After graduating college, Kate spent a month at a monastery on an island near Seattle. It was an unconventional “internship,” but the things she learned there continue to shape her life. Going without her phone for a month was a big step in itself, and she also learned a lot about how prayer and work mix together.
“What are you doing after graduation?”
It’s the well-intentioned, pervasive question all college seniors confront in the months leading up to graduation.
The perfect answer had recently shifted for me. And my response surprised most people: “I’ll be spending a month on an island... doing a monastic internship.”
Yes, after a quick Google search, I had learned that there was such a thing. My search came after a brief introduction to monastic life on a retreat over the holidays. I was intrigued, and I wanted to learn more.
A lot had happened over four years at college. The girl who could be found at the party scene on weekends transformed into a more intentional, invested, and faithful person. I needed time to sort it all out — to reflect on who I had been, who I had become, who I wanted to be.
For the first time in my life, I asked myself not, “What do I want to do with my life?” but “What ought I to do with my life?” I knew the answer to this question was sacred. And I wanted to spend time in a place that was conducive to such reflecting.
Research led me to a program on an island off the coast of Seattle. I would be the latest land intern at Our Lady of the Rock Benedictine monastery.
I would spend my days feeding cattle, working in the vegetable and herb gardens, collecting eggs, welcoming other guests, and doing various odd jobs around the property. In exchange, I would receive room and board — to say nothing of having space and time to think and reflect, to participate in the lives of the nuns, to pray, to rest, and rehabilitate.
I chose a Benedictine monastery because the Benedictines are a Catholic order of monks and nuns devoted to hospitality and a life of work and prayer (or, as their Latin motto goes, ora et labora). Of the monastic orders, I liked the sense of balance I found in their life: there was time to work, time to rest, time to pray. Their location on an island didn’t hurt, either.
No, I was not becoming a nun — something I reiterated to my family and friends multiple times. I didn’t feel called to fully embrace this lifestyle by taking vows, but I was incredibly drawn to the beauty of it. This experience was a way of learning more about the mysteries of monastic life, resting in them, and applying what I learned to my own life, wherever that took me.
I pulled weeds with Mother Dilecta in the vegetable garden and used the lettuce we grew for salads. In the evenings, Mother Therese brought me fresh milk from their jersey cow. Mother Felicitas taught me Latin chants in the garden and gave me piano lessons. I made mustard with Mother Catarina.
I went on jogs, got eight hours of sleep every night, ate food I helped cultivate, and worked with my hands. I chanted during the daily prayer services, eventually learning some Latin words as well as my way through the pages of the thick book of prayer. Throughout it all, I didn’t check my phone. I lived in the present, freely — in a way we are perhaps called to emulate but have a hard time doing these days. It was a simple but profound way of being. And I’m still grateful for the way the experience shaped me.
More than six years later, I fight to keep these monastic ideals from becoming a mirage, a beautiful but faded memory. I’m reminded that a lot about our culture is not conducive to deep reflection, self-awareness, rejuvenation.
In my current life as a wife and mother, I find I need to bring the monastery here. So I’m intentional about how often I check my email. I choose silence over music or the background noise of a TV. I set a limit on my social media scrolling. I try to see my work each day as prayer.
Even though I can’t get away for a month to spend time on an island monastery, I can incorporate monastic ideals into my everyday life. My love of the beauty and mystery of monastic life continues, albeit in a transfigured way. It calls me to balance prayer and work, ora et labora, and to make room in my life for the sacred.