Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Looking Back at the Changes

by Deacon Philip Johnson


"You won't be the same person the day you leave here that you are today," Fr. Denis assured us at the colloquy I attended during my first days at Saint Meinrad. He was right.

During my long drive home from graduation four years later, I ponderedwhyhe had been right. What is it about being part of the community of Saint Meinrad that is so enriching and transformative?

In my experience, it is not because the courses are absorbing, challenging and enriching - though they are; it is not because of the friendships I formed or the sense of community I experienced - though both are strong and supportive; it was not because of the simple beauty of the campus - though it reflects "the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit … precious in God's sight" about which Peter writes.(1)

Being part of the Saint Meinrad community changed me because every aspect of my experience, in class and in fellowship, in study and in worship, invited me ever-deeper into the Paschal Mystery of Christ and prepared me to extend that invitation to others.

I became interested in Saint Meinrad initially because I wanted to be part of a community of pilgrims and scholars journeying with the Church in discerning how to manifest more effectively the ministry of Christ's touch in a world that needs it so desperately, and I was never disappointed.

I particularly appreciated that our studies were grounded in a strong sense of pastoral ministry. Classes were never devoted simply to abstractions. Whether studying theology or church history, scripture or pastoral practice, our discussions were grounded firmly in a dialogue of pilgrims discerning how to live our baptismal office more fully.

I came to think of it as "academics with a ministerial purpose." In his Holy Rule, St. Benedict emphasizes the importance of regarding the tools of our labor as if they are the "sacred vessels of the altar."(2) Saint Meinrad honed existing "tools" - and imparted new ones - with which to serve both my parish and surrounding communities.

In every class and at every meal, in worship and in relaxation, the community of Saint Meinrad invited me to enter more fully the work of ministry and the gospel of service. Saint Meinrad helped prepare me for the hard work of ministry by encouraging me to practice the hard work of being present for those who yearn to glimpse the face of Christ.

I often felt that we were being formed - and Saint Meinrad is a community of formation, not just education - to become successors to the "young man … dressed in … white" who beckoned to disciples on the first Easter morning: "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him."(3) Everything about my experience at Saint Meinrad helped me, too, to proclaim that the tomb is empty and to invite others to come see for themselves.

As I pursued my studies, I was able to apply what I was learning. Saint Meinrad helped me to work with catechumens and candidates in our parish RCIA program more confidently and creatively. Scripture came alive for me in new and absorbing ways, something in turn that I was able to bring to parish Bible studies.

Most of all, though, Saint Meinrad taught me the importance of listening with "the ear of [my] heart"(4) to those in our community who doubt, those who grieve, those who hunger, materially or spiritually, as well as to those who celebrate and those who may not yet be ready to enter the empty tomb.

It was a privilege and a blessing for me to be part of the Saint Meinrad community for four years. My experience served me well as a lay minister; it continues to serve me now as a permanent deacon. Though I graduated and left my active involvement in the community one and a half years ago, Saint Meinrad has never left me. Saint Meinrad is always as close as my memories and my thanksgiving, and always a part of my work.

(1) Pet 3:4 (NRSV).

(2) Fry, Timothy O.S.B., ed.,The Rule of St. Benedict in English (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1982), Ch. XXXI, p. 55.

(3) Mk 16:5-6 (NRSV).

(4) Fry,Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue, p. 15.

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.