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 Answering the call
Jen Coe Fulton

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." 

 The age of adventure
Doris Simonett

At the age of 84, Doris Bogut Simonett '51 decided it was time to see the world.

Last year, Doris and her 24-year-old granddaughter came across an ad for the University of Virginia's Semester at Sea program, a four-month study abroad voyage that incorporates traditional academic disciplines with the added benefit of sailing around the world. With the encouragement of their family, both grandmother and granddaughter enrolled in the corresponding Lifelong Learning program for adult travelers who have an enduring passion for learning - a description that has fit Doris perfectly since she first stepped foot on the Saint Ben's campus.

"I will never forget the day I arrived," recalls Doris. "The chapel was a majestic little jewel and the sisters were chanting a portion of the divine office. Later, I noticed the field adjoining campus where a sister was driving a tractor and farming the food we were to eat. I felt that this place was holy ground and it would nourish me both soul and body. That feeling never left me. My time at Saint Ben's guided me for the rest of my life and helped me build a foundation for my family."

That family included her husband, John Simonett '48, a Johnnie and WWII veteran whom she had fallen in love with and married five months after graduation. They had six children and built a life together with Doris working as a homemaker and volunteer and John as a lawyer and later one of the seven justices on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

When their children were grown, Doris became an unstoppable force in her community. She worked as a high school substitute teacher and began writing and taking photos for her local daily and county newspapers. She became a member of the Little Falls city planning commission, served on the boards for the hospital and city library and followed her passion for learning back to the classroom for a master's degree in English. After the family moved to Saint Paul, she became a freelance writer and helped produce programs for a local cable TV station, including hosting a weekly program entitled "Law In  Action."

"John and I had a wonderful life together and we were lucky enough to travel overseas throughout the years," says Doris. "But I had always wanted to see the world beyond the European capitals and Semester at Sea gave me that opportunity."

Doris visited four continents and 12 countries, including Mexico, Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Burma, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana and Morocco before ending in London, England. Throughout the journey, Lifelong Learners could sit in on classes, visit lectures and participate in all land excursions and tours.

She now hopes to convince current and future students to take advantage of the opportunity they have in college to become global participants through study abroad programs.

"Reading about the world's cultures and lands is an important part of a well-rounded education," Doris explains. "But stepping foot in these places gives us broader insight into the layers of wealth, power, poverty and injustice. Everyone has the ability to make our world a better place and to become advocates for change - no matter what their profession and no matter what their age."

 Finding the right path
Elizabeth Deziel

“Deciding on a career path is incredibly challenging. Some people chose a major in college, find a job in their field and remain happy and satisfied forever. The rest of us have to spend a decade (or two, or three) discerning our paths.”

These wise words from Elizabeth Deziel ’01 will undoubtedly strike a chord for many. But Liz is uniquely qualified to speak on the subject considering she is one of the banking industry’s youngest, high-ranking women executives in the Twin Cities without ever taking a single business course at Saint Ben’s.

After earning a bachelor of arts in liberal art studies, Liz moved to the Twin Cities and led YMCA after-school programs for at-risk youth in Downtown Minneapolis. After a few years working in the non-profit sector, Liz finally had her “aha” moment and recognized that what she really craved from a job was regular intellectual and analytical challenges. It was time to take her career in a completely new direction.

In 2005, Liz entered the corporate world by landing a job with U.S. Bancorp Foundation as a community relations specialist. Within a year, she knew she had found the right fit.

At age 29, Liz became a vice president at U.S. Bank and at 31 she became managing director of The Private Client Reserve of U.S. Bank. In this role, she oversees 10 bankers and associates in the Reserve’s Twin Cities’ offices and advises clients whose net worth is at least $3 million. This impressive climb is a tribute to Liz’s hard work and dedication, but she remains thankful for the women who paved the way so her generation could compete in the business world. 

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us, which is why Saint Ben’s mission to foster leadership and personal development is vital,” says Liz. “Women hold such a small number of the senior leadership roles in the business world, and many companies still have no women on their corporate board of directors. It is important to be well-rounded, poised, articulate, passionate and know how to get things done. Saint Ben's helps foster all of that, as well as a unique blend of warmth, confidence and ambition.”

While it’s not uncommon for students to change their major while in college, Liz stands as an example to young women that their first job may not be something they stick with forever. “I would encourage young women to think about what they are really good at and what satisfies them. Pick something, try it for a year or more, and learn from it. Everything you try will teach you something about yourself."

