I am a Benedictine Live-In Experience volunteer. What a mouthful. Usually the title gets shortened to “live-in volunteer,” although “Jack of All Trades” or “all over the place” also fit.
In case you were not aware, the sisters at Saint Benedict’s Monastery started a program where single women can not only volunteer at the monastery for five to six hours each day, but they can also live, pray, eat and goof off with the sisters while doing so. You really get a taste of how the sisters live—and believe me, the labora (work) is just as important as the ora (prayer)!
Here is a sample of what a normal weekday looks like for me:
6:20 a.m. Rise and eat breakfast in the dining room. Silence is observed before Morning Prayer, so you get really good at using body language to convey “good morning” to each other.
7 a.m. Morning Prayer in the Oratory with the sisters.
7:30 a.m. Free time for lectio divina (sacred reading/praying with scripture) or other prayer, a nap, or getting ready for the rest of the day.
8:30 a.m. First work period. Each day of volunteering is different, since a volunteer’s schedule is set up to meet the needs the monastery has at the time. In the morning, I can be found in the kitchen peeling carrots and potatoes, organizing a storage space or baking cookies at the Spirituality Center, or cleaning bathrooms and vacuuming with the environmental services crew.
11:30 a.m. Midday prayer in the Oratory with the sisters. During morning and evening prayers, an organist accompanies the chanting, but at noon, it’s a cappella.
12 p.m. Lunch in the dining room. Mealtimes are a good way to meet sisters because there is no set seating, so you can end up at a table with anyone.
1 p.m. Afternoon work period. In the afternoons, I can be found transcribing handwritten documents in the Archives (who knew being able to read cursive would be more valuable than enjoying letters from my grandma?), working on projects for Mission Advancement, or more cleaning with environmental services.
3:30 p.m. Free time. This is when I enjoy a walk and catch up on personal things like email.
5 p.m. Depending on the day, there is Evening Prayer in the Oratory or Eucharist in Sacred Heart Chapel. On Tuesday nights, living groups pray together instead of everyone going to the Oratory.
5:30 p.m. Supper. Most days, supper is in the dining room, but on Tuesdays and Saturdays, a lot of living groups cook their own meals.
6:15 p.m. After dinner is usually free time. On Thursdays and Saturdays, the community gathers in the Oratory to pray again at 7 p.m., but other nights we are free after dinner. Live-In volunteers live with four sisters in the Oasis group. Some evenings we watch TV, sometimes everyone is busy with their own tasks, sometimes we just visit and share about our days.
The above is a general schedule. On Wednesdays, I spend both morning and afternoon at Saint Scholastica Convent, where I visit with sisters in the memory care unit. Visiting consists of going on walks, making cards, playing (and routinely losing) games of Scrabble, etc. Weekends are generally free, perfect for longer walks in the monastery woods, the occasional excursion to St. Cloud, and, of course, doing laundry.
Anna was a Benedictine Live-In volunteer from July through October 2022.
Photo: The Oasis House. Left to right: Sister Catherine Duenne, Anna, and Sisters Pat Ruether, Lisa Rose and Pat Sniezek