Honors class meets monks at monastery

February 17, 2011

by Sherelle Black, STAFF REPORTER

The honors program made a field trip to Subiaco, Ark., to get away from present civilization, and become enriched in the history of the quiet life of St. Benedict Monks of Subiaco Abbey.

Honors students taking Medieval and Renaissance Civilization traveled Feb. 2-4 to Subiaco Abbey to immerse themselves in the lifestyle of the monks to get a better understanding of the course material.

According to the monastery’s website, Subiaco Abbey, originally called St. Benedict Priory, was founded by three monks and is a member of the Swiss-American Congregation group of monasteries of the world-wide Benedictine Confederation.

The class instructor Jeffrey Hankins, an associate professor of history, said the trip gives students an opportunity to learn outside the classroom.

“It gives them an idea of what it would be like to live in medieval Europe and be in a monastery,” Hankins said. “A lot of what they do has not changed, even though time has.”

This year eight students went to the monastery.

“We had a fairly small group attend this year compared to previous years,” Hankins said. “Usually we have students from the honors’ medieval English class and the history class come, but this year only the history class went.”

While on the trip students listened to the monks give background information about their lifestyle and history, they were given tours of the cathedral church and monastery and prayed five times a day with them.

Kate Corbin, a sophomore biology major, said praying with the monks was a special experience that she was glad to be a part of.

“Going to mass five times a day was a unique experience,” Corbin said. “Although the way the monks chanted made it difficult to follow along because most of it was in Latin, it was still interesting to hear them.”

Hankins said getting up for the first mass at 5:45 a.m. with the monks was insightful time for him and his students.

“When we went to the first praying session, it was still dark outside,” Hankins said. “After the prayer and services were over, you could see the sun shining through the stainless glass, which in itself can be interpreted as a symbol. I also imagine this is the same thing that people saw back in the medieval times.”

Hankins said with the extremely cold temperatures, it limited the amount of activities available to students.

“We are trying to get the trip moved to spring quarter in the upcoming years,” Hankins said. “If we do, then students might actually get the chance to accompany the monks with some of the work they do.”

Though some in the modern population do not understand the monks’ lifestyle, Hankins said he sees them as a viable tool to society and is happy to see the honors department support the trip.

“I’m very grateful that the honors department is still willing to put money toward this,” he said.

“I think they are useful because these monks go to nursing homes and hospitals to comfort the sick and dying and volunteer in the community.”

Rick Simmons, program director of the honors department, said he is more than willing to support field trips and wants to see the department have more in the future.

“We are trying to get a field trip incorporated each quarter in at least one of the honors courses,” Simmons said. “It’s just hard to organize and a big undertaking.”

Corbin said she is thankful that the honors department provided her with the chance to visit the monastery.

“I’m glad I got the opportunity to go because I feel like it’s a dying practice,” she said. “Nobody wants to give up modern technology to be a monk. It really was a unique experience getting to be a part of their secluded lifestyle.”

E-mail comments to scb035@latech.edu.