MONCKS CORNER—Students from Father Ryan High School in Tennessee learned about more than just sanding and painting while helping with repairs at Mepkin Abbey recently.
The 11 girls and one boy also learned the true nature of monks, and what life at a monastery is like.
“They’re people just like us,” said Jazz Godard, 17.
“They just live in a community of wonderful, prayerful people,” added Elizabeth Gentile, also 17.
The two girls were using an electric sander and painting rails under the direction of Hank Chardos, the founder of Home Works of America, based in Columbia.
Chardos said he and his wife Sally have been attending retreats at Mepkin Abbey for about 10 years, and noticed that areas of the monks’ quarters were in need of repairs.
Home Works fixes the homes of those in need. Chardos said sending a work crew to the monastery was a natural progression of what the nonprofit agency is all about.
He said he met with Brother John Corrigan and Father Kevin Walsh several months ago to compile a list of necessities, which turned out to be pretty extensive.
“There’s a longer list than you could imagine,” Chardos told The Miscellany.
Most of the work centers on the brothers’ dormitory. A spokeswoman for the monks said it is not in their nature to think of themselves, so they have focused their attention on other projects, such as a beautiful chapel and a temperature- and moisture-controlled library.
Chardos said the dormitory roof also needs repairs, but they must be respectful of the monks’ way of life, and the people on retreat who don’t want to hear nail guns firing all day.
The group from Father Ryan High School is the first batch of workers that Home Works has brought to the monastery, and Chardos said the youth are very pious and respectful.
Tim Forbes, former director of youth ministry at Christ Our King in Mount Pleasant, is the dean of campus ministry and student life at the school.
“Teenagers take a lot of flak,” he said, “but our teenagers today are a beautiful example of church.”
As he was talking, voices could be heard in the background quietly singing hymns. The 12 students stayed in a retreat house in Cross and arrived at Mepkin Abbey each morning with a sack lunch.
“The students are getting a lot out of it,” said Jonathan McGee, the religion teacher. McGee said they had particularly enjoyed a project of rediscovery involving a flight of brick steps.
As Brother John described it to Chardos, a long time ago the monks built a path leading to a rounded garden area for meditation and prayer. But over time, the bricks were buried under dirt and a thick overgrowth of vegetation.
Claire Stewart and Becca Menke were given the task of digging up all the grass and dirt, and cleaning the steps to look new again. The girls said it looked like the hardest job, but it was actually the best.
“There’s one monk that’s been here for five years and he’s never even seen the steps,” Menke said. “It’s old, but it’s also brand new.”
Stewart saw the project as a metaphor on spirituality, saying it was like searching for faith, having to dig through dirt and weeds to find something beautiful.
The students weren’t the only ones enjoying their time at the monastery. Chardos said the youth and the brothers have interacted, and Abbot Stanislaus Gumula spent time talking to them about monastic life and answering questions.
Brother John even sent fresh-baked fruit bread to the workers for a mid-morning snack.
“The brothers are saying what a blessing it is for the kids to be here,” Chardos said.
As for the teens, they said being with their friends at Mepkin Abbey for a service project isn’t like work at all.
“It’s the best way to spend Spring Break, and there’s no guilt,” Godard said.