CLYDE, Mo. — Summers generally mean working internships or family vacations for many of America’s college students.
But when Sarah Starman went back to school this fall, she had quite an unusual answer to the question, “How did you spend your summer vacation?”
No beaches or office cubicles for Sarah, a senior studying international relations and Spanish at Benedictine College in Atchison. Instead, she spent the summer at a monastery with the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Mo.
Just two months after returning from a study abroad experience in Spain, the Nebraska native packed up and made the five-hour car trip to the Benedi tine Sisters’ monastery in northwest Missouri to work as a volunteer this summer.
She wasn’t a stranger to the group of contemplative nuns. She’s known many of them since she was just three years old, thanks to her Aunt Ruth.
Benedictine Sister Ruth Elaine Starman, that is.
“When my brothers and I were younger, we visited Aunt Ruth for a few days nearly every summer,” Sarah said. “I have so many fond memories of the monastery, and the Sisters have become a bit of an extended family to me.”
It was that special connection that helped the college senior decide how to spend her summer. With just a short time to job search after returning from Europe, she discovered there might be another way to spend the next two months.
“Aunt Ruth, half-jokingly I think, suggested I volunteer at the monastery,” Sarah said.
The idea was interesting and tempting, offering Sarah a chance to grow in prayer as she prepared for her final year of undergraduate work. It didn’t take long for her to decide to forgo working during the summer in order to spend it at the monastery.
“My friends and family were so supportive of my decision,” she said. “In a way, it’s been a summer-long retreat.”
During her time at the monastery, Sarah worked as a portress, where she greeted guests, led tours, managed the gift shop and answered the phone. She also spent time helping in the altar bread department and working outside, tending to the monastery grounds with novice Maria Gara.
“It has been a delight for me to have Sarah spend the summer here at Clyde,” Sister Ruth Elaine said. “Having lived away from Nebraska while all my nieces and nephews were growing up, I only got to see them maybe once or twice each year. To have this much time with Sarah has been a rare and special treat.”
Sarah often joined the Sisters for prayer, starting with morning prayer at 6:30 a.m., Mass and two evening services each day.
“I was thrilled to attend prayer with the Sisters in the adoration chapel,” Sarah said. “What better place could one be? I am blessed that I could build even more on my relationship with Christ. I definitely feel the Holy Spirit in this place.”
While Sarah wasn’t the first to offer her time and talents to the Benedictine Sisters, it was the first time Benedictine Sister Pat Nyquist, prioress general, could recall a college student staying the entire summer as a volunteer and not as someone contemplating a religious vocation.
“We’ve been blessed with volunteers over the many years and also had women in discernment join us for weeks or months at a time,” Sister Pat said. “People have helped in our soap shop or in the altar bread department, but this was the first time we were gifted with someone of Sarah’s age for an entire summer, a young woman who simply wanted to share her time with us. She was a joy to have, and we loved spending time with her.”
Sarah, recalling those early visits to the monastery when she was younger, remarked how often she heard a Sister comment, “You look just like your Aunt Ruth.” A grinning Sarah said, “It’s something I’m secretly proud of.”
Similar looks aside, Sarah shares another trait with her aunt. At the tender age of 11, she began to wonder what being a nun would be like. As the years pass, the feeling is stronger at times, weaker at others.
“I’ve felt that pull, that wonder, off and on throughout the years,” Sarah said. “It’s something I am open to, but at this point in my life, I’m still discerning.”
Regardless, spending the summer at the monastery was a gift in so many ways for Sarah. It was a chance to extend her prayer life and grow in Christ. It was an opportunity to share her talents with an organization that holds a special place in her heart. It offered the time to slow down for a few weeks, a brief respite from busy college life and all the expectations and commitments it entails.
“There is definitely a peace that can be felt while walking the quiet grounds at the monastery,” Sarah said. “I was glad to be of service to the Sisters while at the same time improving my faith and relationship with Christ.”