|Serving Through Science (A Passion to Learn and Determined to Serve)|
From a young age, Rebecca Johnson ’01 felt called for two things – science and serving. As the daughter of a firefighter/EMT and an older sister of a child diagnosed with autism, Rebecca was determined to serve her family and community with her passion for science.
Rebecca pursued that passion for science in high school when she took EMT classes. But Father Wilfred Theisen’s freshman symposium class and Michael Reagan’s molecular biology course focused her on biology during her first year at Saint Ben’s. Aside from her studies, some of Rebecca’s fondest memories at CSB include the close friends and support system she developed while on campus. “These strong relationships and the encouragement from my professors and peers helped me find my voice,” says Rebecca. She graduated with a major in biology, a minor in chemistry and the determination to serve.
Instead of going directly into medical school following graduation, Rebecca pursued a career in biotechnology. She worked at R&D Systems in Minneapolis, Minn. for a few months following graduation before accepting a position at Gentra Systems in Plymouth, Minn. While at Gentra Systems, Rebecca became especially interested in molecular testing leading to an interest in molecular pathology. So she decided to attend medical school. “I had initially thought about going directly into medicine, but I’m glad I didn’t,” says Rebecca. “My experiences in the biotech industry helped to shape my view of medicine and provided me with a greater sense of the importance of accurate, meaningful laboratory results.”
It was during her time in medical school that Rebecca put her two passions of science and serving together. Rebecca worked with Dr. Scott Selleck at the University of Minnesota Medical School on autism genetics research. She feels that this research, including the paper she was able to publish on human molecular genetics, is the single greatest thing she has done. “My sister was diagnosed with autism before most people (doctors included) knew what autism was,” says Rebecca. “I gained an incredible sense of duty, that if I had the ability to do something in this world that would help others, I needed to do it in honor of those that couldn’t.”
Following medical school, Rebecca completed both surgical pathology and hematopathology fellowships at UC San Diego and Scripps Green Hospital in San Diego. She most recently joined a private practice group in Chino, Calif. as a pathologist. As a pathologist, researcher and mother of two, Rebecca has three simple lessons she always carries from CSB: Listen (for new information/perspectives), learn (change your opinions if needed) and stay open-minded.
|Teaching Beyond Borders|
Nearing the end of her senior year, Jillian Andresen ’15 was unsure of her path following graduation, but her study abroad experiences in Chile (2013) and Brazil (2014) had her eager to return to South America.
Throughout her college career at Saint Ben’s, Jillian developed a passion for teaching and community involvement. “Saint Ben’s has so much to offer, and during my time there I tried to take advantage of as many events and activities as possible,” she explains. Jillian volunteered as a grade school tutor at Hands Across the World in St. Cloud, a nonprofit organization to help refugee and immigrant families of Central Minnesota and volunteered at the St. Peter’s school in Vina del mar while studying abroad in Chile. On campus, Jillian taught safe space training classes, worked as a printmaking teaching assistant, was a member of the CSB rugby team and served as president of PRiSM—a club that focuses on teaching about and supporting the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community—her senior year.
It was the end of her senior year when Jillian decided to get involved in yet another program. “I was frantically researching grad schools and job searching, but decided to attend a Fulbright program informational meeting after receiving a campus wide email,” Jillian explains. This one meeting changed her post-graduation course. Jillian was drawn to the program’s focus on building and maintaining cross-cultural relationships and saw it as an opportunity to learn more about a new culture with the desire to walk away from the experience with a broader, more profound worldview.
Following graduation, Jillian worked as a program supervisor at Homeward Bound, Inc., a Minnesota company offering services to people with a variety of disabilities. During this time, she was also taking a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) course in order to teach English abroad. In December 2015, Jillian made the move to Chile to teach English to elementary and secondary school students in the same school where she volunteered while studying abroad in 2013. “Saint Ben’s shaped me into a leader and provided me with many important tools to succeed,” says Jillian. “These last five months in Chile have shown me that I can live, work and network in another country, and not just get by, but flourish!”
In April 2016, the benefits of attending that initial Fulbright meeting came full circle, when she received a Fulbright English Teaching Award. She will travel to Malaysia in January 2017, to work as an English teaching assistant while also pursuing a study/research plan. “I have big hopes for Malaysia and am excited to see how I continue to grow with each new experience.”
|Provost with Passion|
While playing school as a kid, Julia Jasken ’93 always played teacher. Her neighborhood was her classroom and her grandmother was her role model. As she grew up, her passion for teaching never subsided.
