Benedictine students found faith fueled by ancient devotion
by Jane Graves
ATCHISON — Many images may come to mind when thinking about college life and the activities of students — not all of them holy. Yet praying the rosary is one common experience for at least three graduates and one senior from Benedictine College here. The bond they share from those prayers deepened their friendships, they said, and proved life-altering for all of them.
“In college you’re constantly searching,” said Angela Kmetz, a Benedictine graduate who now teaches religion at Bishop Kelley High School in Tulsa, Okla. “Like for those answers to: ‘What am I being called to?’ or ‘What am I?’
“And we were blessed enough to search for it through the rosary.”
Brother Leven Harton was entering his junior year in philosophy at Benedictine College in 2004 with no notion or inclination toward a monastic vocation when he decided to become more serious about his faith.
“I was more or less a heathen,” admitted Brother Leven wryly. “At the time, faith was a really difficult thing for me. To be able to say, ‘I believe in Christ, I believe in God, I believe this and that’ — that was really tough for me.”
So he took the suggestion of a suite mate to start out by praying the rosary every day. He didn’t feel, at the time, like he could spiritually connect with God the Father or God the Son, he said, but he was drawn to the image of Mary as mother.
“It was immediately effective in drawing me into a religious state, I guess, [which allowed me] to pray and focus and not have doubts running through my head,” Brother Leven said. “And so I was able to pray the rosary, every day, without fail.”
That fall, he was inspired by the writings of St. Louis de Montfort to invite others to join him in his prayers — both for his own accountability and to evangelize — leading a different rosary group each night of the week.
He invited those who he thought needed to become more active in their relationship with God, he said, and those from whom he could learn more about the Catholic faith.
That practice, said Brother Leven, helped lead him to his vocation.
“It the reason I have any faith, I think,” he noted.
Kmetz was similarly influenced by the rosary, as was Courtney Edmonds, now a fifth-year senior at Benedictine studying mass communications, youth ministry and religious studies. Edmonds converted to Catholicism two years ago, one year after she and Kmetz participated in a rosary group led by Brother Leven at Cornerstone, a residential house on Benedictine’s campus.
Edmonds, who grew up in McLouth and actively participated in the Baptist church there, transferred from KU to Benedictine on a basketball scholarship. She began attending Brother Leven’s rosary group on the invitation of friends.
“At first, of course, being Baptist, I would just sit there and listen,” Edmonds said.
But then a friend explained how the rosary was a prayer for the meditation on the mysteries of the Gospels. Edmonds understood and felt comfortable with that, so began to join in. But the prominence of Mary in the devotion still bothered her.
“Before every rosary I would pray to Christ, to Jesus, and say, ‘OK, I just want you to know that I don’t care about Mary; I’m just doing this for you,’” Edmonds said.
During the spring semester of 2005, Edmonds began to feel a definite call to conversion, wanting to embrace what she had come to think of as “the fullness of truth.” But the prospective rejection of her family’s faith and her church in McLouth troubled her.
So she went to St. Benedict’s Church to pray on it.
“I remember just sitting there, in front of the Pietá, thinking, ‘Everything that I love, everything that I am, I am giving away right now if I do this.’
“I just remember looking up at Mary and she was like, ‘That’s exactly what I did.’
“I think I was in there for probably two and a half hours, just realizing that. And that was my break-through with Mary.”
“After that realization, I was able to say, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,’ Edmonds continued. “I actually understood it, and I actually realized why it was good and why it was OK to say it.”
Kmetz also struggled with her relationship with Mary, although she was baptized and grew up Catholic.
“Everybody else seemed to be able to say, ‘She’s my mother, I love her; she plays a part of my life,’ and I just never really had that connection, that relationship,” Kmetz said.
When she came to Benedictine, though, that began to change. First, she began attending an apologetics ministry called Totus Tuus, then she began saying the rosary with her basketball teammates.
Living at Cornerstone and participating in the rosary group with Brother Leven and Edmonds ultimately helped her understand that Mary “brings everybody to Christ,” Kmetz said.
“I used to want the fireworks and the huge vision, or whatever, where it’s a big sign, and you see Mary or you see Jesus, and it’s this incredible experience,” Kmetz said. “And I guess I’ve come to realize — come to know that that’s not how Mary speaks.
“But she’s very much in the quiet things, the silent things, or in the sometimes tedious things.”
Brea Roper, who lived in Cornerstone at Benedictine with Kmetz and Edmonds, now serves as the assistant director of admissions for the college and is a parishioner at St. Benedict’s Church. She said the bond of prayer helped develop “true, virtuous friendships” with those at the campus residence.
“That bond is rooted in the faith and in the Holy Spirit, and it’s never, ever erased,” she added.
Roper will be attending the Global Living Rosary at Kauffman Stadium on May 25, as will Edmonds, and Brother Leven, if it is approved by his superiors. She said she sees this event as similar to the invitations received while in college to join in praying the rosary.
“God knows what he’s doing,” Roper said. “We’re sentient beings and we need that inspiration. We need that physical reminder that we are not alone and there are other people who believe and who are there to pick us up when we fall and encourage us.
“Just like Cornerstone was that accountability and support and encouragement, an event like this is an inspiration to me personally. And it’s also just an amazing witness to those who don’t believe and who have fallen away. So I’m really excited. It’s going to be beautiful.”