Honor students visit Arkansas abbey

February 21, 2008

by Sarah Carmichael

Thirteen students in two honors classes spent three days at Subiaco Abbey in Subiaco, Ark., and experienced first-hand the dedicated lives of Roman Catholic monks.

Jeffrey Hankins, an assistant professor of history, teaches the history honors course Foundations of Medieval and Renaissance Civilization. He said the class educates students about life in the Middle Ages.

Hankins joined the 13 students on the trip to Subiaco Abbey in January. Hankins also said the honors class helps the students gain the historical knowledge and understanding of the life of a monk before actually going to the abbey.

“It was not just a field trip,” Hankins said. “I hoped that students would go to the monastery and have an experience and can make a comparison to what it was like in the Middle Ages to what it is like now.”

Brian Eth_eridge, director of the honors program and assistant professor of history, said he learned about another kind of lifestyle at Subiaco Abbey and enjoyed the trip immensely.

“It was great to experience an alternative lifestyle, even if you are just there for a couple of days,” Etheridge said.
“I really gained an appreciation for the dedication necessary to be a monk.”

Kevin Mitchell, a sophomore engineering major, said the trip was great and he hopes it will occur every year.

“The monks led us through the part of their lives that can only be learned by going there, not by reading a book,” Mitchell said.
“It just was an eye-opening experience.”

One monk in particular impressed and surprised some of the students.

Brother Nell, who is in charge of hospitality at the abbey, threw the students a curveball with his outgoing behavior.

“Benedictine rule says to treat guests as if they were Christ, like washing their feet and stuff. He didn’t wash our feet, but he definitely made us feel welcomed. He occasionally threw puns at us, which kind of surprised us,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t expect a monk to be so funny. He had a very interesting personality.”

Karen Jacobs, an associate professor of English, teaches Foundations of Medieval and Renaissance Literature, the English part of the honors course.

She said she enjoyed the trip to the abbey and was amazed by the monks as well.

“There were parts of the monastery students did find surprising. One was the humor of the monk,” Jacobs said.

“Students hadn’t expected them to have so much wit and humor.”

Hankins said the students surprised him more than the monks did.

“The monks encouraged us to get up and go to morning prayer at 5:30 until 6:30,” Hankins said.
“Believe it or not, all the students went. It was cold and dark as we tumbled out of bed and walked to the church.”

He also said the monks were helpful in the community and did odd jobs to keep the monastery running.

“The monastery was way out in the country,” Hankins said.
“The monks that live there pray and help out the community. They even wore the habit, the black robes with the hood.”