Julia, a native of Moorhead, Minn., found her fit at Saint Ben’s. The small liberal arts environment allowed her to form relationships with professors, including Professor Jon Hassler, a distinguished author. She edited and contributed to the on-campus literary journal and was a member of Amnesty International. She also found friendships that would last a lifetime. She graduated from Saint Ben’s with a major in English, a minor in communication and a determination to continue on her education journey.
From Saint Ben’s, she headed to Northern Illinois University earning her master’s degree in English with an emphasis on rhetoric and women’s studies. From there, she went on to complete her Ph.D. in rhetoric and technical communication at Michigan Technological University.
Upon receiving her Ph.D., Julia knew she wanted to teach at the college level. “There is just this wonderful energy when you have young adults that are moving into their own independence,” comments Julia.
In 2003, she began as a professor in the English department at McDaniel College. “It was probably within 20 minutes of being on campus at McDaniel that I realized the fit was just perfect. It was just like Saint Ben’s with a similar type of small-town atmosphere, a student-centered place where students could come and feel welcome.”
After nearly 10 years of teaching, Julia’s passion for the liberal arts and for students launched her into leadership roles at the administration level. From 2011-2014, Julia served as director of the Center for Experience and Opportunity before being named McDaniel’s first associate provost in 2014. “For me the transition from teaching and being a professor to administrative work has to do with the ability to make an impact on a larger level. We are making sure that the institution continues to thrive so that the professors who are here can continue to provide opportunities for students. I feel like it’s a natural extension.”
She attributes her ability to excel as a teacher and now as an administrator to her solid foundation in the liberal arts. “So few of us are in the position we expected we would be in as graduates. The liberal arts pedagogy enables people to be resilient and thrive and be flexible and continue to do well for themselves.”
Julia was named provost and dean of the faculty of McDaniel College in February 2016. In this position, she hopes to continue engaging students and strengthening the institution. Armed with a passion for higher education and rooted in her Benedictine leadership style, Julia will continue to inspire and motivate the students, faculty and community of McDaniel College.
|Art in Cambodia|
Prior to graduation, Erin Gleeson '01, a double major in art and art history imagined she would one day be an artist while simultaneously teaching the very subjects that she studied at the College of Saint Benedict. Little did she know, her path would bring her to do so much more.
In 2001, Erin was awarded the Humphrey Fulbright Fellowship from the University of Minnesota Law School after she had applied to research creative methodologies in human rights education in Cambodia. This fellowship allowed her to work in Cambodia for five months pursuing her planned research while also picking up research on her BA art history thesis and heading a new Art History elective at the largest liberal arts university in Phnom Penh, Pannassastra.
When she returned to Minneapolis, Erin received another grant being recognized as an artist who would facilitate an intergenerational photography project through the United Cambodian Associate of Minnesota (UCAM). While working on this project, she took a job as a barista at a café and longed to be back in Cambodia pursuing the work that she had set out to do.
"One morning at the café, I was serving a regular customer his regular order when he asked me where I would like to be," says Erin. "I quickly answered ‘Cambodia' and explained how I wanted more time to research the ideas in my thesis. The next day my ‘tip' from him was a round trip first class ticket to Cambodia! I later learned he was a lawyer for Northwest airlines. It was that few-week research trip that gave me time to connect to people who became central in my decision to move to Cambodia."
After the move, Erin took a two-year contract with Pannassastra teaching Art History and is currently completing her MA in Theory and History of Contemporary Art as an Alphawood Scholar.
In addition to her studies, Erin co-founded and now works as the Artist Director of SA SA BASSAC, Cambodia's first and only gallery and reading room that works with contemporary art exhibits, projects and art education.
"Former CSB/SJU Gallery Director Lisa Cotton, who through giving me so much responsibility in the four galleries for nearly four years, ultimately led to my belief, and perhaps even dependence, on the exhibition space and form as part of my thinking and work," says Erin.
Throughout her career, Erin has accomplished so much, but what she really takes pride in is her everyday experiences with her co-founded gallery.
"It is perhaps something more rooted in the everyday that is the achievement, and for the past five years this has been related to co-founding and directing SA SA BASSAC...there are so many moving parts and spheres of resonance and engagement locally, regionally, internationally for artists and audiences - this continues to inspire me," says Erin.
|A New Kind of CEO|
Mary McKeown '82 has spent her career as a community advocate, builder and sustainer. Her passion for community radiates in everything she does, and has made her the perfect fit in her new role as CEO of Keystone Community Services, a non-profit organization in Saint Paul dedicated to providing human services to youth, seniors and those requiring basic needs services.
Mary came to Saint Ben's in 1978 with a passion for service and giving back, and found her niche in the social work major where she helped with the effort to accredit the CSB social work program. Upon graduation, Mary accepted a job at The West 7th Community Center. In this position, she gained experience working with seniors by running the Meals on Wheels program and coordinating senior activities at the center. Real "boots on the ground work" as Mary calls it.
"That's a core value to how I do my work and how I've built my career. It's important to support organizations that work in the community and with the community." Mary's commitment to building the community from a grassroots level has made her a contributing community member and leader.
As a resident of the Merriam Park neighborhood in Saint Paul, Mary has over 30 years of experience not only working in community services, but also as a community member benefiting from these services. Her knowledge of the needs and abilities of the community has made her an effective and innovative change maker. One example of this was how she used the beneficiaries of one program as the volunteers in another program to ensure the maximum return on all participants' involvement in Keystone.
"We started a program a few years ago that exemplifies what I think is important," describes Mary. "We have a Hmong youth program that has been operating in a public housing community for over 15 years. We couldn't get enough volunteers to tutor a group of 40 kindergarten through 5th graders, so we got creative. I asked, what if we took teen graduates from the Hmong Youth Program and paid them to tutor?" By using teens who are community assets, Keystone was able to help them complete the circle of giving back to the community. The graduates of the Hmong Youth Program have become essential role models for other Hmong youth who need their skills and time, and the community has gained a new cohort of committed workers and change makers. It is this type of leadership and innovation that have proved Mary to be the perfect fit as Keystone's CEO.
"I feel extremely honored to be named the sixth CEO of Keystone," says Mary. "I feel a great responsibility to carry on the work. It's very important to understand the history and use that as something that you are building on. Keystone is a very vibrant and strong organization, and I will use my community building skills to make sure Keystone is providing high quality services in the communities we serve. I am inheriting something that needs my energy, my connections and my focus and that's what I am going to bring."
Mary's advice to those who share her passion for service? "You have to find the thing that speaks to your heart. All Bennies have been rooted in giving back. I was very fortunate to find that very early in my career. I worked in the community center and it really stuck. Whether you do it as a career or volunteer, you need to find that thing. Whether it's tutoring, serving on a neighborhood board or planting a rain garden, find that one thing and stick with it."
|Healing through Blogging|
Kate Johnson Doubler '03 arrived at Saint Ben's with a passion for healing, and identified a major she felt would lead her confidently in the direction of her dreams. As a nursing student, she threw herself whole heartedly into her studies, and did not waste a minute of her time here on campus. As she learned more and more about the world of medicine, she also developed an interest for other aspects of health, especially natural food.
"I was just so hungry for that aspect of healing that I spent a lot of time researching natural wellness options. I also worked in an organic garden on campus with Sister Phyllis. That was one of the hardest jobs I've ever had, but it taught me such an appreciation for where food comes from," remembers Kate.
Kate left Saint Ben's armed with a nursing degree and an appreciation for natural and healthy food, determined to solve the health problems facing society today. As a nurse, she was able to provide immediate treatment for many people, but she was also getting frustrated with the inefficiencies of the health system, and the lack of emphasis on prevention education. Kate began filling this education gap by sharing her recipes online. It did not take long for her blog to pick up speed, and soon enough it became an income generating machine! Now, more than 300,000 people a month are visiting her website, www.realfoodrn.com, to learn how to live healthier and more natural lives.
Kate's entrepreneurial journey was not always easy, but she had handled every challenge with grace and perseverance, fueled by her passion to educate and heal. As someone with limited business knowledge, Kate looked to other food and health bloggers for guidance, and has become a member of a community of women who support and share her ambitions. Through the assistance of her blogging community, she has learned how to code her website, manage her team and create a thriving enterprise.
In the future, Kate hopes to continue educating and informing through new business initiatives. "My goal is to get my blog to a high enough revenue to create some kind of women's center that includes natural medicine techniques," says Kate. "I just want to get the word out and educate people on how to live a healthier life."
Her advice to anyone contemplating voyaging off the beaten path? "First, read and research and find a way! Second, don't let other people's opinions on what you're going to do influence your dreams. And lastly, when you do work that you love, it's not work."
|Giving girls a running start|
Mary Winzenburg Uran '06 (pictured top) and Kori Fitschen Carlson '04 (pictured bottom) didn't know each other in college. Though they had mutual friends, and their time at Saint Ben's overlapped, they never actually met. But the Bennie connection runs deeper than four years on campus. And just five years after graduating, the two became colleagues - working as a team to bring a nonprofit organization called Girls on the Run to the Twin Cities.
"It's a youth development program," explains Kori, "but at the core, it's really about giving girls the tools they need to be successful."
Third through eighth grade girls meet after school for a 10-week season in the fall and spring. They train for a 5k run over the course of those 10 weeks, but most importantly, they have fun while doing it.
"Girls on the Run inspires girls to be joyful, healthy and confident, using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running," says Mary. "There's no prior experience required. It's not a running program, it's a youth program that uses running as a catalyst for change."
It's a national organization that began in 1996. But the Twin Cities never had their own official branch of the nonprofit.
Kori first heard of Girls on the Run while at Saint Ben's, volunteering to time runners at the Girls on the Run 5k in Red Wing. When she moved to Utah for grad school, she did behind-the-scenes work to help start and coach the Salt Lake Council of Girls on the Run.
Mary discovered the organization at a volunteer fair in Washington, D.C., where she was working in the Attorney General's office, and began coaching a team after work.
But life brought both women back to Minnesota.
Kori first contacted Girls on The Run to try to start a local branch. The organization connected her with others who were interested in the same thing.
But the process was moving too slowly. The group tried to work through YMCAs and community centers instead of establishing themselves as an independent organization.
When Mary moved back to Minnesota for grad school, things began to click. Girls on the Run connected Mary with Kori. It was then that they started working together, and realized their Bennie connection.
"It seemed appropriate that the only other person who was ready to start working and building an organization was also a Bennie," says Mary.
The two made strategic choices to drive forward as an independent organization.
"I think sometimes there's a timing piece," says Kori. "Right from the start, Mary had put in the application to be an independent 501(c)(3). It's a lot more work because you're becoming an actual nonprofit. That's what we needed to do - we needed to stand on our own."
Both women had fundamentally different strengths. Kori majored in psychology at Saint Ben's, and Mary majored in political science and communication. In the initial months, Kori became the director of operations, and Mary the director of development.
"Our skill sets and our strengths just complemented each other really well," says Kori. "Mary was more the face of Girls on the Run, and I was the behind-the-scenes person working on a lot of the details. That worked for us."
In July 2011, Girls on the Run Twin Cities was officially established as a 501(c)(3), with Mary as the executive director. They launched their first season for girls in the spring of 2012 with six coaches and four participants.
In their most recent season, they had 150 coaches and 1500 participants in the 11-county Twin Cities metro area.
While coaches are ultimately in charge, the program is largely girl-led. And that brings huge changes in the participants after the program is over.
"I remember a mom this spring talking about how her daughter was very shy at any after school activity," says Mary. "At first, she was sitting against the wall at practice, but eventually she started participating in not only the running but also the activities, raising her hand. At the end of the season, I saw her at the 5k, wearing butterfly wings, giving her teammates high fives and dancing to the music. She'd really come alive."
Mary and Kori say the youth development aspect is central to what Girls on the Run is all about.
"Making a place where people feel safe, and where they can grow and turn to someone, is a big deal," says Kori.
| Shifting perspectives|
Jane Murray Marrin ’64 has been shifting the ideas of what’s possible since she stepped on the Saint Ben’s campus. Jane was one of 48 women in the first CSB class to take courses on the Saint John’s University campus in the fall of 1963. She also spent her entire junior year studying abroad in Mexico City, with no prior experience speaking Spanish, just armed with a desire to embrace a new culture and form new relationships.
This desire to push boundaries did not stop with her time at Saint Ben’s. After graduation, Jane moved to Indiana to begin her career in social work, where she aided and worked with young women as a pregnancy and adoption counselor. She then transitioned from her social work career to teaching, and continued to make ripples in the lives she encountered after marrying Jim Marrin (SJU ’64). Jim became an officer in the Navy after finishing law school and thus began a life of unique challenges and many, many moves.
One of those moves took them to Georgia and in the late 1960s, where Jane became one of three white teachers in a predominantly black school in Oglethorpe County, Georgia. “I was the integration,” Jane remembers. “In order to get federal funding, the county had to integrate the school systems. They put three white teachers in the black school, and three black teachers in the white school, and called that integration.” This experience was the beginning of her career changing ideologies and shifting perspectives. While she only worked as a teacher in Georgia for six months, Jane credits this experience with opening her mind and pushing her to continually advocate for social justice.
Years and several U.S. states later, Jane returned to Minnesota with Jim and their four children and worked as a social worker with Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Saint Cloud. In 1997, Jane became the first lay person to direct the Pro Life office (which she later renamed “Respect Life Office”) in the St. Cloud Diocese. Jane then moved on to become the director of the Office for Social Concerns, then Director of Parish Pastoral Planning for the diocese and finally to her current role as Chancellor of the Diocese of Saint Cloud.
While her duties are plentiful, Jane continues to view
Moving forward, Jane will continue using her role to move the Catholic tradition forward in an ever-changing society. “All of my work is about building relationships. Bottom line is we need to develop relationships in family, in parish, in society. I had a wonderful formation for that at Saint Ben's."
| Empowering through education|
Dr. Giavana Bain Jones '02 has always been an advocate for the underdogs, so it was no surprise that her career path led her to facilitate access to educational opportunities for deserving students without the means or support to pursue tertiary education on their own. After a robust career in advocating for youth, Giavana was named Program Director of Scholarships at the Lyford Cay Foundation. "Education has been the vehicle to get me to my dreams. Because of this, I am a strong advocate for education as one integral avenue to help people overcome generational and systemic challenges that tend to fuel cycles of poverty and hopelessness," affirms Giavana.
|2015 Entrepreneur of the Year Awards|
Two graduates from the College of Saint Benedict received Entrepreneur of the Year awards from the Donald McNeely Center. The CSB Entrepreneur of the Year award was presented to Janet Setter Dryer '83 (pictured top), former CEO and current chair of the board of HelpSystems. The CSB/SJU Social Entrepreneur of the Year award was presented to Krista Cleary Carroll '00 (pictured bottom), co-founder and CEO of Latitude. That same afternoon, Rick Bauerly (SJU '91) of Granite Equity Partners was named SJU Entrepreneur of the Year.
The CSB Entrepreneur of the Year award recognizes the achievements of CSB graduates who best exemplify the ideals of entrepreneurship by starting and successfully managing one or more businesses in a way that demonstrates notable entrepreneurial characteristics and achievements while practicing Benedictine values in the workplace and in their lives.
Dryer joined HelpSystems in 1985 as a sales representative and has held positions of increasing responsibility over the years, including director of sales and marketing and vice president of sales and marketing. She was named president in 1998, succeeding company founder Dick Jacobson. In 2007, she became CEO of the HelpSystems family of companies. She announced her retirement from HelpSystems in December 2014.
The CSB/SJU Social Entrepreneur of the Year award recognizes the achievements and qualities of a CSB or SJU graduate who best exemplifies the ideals of social entrepreneurship by starting and successfully managing one or more ventures that enrich humanity or address a social issue in a way that demonstrates notable entrepreneurial characteristics and achievements while practicing Benedictine values in the workplace and in their lives.
Carroll is co-founder and CEO of Latitude, an independent creative agency that believes "purpose elevates talent." Their stated purpose is to elevate people living in extreme poverty around the world, and invest 50 percent of their profits in organizations that advance this cause. This fuels them to passionately use their talents to best serve their clients as they elevate their brands in the marketplace. Since 2009, they've done that for retail brands like Ann Taylor, Under Armour, Puma and Petco and have invested over $2.1 million to-date.
|Life-saving and life-changing|
As Christy Stutsman '06 leaves for work in the pre-dawn darkness, she reminisces about the cool mornings she loved as part of the crew team her first year at Saint Ben's. The simplicity of waiting for the sun to rise as boats glided across the misty lake are memories that have stuck with her over the years. Little did she know that five years later, she would be watching the sunrise from halfway around the world.
After graduating with a degree in nursing, Christy volunteered in Kenya for one year through the Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB). She worked in pediatrics at a remote hospital, but after working with sick children and too few resources, she switched to assisting new mothers in labor and delivery.
When her commitment with CMMB was completed, she returned to Minnesota. She was back for only one month when she realized she was not where she was called to be. "I didn't know why I was here," remembers Christy. "Felix (Christy's now husband) was still in Kenya, my heart was still in Kenya — I had to go back."
She soon returned, earning her nursing license through the Kenyan Board of Nursing, and moved to a hospital closer to Felix where she practiced for an additional three years. Throughout that time, Christy worked to make a difference in labor and delivery by working one-on-one with the mothers. She explains how, when babies are born prematurely in parts of Kenya, there is no known way to care for them since the hospitals don't have adequate resources.
"It weighed on my heart," says Christy, "An unfortunate culture developed where the mothers became desensitized to infants passing and would leave...so I would take those babies and hold them until they passed away."
In the face of such tragedies, Christy remained optimistic through the hope cultivated from the many lives she saved. She tells of one mother in particular who gave birth to twins and went into a coma after delivery. Christy and her co-worker cared for the children, despite strong opposition from family members who feared the babies would have no one to care for them if the mother died.
Despite that resistance, she continued to care for the twins. Three days later when the mother came out of the coma, she was elated; she and the babies were safe. She named the baby girl Christine after her.
"It changed my life," Christy says of the experience. "Here [in the U.S.] you're a nurse and you have this big team that's all working for the common good. There, people just give up hope because they see so much death."
It's immeasurable how many lives Christy saved or touched in a profound way during those three years. Her own life changed significantly as well — she got married and had her first daughter. It was shortly thereafter when she and Felix decided to move back to Minnesota. She is now working as a Labor & Delivery nurse at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.
Christy considers her time at Saint Ben's as the foundation for her experiences in volunteering abroad. With the school's many service-related distinctions, including being placed on the Peace Corps' annual list of the top 25 volunteer-producing small higher education institutions, it is clear that Bennies are equipped for service.
"There are a multitude of diverse volunteer opportunities available as a student," Christy says. "CSB/SJU does a fantastic job at cultivating a social justice mindset in students."
Though her student life may be behind her, her international volunteering life may not be. "I am always open to any opportunity which presents itself. Anything is possible...so I'm curious to see what the future holds."
Liz Fogarty '98 wants to be part of the solution to problems in the foster care system. That sounds simple enough, but Liz's contributions toward change are particularly stirring because her approach touches lives in three distinct ways - she advocates for foster children in the court system, she travels the country instructing teachers on how to best reach and challenge gifted learners and she is a proud foster parent herself.
Liz's journey began at Saint Ben's with dual degrees in elementary education and psychology. "So much of what I learned about education I learned at Saint Ben's," says Liz. "When it comes to learning how to be a teacher, there is probably no better place to learn than at CSB."
After graduation, Liz taught 5th grade while completing her master's program and then went to the University of Connecticut for her Ph.D. in educational psychology. Shortly after, Liz and her husband moved to North Carolina where she became a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), also called Guardian ad Litem. In this volunteer position, she conducts interviews, writes reports and meets with the foster children she's representing to advocate for them in the court system.
"I loved this volunteer position and still do it to this day," says Liz. "But as I worked with kids in foster care, I began to see how much need there was for foster parents. At the time, my husband and I did not have any children and decided to become licensed therapeutic foster parents. Our first foster child came to live with us just two months before our son, Holden, was born."
Liz is now an associate professor at East Carolina University, teaching undergraduate and graduate level education students and working in the Honors College. She is also a public speaker and travels to schools across the U.S. to help teachers be better educators to gifted children. "A common experience for new teachers is a feeling of uncertainty when working with gifted kids," explains Liz. "Almost no one does really well in this area because there is little emphasis on it in pre-service education programs. That's why I felt compelled to learn more about these kids, what makes them tick and how to best teach them."
