College with the Monks

Cheating is discouraged, tattoo referrals are common and they die more often than you’d think.

Jill Phelan, Saint Vincent College


In addition to being where I go to school, Saint Vincent College is also a seminary and Benedictine monastery.

As a result, the archabbot pretty much runs the school and a lot of our classes are taught by monks. When I first came to St. Vincent, I must admit it was pretty weird to be sharing my space with a bunch of monks and seminarians, and that’s coming from a girl who had nuns as teachers in high school.

Nowadays, I don’t even think twice when I see little flocks of monks strolling across campus or eating in the cafeteria with me, but there were a few things that took some getting used to.

Probably the most notable thing about going to a college/monastery/seminary is the fact that a good number of our teachers are monks and/or priests. (Fun fact: There are priests, monks and monks who double as priests because monks can also be priests, but they don’t necessarily have to be.) Having a monk as a professor can be pretty cool sometimes. Have you ever seen a monk reenact Shakespeare? There’s just something about that black-hooded robe that makes an evil Shakespearian prince really come to life.

And I’m not saying I would ever cheat on a paper or an exam, but if someone were perhaps tempted to do so, having a man of God as your teacher might make you consider less sinful options. The same thing goes for sitting by seminarians in class. If you decide to cheat off one of them, there’s a chance you probably don’t have a soul.

On the other hand, there are some downsides to taking a class taught by a monk. If there’s a particularly snowy day, for instance, don’t get your hopes up expecting a cancelation because there won’t be one. Ever. Half the time, teachers cancel class because they can’t make it to school in the bad weather, but monks don’t have that problem; they’re already there, unless they died.

Which brings me to my next point: A lot of the monks are really old and it’s more common than you’d think to have your teacher just up and die half way through the semester.

I actually had this happen last year and it was really unfortunate. My French teacher was super funny and awesome, but he was canceling classes and getting substitutes for the majority of the year since he was in and out of the hospital a lot.

After spring break, he just never came back, and at the end of the semester, he passed away. I’m guessing he was buried in the cemetery behind our campus where all the other monks and are laid to rest, but I don’t know for sure. Maybe I’ll go look for his tombstone the next time I’m avoiding my homework.

As I mentioned before, the archabbot of the monastery practically runs our college. He walks around practically glowing with power, and around his neck hangs a huge gold cross bigger than the bling of a 90s rapper. Personally, I find him rather intimidating and the mere fact that he could be just around the corner gives a whole new significance to the phrase “God is always watching you.” Here’s to hoping I don’t get beheaded for even writing this.

Aside from the archabbot, monks and seminarians are some of the nicest people you could ever meet (I mean, the archabbot could be really nice too, but I’ve never met him because I’m afraid). I’m even friends with a few of them on Facebook, which can be really convenient if I want to schedule an appointment for confession or something of that nature.

No matter what, they’re always around when I need to talk to them, because not only are they super nice, but they’re also very wise and compassionate. On the other hand, they might be around a little too much sometimes, because if I’m goofing off with my friends and a curse word just so happens to slip out of my mouth, I instinctively check over my shoulder to make sure there isn’t a monk or priest nearby.

The best is probably just seeing monks and seminarians do things that you just wouldn’t expect them to do. For instance, how do you respond when a monk asks your friend where he can get a tattoo like hers? Neither of us knew what to say, and quite frankly I still don’t know what I’d say to that.

There was another time when a priest had joked that the reason we installed the new gate system in the school’s shack was to keep ISIS out. It was hysterical but completely unexpected, which made it all the more funny. Then there was the time not too long ago that another monk bashed our school’s new mascot on Facebook and called it the ugliest mascot he’d ever seen. Needless to say, the post got 84 likes and was the talk of the school for weeks.

So at the end of the day, it’s pretty interesting to share my school with a community of monks and seminarians, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Hanging out with monks might seem odd to the average onlooker, but they’ve managed to enrich my life in ways that I hadn’t thought possible prior to college.

I could’ve gone to this school thinking that my space would be invaded. Instead, I’ve chosen to embrace the situation as an opportunity to make an entirely new group of friends, and as a result, I’ve grown from that experience. Ultimately, I’ve had to remember that even though they might go about living their lives a little differently, the monks and seminarians that surround me are regular people just trying to make friends and enjoy life. So if you have the opportunity to go to school with seminarians and monks, I’d say go for it because you’re in for a treat.