay. The experience at the conference that week really brought me face-to-face with the Psalms, and I found that through Liturgy of the Hours that I was able finally to release and feel the pain that psalmist feels as he wrote to cry out to God and ask why. To realize that I would never know why, but then also to be okay with that.
BR. KOLBE: Tammy met Fr. Brendan Moss, who is a monk of Saint Meinrad, during that visit and he spent some time talking with her. He even called and checked on her after the conference.
TAMMY: What really stood out for me from my first visit at Saint Meinrad was the opportunity that I had to bring everything that I was, everything that I was going through, even in a position of responsibility and leadership, it was okay for me to be a broken person.
And I think that's unique, because no matter if you're a student here, if you're a coworker here, if you're on faculty, staff, whatever your role is or whatever brings you to Saint Meinrad, it's okay to be the person that you are.
BR. JOEL: Tammy brought youth to conference for 12 summers. She became a Graduate Theology student at Saint Meinrad and an oblate and, when a position opened for the director of One Bread, One Cup, she applied.
TAMMY: I saw in the One Bread, One Cup program, hope. I saw hope for the Church, I saw hope for young people. I saw a way to connect young people with liturgy and therefore a way to connect young people with the Church. I saw just so much promise in that.
BR. KOLBE: Tammy was hired on a Thursday and arrived on the Hill for weekend classes the next day.
TAMMY: During class on Saturday, during the break, Fr. Denis gave me the key to what is now my office. He told me to feel free that evening to go explore. I took a walk up to fourth Newman and opened the door of the office. And I remember going in and opening up the file drawer in the desk. I saw all of the files of the people who are associated with the program. I remember looking at some of the names and just being absolutely scared out of my wits, so I slammed the drawer shut. I couldn't get out of the room fast enough, and I thought to myself, "Tammy, don't start until you start."
I didn't allow the experience to intimidate me, the experience of looking in the file drawer and realizing that I would now be the director of a national program in the Church. I allowed myself time to grow into my role as director. And once I became director, I didn't see myself as someone who was not equipped, but I saw myself as someone whom the Lord was leading.
BR. JOEL: As Fr. Denis Robinson said earlier in the episode, we all have a common thread that brings us to Saint Meinrad. We believe that common thread is God. By following God's path - whether we realize it at the time or not - not everyone we talked to ended up at Saint Meinrad.
TAMMY: I was a Graduate Theology student. I was a participant at One Bread, One Cup, now I'm the director of One Bread, One Cup. Why? I can only answer that by saying that I'm just every day trying to follow the path that I think God is laying out for me. I feel called to be here. I can look back over the past years and see how God has led me to this place.
Right now, I think Saint Meinrad is part of my purpose. It's part of why I get up every day. A lot of people say they have to go to work. Well, I don't say that. I say I get to go to work, and I really do mean that. I know it sounds pretty cheesy, but I really do mean that. It's such a blessing to be able to work here.
BR. JOEL: Thank you for listening to these stories on what brought people to Saint Meinrad. A quick update on the Podcast Awards: we did not win, but we did make it into the final slate thanks to all our listener nominations.
BR. KOLBE: Today's podcast was edited and produced by Krista Hall, with the help of Br. Joel Blaize, Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski, Br. William Sprauer, Mary Jeanne Schumacher, Jim Paquette, Tammy Schuetter and Christian Mocek. The music for this podcast was written and produced by Br. Joel.
BR. JOEL: We talked to A LOT of people for this episode. For the monks, Fr. Denis Robinson, Fr. Denis Quinkert and Fr. Christian Raab.
BR. KOLBE: We also talked to Tammy Becht, Mike Gramelspacher, Fr.William Burmester, Crystal White and Ginger Thomas. Thank you, everyone who took the time to share your stories with us.
BR. JOEL: In two weeks, we will release more stories of how people ended up at Saint Meinrad.
BR. KOLBE: Including a near-death experience, a search for knights in shining armor, arriving at Saint Meinrad during the Second Vatican Council, and a little nudge from God that caused a retired beach bum to move across the country to play the organ.
BR. JOEL: Thanks to those who have recently left us reviews in iTunes. If you haven't, please let us know what you think of the show. And don't forget to subscribe to "Echoes from the Bell Tower" on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.
BR. KOLBE: You can always listen to past episodes on our blog at saintmeinrad.edu/echoes.
CRYSTAL WHITE: I just want to take this class….
GINGER THOMAS: We already have plotted the ones we're going to take after we graduate.
CRYSTAL: Oh yeah, we've got those, too, so we'll probably be down for that.
GINGER: It's like, "Oh, Fr. Adrian's teaching another class, and we haven't had that one yet. Oh look, Fr. Christian's teaching another class, we didn't have that one, we'll have to come back."
CRYSTAL: I'm sure those specific people are probably just like, "Oh, these two again." No, probably not.
GINGER: They'll ask Sr. Jeana if they can stop teaching. "If those two sign up, cancel my class."