Student club becomes a nonprofit
Danielle Liebl

At the age of 6, Danielle Liebl '14 was asked by her parents what she wanted to be when she grew up. Without missing a beat, she responded, "An orthopedic surgeon at Gillette." That's a pretty specific answer for a 6-year-old and one that would surprise most people. But Danielle, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was 5 months old, had become very familiar with doctors and their titles at a young age.

Although a formidable biology class in high school made her admit that being an orthopedic surgeon wasn't in the cards, her childhood dream wasn't lost. Danielle reevaluated what she felt called to do and realized that while she wouldn't be Dr. Liebl, she could be just as influential in helping people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities - and she credits the Special Olympics and the College of Saint Benedict for helping her do just that.

"When I joined the local Special Olympics team, my life changed dramatically," says Danielle. "They gave me the skills to be an advocate and to recognize the issues that were important to me. They helped me realize that my disability doesn't define who I am or what my limitations are. The only person who can define that for me is me."

Danielle brought that perspective with her when she started her first year at Saint Ben's. She got to work right away by hosting a Spread The Word To End The Word campaign on campus, which seeks to educate young people about the misuse of the word "retard(ed)." Danielle had been a member of the team who started the campaign at the Special Olympics World Youth Summit in Boise, Idaho.

The following fall, armed with incredible on-campus results from the campaign, she co-founded Students for the Advancement of People with DIFFERbilities (now DIFFERbilities Club) in partnership with Special Olympics Minnesota. The club provides advocacy and awareness campaigns for students, faculty and staff on how to interact with and treat people with disabilities. Under Danielle's guidance, the club quickly grew and began offering inclusive sports and mentoring opportunities.

Toward the end of her junior year, a mentor nominated Danielle for the Peace First Prize - a two-year fellowship and grant awarded to young peacemakers who demonstrate compassion, courage and collaborative change. During the six-month interview process, she was asked the question, "What do you see as the future of the club you started at your college?" To her surprise she answered, "Growing it into a nonprofit."

That answer was one of many reasons why Danielle was one of the 10 receipts of the inaugural Peace First Prize. Shortly after, it was decided that during her fellowship, she would focus on growing the club she started at Saint Ben's into a nonprofit. Soon, DIFFERbilities Experience was born.

The mission of DIFFERbilities Experience is to provide friendship and inclusion-building opportunities to high school and college students both with and without disabilities in a controlled environment. With a focus on each individual's abilities and interests in art, education and sports, students foster communities of inclusion, acceptance and mutual respect.

"Saint Ben's is a special place to me," says Danielle. "It is the place where the idea of DIFFERbilities Experience was conceived and where it was born. Because of the emphasis around community and service, my classmates were all very supportive about my dream, and they were very open and receptive about my ideas. I honestly do not believe that DIFFERbilities Experience would have existed if I had chosen a different college."

Transforming the world
Jessica Slattery

Many Bennies describe their study abroad experience as life-changing. Jessica Slattery '02 characterizes her experience as transformative. As a foreign affairs officer at the State Department in Washington, D.C, that is a fitting reflection for someone who fights for human rights around the world and works to transform lives for the better.

Jessica credits her Saint Ben's education - and study abroad experience in Australia - to initially opening her mind to internationally-based thinking, something discussed less frequently in her small Nebraskan hometown.

"For the first time I was a global participant. I saw and felt the world and the people in it. I believe people around the world share many needs, dreams and desires. They deserve the freedom to realize their dreams and the opportunity to share in prosperity," says Jessica. 

The experience left a profound impact and encouraged Jessica's wanderlust back to Australia as a CSB/SJU study abroad resident/program assistant following graduation. She began taking graduate-level courses in business and aboriginal studies and later obtained a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Saint Thomas. A few years later, armed with corporate law experience and a deeper understanding of her calling, Jessica took a personal and professional risk and went back to school for dual master's degrees in International Relations and History through the "Atlantis Program" - a transatlantic program that took her from West Virginia to Tartu, Estonia, to Warsaw, Poland.

The risk paid off and led Jessica to the State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Office of International Labor Affairs, as a Presidential Management Fellow where she works to promote international labor standards and eradicate forced and child labor. One significant area of her work is in Bangladesh, where two tragic factory disasters (the Tarzeen Factory fire and the Rana Plaza building collapse) brought international attention to the garment sector in Bangladesh and the supply chain that runs to western brands and consumers. Jessica worked with a variety of stakeholders, including the companies who source garments and the government itself, to improve working conditions and establish workers' rights in Bangladesh and beyond.

