Photo taken from the shores of Shaw Island

"The Benedictine values have impacted how I see the world, and I have learned how beneficial it is to balance your work and religious life." 

Tracey Porter
Psychology Class of 2020

The fifth cohort of Saint Martin's University Benedictine Scholars attended a retreat in May 2017 at Our Lady of the Rock Monastery, a Benedictine women's monastery located on Shaw Island. Story by Eun Ju Livings '17, and photo courtesy of Benedictine Scholars Michael Otter-Johnson '20 and Dylon Maertens '20. 

Last May, a group of Saint Martin’s Benedictine Scholars arrived at Shaw Island, in the northwest part of Washington. Surrounded by warm hospitality, forest and farmlands, and the sounds of worship, the students were given the opportunity to witness God’s presence in a contemplative, monastic environment.

For students who, a few weeks prior, had been engaged in the hectic business of finals, this experience felt like a welcome chance for reflection and relaxation. At the beginning of the summer break, one of the Benedictine Scholars cohorts traveled to Our Lady of the Rock Monastery, located in the heart of San Juan Islands, for their four-day retreat. For everyone, this time provided a tranquil venue to rediscover faith and find ways to grow closer to God and to the fellow members of their cohort.

Throughout the retreat, the students spent time bonding with each other through planned activities and lectures provided by faculty advisors Ernesto Chavez, J.D., Julia McCord Chavez, Ph.D., Brother Luke Devine, O.S.B., Ph.D., and Jeff Crane, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The yearly retreats for cohorts of Benedictine Scholars rotate between locations in Idaho, Oregon and Shaw Island.

Luis Camacho Plascencia, a civil engineering student and Benedictine Scholar, attended the retreat with little knowledge of environmental science, having been primarily focused on engineering. However, when he was paired with Crane, an environmentalist, to learn about soil respiration and how the ecosystem releases carbon within the soil to produce the air we breathe, his view on nature changed and he began to see life in a much different way.  

Furthermore, the students were given opportunities to assist the Benedictine sisters of Our Lady of the Rock Monastery and to learn about their community. They were presented with a chance to enjoy God’s creation in solitude. The students helped with moving dirt, weeding, planting, and worked in tandem with the other cohort members.

"Our Lady of the Rock Monastery and their mother-house, Regina Laudis in Connecticut, are some of the few Benedictine monasteries of men or women who continue the agricultural tradition to such an extent,” Brother Luke said. “This gave us the opportunity to be in an environment that was more than a retreat at a conference center. We were able to participate in the farm work and to learn something about small scale farming in a Benedictine context. Along with the gorgeous setting of Shaw Island, it provided a wonderful experience for the cohort."

Tracey Porter, psychology student, said, “The Benedictine values have impacted how I see the world… and I have learned how beneficial it is to balance your work and religious life.” By working together with other students and learning to achieve balance, the students were able to build a strong, cooperative bond.  

During the retreat, the students were assigned journaling as a method of reflection. Michael Otter-Johnson, a business administration student, said, “Writing in journals helped me reflect and appreciate what I have, and not to take anything for granted because time is short.” Otter-Johnson said journaling later helped him in his philosophy and religion classes because of what he experienced during the retreat. 

Although the Benedictine Scholars retreat only lasted for a short period of time, its impact will last much longer as the students returned to campus with changed perspectives, strengthened relationships, and renewed hearts.

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