— Jake Kutina
Ciao, everyone. My name is Jake Kutina. I am a 2021 graduate of St. John’s University, and I am currently volunteering at Sant’Anselmo all’Aventino in Rome, Italy. Sant Anselmo is a triple institution: the Athenaeum, or the place of academic studies; the Collegio, where the monks, religious and priests who study both at the Athenaeum and other universities live; and the Curia, or the headquarters, of the Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation. Sant’Anselmo houses monks and students from all around the world.
The summer before my senior year of undergraduate school, I began thinking about life after college. Knowing that I was going to be entering the job force in less than a year, I began to research different clubs/organizations offered by the school. I wanted to get involved with something that would help me learn skills that applied to a future job in the business world. I sent in a few applications, continued to research different types of jobs, and brainstormed ideas of how I was going to better myself to get one. It wasn’t until I started reaching out to Johnnie graduates, some peers that were older than me, that I found out about the Benedictine Volunteer Corps.
The St. John’s Benedictine Volunteer Corps was founded to support the work, prayer, and life of Benedictine monasteries around the world. Each year, the Johnnies who have a desire to serve are paired up and sent to a site somewhere in the world. A few months after graduation, they find themselves in a different country with a whole new way of life.
“We believe that wherever there are Benedictine monasteries and whatever their work is – because this work is done in the context of prayer and community living – the work of God is being done. On this foundation and because of our desire to be of service to our brother monasteries around the world and to provide a rich service opportunity for the graduates of our university, we have established The Saint John’s Abbey Benedictine Volunteer Corps.” -Abbot John Klassen, OSB, St. John’s Abbey
Benedictine Monastic life can be simply described by three words: Community, Prayer, Work. At Sant’Anselmo, monks are living in community, praying together, and working together in one way or another to support the life and education of their students.
The volunteer’s responsibility is to provide help and be available for whatever is needed around the house. The list of tasks can be anything from washing dishes after meals to cutting the grass in the garden. Assisting the prior is something the German volunteer, Benedict Van Laak, does daily. As for me, I help the abbot primate out each day by being his driver. The different areas of work have been refined a bit since Sant’Anselmo only has two volunteers. This is why our roles are limited. Usually, they will have four volunteers and the areas of work are boundless.
There are a few things that we are responsible for each day. The other tasks are often occasional, so each week provides an opportunity for something new to be added in. One thing that does stay constant, however, is the interaction between us, the volunteers, and our boss, Father Rafael.
Father Rafael is a monk from San Paolo, Brazil, from the abbey of São Bento. He is the volunteer coordinator and the cashier of the house. As cashier, he oversees all the money that goes in and out of the monastery. As the volunteer coordinator, he receives information from the house on what needs to be done for the week and relays it to the volunteers. Every Monday, we sit down for a briefing of what the workweek looks like. We communicate via WhatsApp if anything comes up during the week. Since we are in communication on most days, we’ve established a good rapport with each other. He welcomed us when we arrived, showed patience in communication while we were in the beginning stages of learning Italian, and was always willing to offer a helping hand. Whenever I had a question about how to say a word in Italian, he would answer and explain. He also helps us wash dishes on the nights when there is a lot to do. If you catch us while we’re washing dishes, we’ll most likely be singing random classic rock songs. Fr Rafael is always in good spirits and does his work with integrity.
I mentioned earlier how I found out about this opportunity: some guys older than I were involved. Curiosity guided me to learn about the ins and outs, but I wouldn’t have been aware of the opportunity if it weren’t for my peers. This furthers the idea of the importance of community. When those around you have similar goals in life you can work together to reach them easier. I’ve learned that when you offer support it gives you a sense of purpose. And when you are open enough to receive advice, it helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses along the way. If you allow yourself to be helped, you will be helped.