"The most important aspect of my job is ensuring that the perspectives of those without power in this world are taken into account when the United States makes its foreign policy. In other words, to stand up for those that are left out or marginalized. We must continue to fight, on behalf of our common humanity, to ensure people across the world have the dignity to live with human rights and a government and a society that recognizes and respects them," explains Jessica.

From a transformative experience as a Saint Ben's student, to a career in diplomacy dedicated to transforming the world, Jessica encourages others to find their vocation. "Ask yourself: What are your gifts? What was the last thing you were doing when you totally lost track of time? Be honest and overcome the temptation to invent obstacles to your dreams or rationalize not pursing them. This is your life. Live it authentically and make contributions you can be proud of."

 

A personal melody
JoBeth Ranfranz

JoBeth Pike Ranfranz '80 won't hesitate when asked what her favorite class was at Saint Ben's - the Physics of Music and Composition with Dr. Phil Welter. "I hated it at the time and now when I look back I think, oh my gosh, this man was brilliant," she recalls.

The class studied sound waves and how they work with instrument and voice, culminating with an invitation to compose music for the dedication of the Benedicta Arts Center Sculpture Garden. Although the curriculum was demanding, JoBeth used the lessons and skills developed in class to create a one-of-a-kind performance. "There were dancers among the pieces and musicians at each window playing something I had given them. The sound echoed throughout the building and trickled into the Sculpture Garden. It truly was a highlight of my time at CSB."

This experience, along with four years in the Chamber Choir, served as the overarching theme of her Saint Ben's education - Benedictine spirituality mixed with dedicated faculty, like Dr. Welter, who challenged students to push past their comfort zone. She now reflects that this lesson shaped her into the woman she is today and gave her the tools she needed to become the founder of the Holy Name Handbell Choir.

"I had been directing the youth choir at Holy Name when a young man in our parish passed away. His parents wanted to leave a lasting gift in his memory and, since he was a music lover, they decided to donate handbells. The church asked if I would be willing to take this on even though I knew nothing about handbell choirs. But I learned the basics in the beginning, along with everyone else, and then took extra classes until I became an expert. We have now been together for 15 years!"

In addition to directing the choir which performs around the Twin Cities, JoBeth trains cantors across Minnesota and is an executive assistant at General Mills. "The Benedictine values have been the core of my life since I left Saint Ben's," explains JoBeth. "I think that's why my voice students have been so successful - because I've been able to teach them in a Benedictine manner with love and humility."

As a teacher and a mentor, JoBeth brings music and transformative leadership into the lives of those around her. She is passionate about her work and now gives that same passion to Saint Ben's as a member of the CSB Alumnae Board. "There's something about Saint Ben's and the community that makes me want to give back in every way that I can. I want to see Bennies continue to thrive as women of distinction. I certainly received a well-rounded liberal arts education at CSB, but I also really believe that's where I got my leadership abilities - from being a Bennie."

 

Creating a spark
Desirée Palmen Brazelton

A spark is all it takes to change the world. For Desirée Palmen Brazelton '99 it was a combination of two life-changing experiences that introduced her to holistic care and inspired her to open her own clinic in South Minneapolis, fittingly called Spark Wellness.

The first spark came during her time at the College of Saint Benedict and two study abroad opportunities. "My education at CSB opened my mind to a greater view of the world. I learned that although I was one person, it was possible for me to make an impact that would matter," says Desirée.

She earned degrees in biology and economics and after graduation began working as a technology consultant. At that time, holistic medicine was not on her radar. But a few years later, a second spark changed all that forever - motherhood. After exploring different health care options during her pregnancy, a friend who was enrolled in the Northwestern Academy of Homeopathy in St. Louis Park connected her to a homeopath for care.

"It was my daughter's first ear infection that turned me forever onto homeopathy," recalls Desirée. "She was nine months old and was diagnosed with a double ear infection. I received a prescription for a homeopathic remedy from our homeopath and within hours of her first dose she was feeling better."

It was this experience and many like it that inspired her to open Spark Wellness in 2009. Her company strives to bring "holistic healing and wellness to the world, guiding people to experience their own power and purpose and to find peace." Benedictine values are also at the heart of the company's mission, including strong beliefs in listening, respect for all and the preservation of the earth.

"The welcoming community at Saint Ben's and the empowerment that I experienced during my time there has given me the confidence and positive outlook that I need to be a successful business owner," explains Desirée.

Spark Wellness continues to grow, expanding its clientele base and services to include yoga programs, chiropractic care, shiatsu massage and naturopathy.

"The most important lesson I've learned in owning a business is that you can't ever quit. There are cycles to every business but it's those who stick to it, innovate, continue seeking and growing that succeed."

 

 Alumnae Features Archive