Belmont Abbey graduates spending months volunteering in Kenya
BELMONT— For the past week, four Belmont Abbey College graduates have been living a far different life than what they had in college. But this is not a typical "life after graduation" story, and the story is only just beginning.
These former students have been experiencing the Benedictine monastic life firsthand at Belmont Abbey, preparing themselves to live for the next eight months in Kenya as part of a newly-formed Benedictine Volunteer Corps. The Benedictine Volunteer Corps is a unique way of participating in the Benedictine monastic life while at the same time serving others in some of the poorest corners of the world.
Each morning Kate Drinkwater, Harris Moriarty, Caitlin O'Malley and Henry Wilson have been waking up early for Vigils, starting their daily routine of work and prayer with the monks of Belmont Abbey. They studied The Rule of St. Benedict. They prayed in the Abbey Basilica five times a day and worked odd jobs around the monastery to both learn about Benedictine monasticism and form a bond before spending the next several months working together halfway around the world.
They ended their week at the monastery by taking a 22-hour flight to Nairobi, Kenya, on Thursday, Aug. 23. But their lives of work and prayer have not ended.
In Kenya they will live in monastic communities, continuing a similar life of prayer with two Benedictine monasteries there for the next eight months. Their work and environment, though, will be far different than what they experienced at Belmont Abbey.
Moriarty and Wilson will live and work in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Nairobi is a financially and politically prominent city in Africa. It is also home to Mathare Slum, one of the oldest and largest slums on the continent, where life is a daily battle for survival.
"There's a ton of different religious orders and communities there. Why would they choose that space of all places to settle? Because they happen to be snuggled up right next to Mathare ... Some 250,000 people in hundreds of high-rise buildings with no electricity or running water," writes Harris Moriarty in a blog that he's just started about the trip.
Moriarty and Wilson will stay in a guest house and retreat center, the Amani Center, run by a Benedictine community of about five monks. They are looking forward to working at St. Maurus School, which serves the mentally challenged and the physically handicapped.
Drinkwater and O'Malley will spend their six months in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi, about 45 minutes from their fellow volunteers. They will live with the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in the Sacred Heart Priory. Though their work will vary and is subject to change, they expect to work in a medical center operated and staffed by the Benedictine sisters.
The monks of Belmont Abbey decided to make a commitment to send former Belmont Abbey College students abroad as part of a Benedictine Volunteer Corps, joining other Benedictine colleges with similar volunteer service programs.
The monks fund the airfare, health care and monthly stipend for the volunteers. In return, the host monasteries in Africa commit to providing lodging, food and meaningful work. It's the start of what the monks hope is a long-term relationship of service to others, all to glorify God.
"The whole point is for our volunteers to live with the Benedictines in Kenya, and to join them in their ministry," says Benedictine Father Christopher Kirchgessner, Benedictine Volunteer Corps director. Father Kirchgessner recruits interested students for the program and keeps in touch with the volunteers while they are abroad. In February he traveled to the locations in Kenya to get a feel for the life the volunteers will live and to visit the various ministry opportunities.
While staying in the monastery of Belmont Abbey for a week, the four grads learned about Kenyan culture, foods, languages and religious traditions.
"But," Drinkwater notes, "there have been other things that have really helped me get ready for this trip. We have gotten up at 6 a.m. for prayer and have prayed multiple times a day."
Though they have worked to prepare physically and spiritually for this trip, Drinkwater admits that she can never be fully prepared for a journey like this.
"I am physically prepared," she says, "but not mentally or emotionally prepared for this. I have packed all my things up ... gotten all my shots, made copies of my passport, checked out the airports online and what time layovers are, and have prayed a lot about it. However, I am not prepared for what I am going to see over there. I know these people are poor, but I know that it is going to shock me how poor they really are."
"I'm really excited," O'Malley adds. "This is the biggest thing I have ever done."
— Christopher Lux, correspondent
Follow them online
Several of the Belmont graduates are blogging about their experiences with the Benedictine Volunteer Corps in Kenya. Check them out at:
The Benedictine Volunteer Corps is also on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/BelmontAbbeyBVC
FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy