These are indeed challenging times.
But that only serves to underscore how truly vital the mission of the Benedictine Volunteer Corps really is.
And it’s certainly one of the reasons why Tyler Johnson, Simeon Farquharson and the 18 other members of the BVC’s 2021-22 cohort were so eager to sign on for the challenge.
“To see things where they are right now, especially with all the pain and suffering the (ongoing COVID-19 global) pandemic has brought on, really made me feel like it was more important than ever to volunteer and get involved,” said Johnson, a senior mathematics major who maintains a GPA of 3.97.
“It’s just something that feels like the right thing to do right now.”
“The pandemic did play a role in my decision to do this,” added Farquharson, a senior accounting major who, as a sophomore, received SJU’s Man of Extraordinary Service Award.
“It makes it more challenging in some ways. But, at the same time, it makes what we’re going to be doing even more important too.”
The BVC is a service opportunity offered to recent graduates of SJU. According to its mission, “grounded in Benedictine values and spirituality, the BVC provides a unique encounter with the Catholic monastic tradition, the multitude of needs expressed in religious communities around the world and the challenge to commit one’s talents to meeting those needs.”
Since its founding in 2003, the BVC has sent over 250 volunteers to Benedictine monasteries around the world. Participants spend 10 months to a year supporting those communities in their work, prayer and common life.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year prevented some members of the 2020-21 cohort from traveling abroad as had been planned. But BVC founder Br. Paul Richards, OSB said they still were able to make an impact closer to home.
“Many of them who stayed here worked in a lot of areas related to the pandemic, helping in areas where there were needs to be met,” he said.
With more vaccines expected to be administered over the next few months, Richards hopes this year’s cohort will be able to travel as expected by the time summer and fall arrive.
“We still have to wait and see, but I’m more optimistic than not,” Richards said.
“By and large, the students who take part in (the BVC) are risk-takers,” he continued. “You have to be a risk-taker to want to do this even in a normal year. But especially so in a year like this. So this is certainly a top-flight group.”
Farquharson and roommate Blake Hoeschen are scheduled to be posted in Esquipulas, Guatemala, where they will work with local youth.
“I’ve always loved working with kids,” Farquharson said. “I don’t know if I could ever be a teacher as a career. But I’ve volunteered in my local church community at things like summer camps and Vacation Bible School and I’ve really enjoyed that.
“I also have a real fondness for the Spanish language though I’m not fluent. But hopefully this experience will allow me the opportunity to become truly bilingual.”
Johnson, meanwhile, will be one of three members of this year’s cohort posted at Saint Benedict’s Prep School, a secondary school in Newark, New Jersey, established in 1868 by the Benedictine Monks of Newark Abbey.
But he will not depart until after the fall semester as he will return to SJU this fall to finish his class work and play his final season of college football.
“I want to go into teaching,” he said. “So this is an experience I’m really looking forward to.”
Here is a list of this year’s volunteers and where they will be posted:
- Sam Black (Cuernavaca, Mexico)
- Simeon Farquharson (Esquipulas, Guatemala)
- Ryan Gallagher (Montserrat, Spain)
- Thomas Gillach (Tororo, Uganda)
- Mitch Hansen (Montserrat, Spain)
- Blake Hoeschen (Esquipulas, Guatemala)
- Tyler Johnson (Newark, N.J.)
- Johnny Krawczyk (Newark, N.J.)
- Max LaBine (Bogota, Columbia)
- Logan Lintvedt (Tororo, Uganda)
- Will Matuska (Hanga, Tanzania)
- Rob McManus (Newark, N.J.)
- Patrick Mullon (Imiliwaha, Tanzania)
- Austin O’Keefe (Rome, Italy)
- Joe Pieschel (India and Sri Lanka)
- Michael Pineda (Bogota, Columbia)
- Jack Scheck (Tabgha, Israel)
- Gregory Stubbs (Newark, N.J.)
- Colin Yokanovic (Tabgha, Israel)
- Joseph Smith Zavier (Tabgha, Israel)