A Ministry of Welcome and Presence
Each fall as nervous eighteen year olds arrive in late August and move into the student dormitories, which will be their home for the next nine months, six or seven monks are waiting to welcome them to the dorms. A few days later, another group of monks and young laymen say hello to returning students and hear about their summers. Many of the returning students will talk about the way that they feel that they are back home again, with friends. People like Father Hilary Thimmesh in his eighties will spend the first few weeks of the semester talking to each of the ninety-four first year students living in his dormitory, welcoming them in a personal way. Longtime first year faculty resident, Brother Robin Pierzina will, from the very first meeting with his resident assistants, be looking at finding activities which will incorporate first year students into the life of the Benedictine college. Brother Dan Morgan, though still a young monk, lives in an area where upper class students are busy renewing friendships and have already imbibed many of the Benedictine values, even if they might not be able to express the values of stability in community, of seeking God, of bearing each other's burdens. Mr. Andy Dirksen, already a veteran in the upper class dorms, carries the Benedictine welcome to the students living in one of the upper campus senior dorms, along with a number of other laymen living in sophomore and upper class dorms.
Why? Why all this expenditure of energy living in the dorms? At the very heart of Benedict's Rule for Monasteries is the belief that living with people in a stable community is the ordinary road to God. People come to the university and Prep School with all different motivations—a good education, a friendship from high school that they want to retain, a girlfriend at the College of St. Benedict--but part of their experience while they are here is the presence of monks and slightly older former students who find that an important part of education is to seek God in community.
And so the presence of monks and lay people who "get" the community thing about the communitarian search for God let the new and returning students experience what that search means. The monks are off to prayer and Eucharist each day. They spend a good part of their day and night, in spite of having other jobs, getting to know the students who live in their area, hearing their stories, comforting them in their sorrows, reminding them when necessary that the road they are following may be destructive for them, letting them see that God plays an important role in their lives. Some of the students coming will be from other faith traditions. Some will not be from any faith tradition, but with the welcoming presence of these monks and lay people imbued with the search for God, Benedict's desire that nothing should be preferred to the love of Christ becomes visible to the students in these very fallible monks and lay people who are engaged in this work so that "In all things God may be glorified."