Liz's work has benefited countless lives and she encourages others to consider advocating for foster kids or becoming foster parents. "Whether it's my biological children or foster children, being a mom is the toughest and most important job I've had," says Liz. "People often think, 'The foster system is not my issue. They're not my kids. I take care of my own kids.' But it is everybody's issue. It's the idea that we're all in this together. I think that's one of the greatest lessons I learned at Saint Ben's - great things can be accomplished when you work as a community. Plus as alums, no matter where we go there's a sister who's got your back (sometimes literally a Sister). We are in this together."
|The gift of music|
Katie Corbett Phenow '02 remembers getting teased for choosing a profession that paid so little, but she can now proudly tell all the naysayers that her career in music ministry has been one of life's greatest gifts. "When I'm singing at church or directing choirs for mass, it doesn't feel like work," says Katie. And as a busy mom of six, with twins following after four kids, it's easy to understand why it's a blessing to have a career that never feels like a job.
Katie came to Saint Ben's with a love of music, but in addition to the lessons learned while studying K-12 music education, she was also inspired by the examples she saw in her classmates and professors of the Benedictine values in action.
"In a field of performance, you'd think you would encounter a lot of competition or favorites, but I always felt bolstered by the classmates around me, like we made each other better and celebrated what each of us brought to the table," she explains. "That vigor was also present in the workplace and in the passion the professors had for sharing their knowledge with students. The sense of everyone bringing their best energy together was exciting."
Years down the road, the value of celebrating strengths and using your own to serve others was still a big part of Katie. Even with an already full schedule, she was inspired to help a cause that had been close to her heart since first learning about it as a teenager - eradicating human trafficking. With a prayer and a little Googling, Katie was soon connected with the Advocates for Human Rights of Minneapolis and the philanthropic choir VocalPoint.
"100% of donations from the concerts went to aide women and children through the Advocates for Human Rights," says Katie. "We raised thousands upon thousands of dollars for a worthy cause, and probably just as important to me was the fact that my kids saw me do this. They saw me demonstrate that no matter how busy you are, there are people suffering who need your help in whatever capacity you can give it. For me, God was quite clear - I may not be rich but I can sing!"
As a mother, music minister and VocalPoint member, Katie continues to channel those lessons cultivated at Saint Ben's into demonstrating how a personal gift can enrich the lives of others. "Bennies come from an environment that shows us how to lift up those around us, so we can't help but do that wherever we go after graduation," says Katie. "I'm incredibly proud to belong to a sisterhood of women that demonstrate the value of intelligence, motivation and service."
|A mission for Africa|
Ever since serving in Swaziland, Africa in the Peace Corps, Barb Houle '85 had been on a mission to find a way to make a positive and lasting change for the people and place she had grown to love. Three decades later, an unplanned visit to a Swaziland hospital sparked an idea that would lead to the change she had always imagined. But long before that distinctive trip, the groundwork for being undaunted by new ideas and ventures was laid during her time as a Saint Ben's student.
Barb graduated from Saint Ben's with a degree in natural science and began her professional career as a biology lab supervisor at Anoka Ramsey Community College. Wanting to advance her education and explore options, Barb decided to take a psychology course. It turned out to be a great fit and with her supervisor's encouragement, Barb went back to school for a master's degree in psychology and then attended Northern Illinois University for her Ph.D.
"Sometimes life takes a different turn and that's okay," explains Barb. "I always felt that my Saint Ben's education prepared me very well for graduate school. The skills and knowledge I acquired there could be applied to any academic discipline. My career change from natural science to psychology demonstrates that well. I am now a psychology instructor at Riverland Community College in Austin, Minn."
In 2009, Barb returned to Africa for a year-long sabbatical through school. One day during the trip, Barb and her friends visited the local hospital and noticed the room, which held a number of patients on cot-like-beds, didn't offer anything for patients to do to pass the time. There were no TVs, no magazines or books, and nothing for recovering patients to look at. Barb shared this observation with her friend and colleague Lindiwe Sibisi, who lives in Swaziland, and they started Read to Recovery, a program that provides books for recovering hospital patients.
"Sometimes you have an idea and you just go with it. Read to Recovery was exactly that. In my heart, I knew I couldn't walk away," says Barb.
The program launched later that year and has since expanded to hospitals throughout Swaziland. Barb has returned several times since then, most recently in June 2014 to expand Read to Recovery to include Christian music CDs sung by the group Spiritually Motivated.
"I believe God gives everyone special talents, and it's up to us to decide how we use them to serve others. I'm grateful for what I have been blessed with and consider it a privilege to share my talents with others," says Barb.
|Answering the call|
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."