From almost the first moment he set foot on the Saint John’s University campus, Jacob Gathje was drawn to the Benedictine Volunteer Corps.
“I’d see the signs all over and it seemed like something really impactful that would be cool to be part of,” said Gathje, an Omaha, Nebraska native. “It looked like a great way to help make a difference in the world.”
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 315 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 - the 20th in the program’s history - is made up of 19 students - one of whom is Gathje, now a senior majoring in both math and English who is scheduled to graduate this May.
“I’m not yet entirely sure what I want to do (when it comes to a career), so that played a role in my decision as well,” said Gathje, who along with fellow senior Max Doom will be serving at Saint Maur’s Hanga Abbey in Hanga, Tanzania. “Graduate school could be in the cards, but I knew I wanted take a year in between. I’ve thought a lot about a year of service and the BVCC was my best opportunity to do that.”
Doom too is excited about the chance to spend a year in a part of the world far different from the one he’s been used to.
“I’m from Minnesota,” said Doom, a psychology major who remains undecided on his future plans, but is considering a career in sales or business. “Most of my family lives in Minnesota. This is a chance to get out on my own and see what another culture is like. To immerse myself in a different community and experience a lot of things I never would otherwise.”
Doom is also excited that Fr. Nick Kleespie - his old faculty resident in Mary Hall - is considering spending a sabbatical at Saint Maur’s in the spring of 2025. He served there during his own BVC experience in 2006-07.
“He has connections and it would be really cool to be able to have him there with us,” Doom said.
Tanzania has been a regular assignment for BVC volunteers over the two decades of the program’s history. But this year will also see volunteers serving at two new locations: Abadia de Jesucristo Crucificado in Esquipulas, Guatemala and Monastere de Gihindamuyaga in Butare, Rwanda.
“Both locations were in need of teaching staff,” said Logan Lintvedt ’21, the BVC’s assistant director. “We’ve been looking at how to create more of a presence in East Africa, and there was a priest from Rwanda who had studied at SOT (Saint John's School of Theology and Seminary). He is back there now and played a big role in helping get this set up.”
Lintvedt said it means a lot to each of the monasteries to have volunteers serving there.
“Many of these places don’t have a lot of money to begin with so to have volunteers who are eager to serve is a huge benefit,” he said. “Especially volunteers who have the strong liberal arts background our students receive at Saint John’s.”
But Lintvedt said those who volunteer are enriched as well.
“I haven’t heard of one of our volunteers having a bad experience yet,” Lintvedt said. “There have been times someone has looked at their assignment and might not have been excited about where they were going at first. But it winds up being an extremely fruitful time in their lives.”
That’s what Gathje is expecting from his time in Tanzania.
“It’s going to be an environment so different than what I’m used to seeing here and I’m looking forward to that,” Gathje said. “I know the monastery I’m going to is bigger, so there will be lots of things to do and people to meet. I’m trying not to have a pre-conceived notions and just take on whatever task is needed.
“I’m just excited to have the opportunity to do something impactful.”
Here is a full look at the 2024-25 BVC cohort and where they will be serving in 2024-25:
Abadia de Jesucristo Crucificado – Esquipulas, Guatemala
- Scott Spangler
- Fredi Ponce Parra
Monasterio San Antonio Abad – Humacao, Puerto Rico
- Richard Guerue
- Peter Hommes
Prince of Peace Abbey – Nairobi, Kenya
- Wesley Kirschner
- Ethan Sturm-Smith
Monastere de Gihindamuyaga – Butare, Rwanda
Saint Maur’s Hanga Abbey – Hanga, Tanzania
Newark Abbey/Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School – Newark, New Jersey
- Luke Broghammer
- Joseph Stoddart
Colegio Sant Anselmo – Rome, Italy
Santa Maria de Montserrat – Montserrat, Spain
- Zach Staver
- Joseph McMahon
- Dominic Amon
- Ethan Plumier
- Charles Matuska