Saint John’s University senior Alex Morales-Garcia is looking at his one-year assignment through the Benedictine Volunteer Corps as a two-way street.
Yes, the computer science major and the creative co-director of Extending the Link (a student-run organization that annually produces documentary films focused on under-reported social justice issues at home and abroad) will be giving of himself when he is 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 expects to gain a lot from the experience as well.
“I don’t really think of it as just serving others,” the Blaine (Minnesota) High School graduate said. “I see it just as much being a chance for me to grow. I expect to learn a lot through this experience.
“And, I think as a result of my learning, I’m going to want to help out and give back with even more of myself.”
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 around 270 volunteers to Benedictine monasteries around the world. Participants spend a year supporting those communities in their work, prayer and common life.
This year’s chapter is made up of 21 students – up one from a year ago.
“(Newark) was really my last option for an assignment when I went into the interview process,” Morales-Garcia said. “But afterward, I moved it up to my No. 1. Having the chance to teach and design my own curriculum is going to provide really valuable experience. So that really drew me in this direction.”
While Morales-Garcia will be posted stateside, many other members of the 2022-23 chapter will be going abroad. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has made international travel a little more complex, BVC assistant director Mike Reilly ’19 said he does not anticipate issues getting everyone where they need to be when the time comes for departure later this year.
“Our biggest issues actually came two years ago (at the onset of the pandemic in 2020),” said Reilly, who himself served at Christ the King Priory in Tororo, Uganda during his time in the BVC in 2019-20.
The BVC did send volunteers to Newark in August of 2020, and sent three volunteers to Israel and two to Rome in November of that year. The rest of that year’s chapter waited on campus for their destination countries to open up, though most were able to depart by February of 2021.
“We had a lot of our volunteers here on campus for five or six months before they could get to where they were assigned to go,” Reilly said. “We didn’t have as many issues last year. This year, despite the surge right now (due to the omicron variant), we’re hopeful we’ll be on the other side of it by the time we get to July.
“So our mindset is its full-speed ahead.”
Reilly said the pandemic has only underscored the continuing need for service, both at home and abroad.
I think people may be even more motivated to serve because we have seen time and again (throughout the pandemic) how much need there is almost everywhere,” he said.
It’s also shown how valuable the opportunity to travel abroad really is. Just ask Drew Engel, a senior biology major from De Pere, Wisconsin who is also a member of the 2022-23 cohort.
He had been scheduled to study abroad in London in the spring of 2021, but those plans had to be cancelled as a result of the pandemic.
“When those plans fell through, it was disappointing,” said Engel, a soccer player who is able to return for one more season next fall and will depart for his yet undetermined assignment after that.
“But this is a way to go overseas and spend time giving back in the process. This is really going to be an experience that not many people in the world get – a chance to live in a Benedictine Monastery and be part of the community. I’m really excited about that.”
Here is the full list of this year’s volunteers and their majors, along with where they are expected to be posted:
Newark, New Jersey
- Linton Richie – Communication
- Alex Morales-Garcia – Computer Science
- Anthony Szarka – English
- Xiaohan (Steven) Yan – Political Science
Humacao, Puerto Rico
- Joseph Stangler – Biology
- Adrian Flournoy – Political Science
India/ Sri Lanka
- Michael Kennedy – Sociology
- Angel Arroyo – Psychology
- William Villalvazo – History and Political Science
- Carter Howell – Communication and Philosophy
- Lamont Tidstrom – Biology
- Hayden Hedrington – Integrative Science
- Parker Zak – Political Science
- Matthew Gish – Biochemistry
- Graham Anderson – Economics
- Jonathan Trude – Philosophy
- Nate Meyer – Global Business Leadership
- Maxwell Krause – Spanish and Political Science
- Drew Engel – Biology
- Cameron Murphy – Global Business Leadership
- Gavin Knott – Global Business Leadership