On the bluffs of Atchison, Kansas, overlooking the Missouri River, sits St. Benedict’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery with a vibrant community of monks. Benedictine College, a private liberal arts college, is just next door, and this is where you’ll find Father Ryan Richardson, LC, who serves as the associate chaplain to the school’s two thousand undergraduate students, and accompanies the college’s on-campus Regnum Christi section.
The Regnum Christi section at Benedictine College was formed about five years ago, when a group of students who were former members of RC Mission Corps started meeting among themselves; soon they had a house on campus, approval of the student government to run as an official college-affiliated club, and monthly visits from the consecrated women and Legionary priests, including Father Ryan. This year, Father Ryan is living in Atchison and accompanying the Benedictine College RC section full-time throughout the entire school year.
Life as full-time college chaplain is a busy one. Father Ryan helps celebrate Mass – besides offering six Masses over the weekend, the Abbey has three daily Masses, with an attendance of 350 students each weekday. He also hears confessions – the sacrament of reconciliation is offered for two hours, with three priests available, every day. During the football season, Father Ryan is chaplain for the college’s football team, giving a talk about virtue at every Tuesday practice, leading eucharistic adoration for the team every Friday evening, and attending the games every Saturday. As well, he accompanies the baseball team, men’s and women’s lacrosse teams, and track and cross-country teams, providing regular spiritual accompaniment like talks and retreats.
As well, every Monday night, Father Ryan helps to lead the on-campus RCIA class, that features talks with guest professors and opportunities for outreach. Along with offering spiritual direction to the college’s students, he also accompanies the on-campus Regnum Christi teams, meeting the members for regular spiritual direction, apostolic dialogue, encounters, adoration, and a weekly evening Mass planned and led by the Regnum Christi students themselves.
But he certainly doesn’t do it all alone, and this is what Father Ryan believes is the key to creating a flourishing Regnum Christi section like the one at Benedictine College.
“To have a thriving section, it is really ideal to have all the aspects of the spiritual family coming together,” says Father Ryan, who considers himself just one part of the Regnum Christi team at Benedictine College. Tammy Grady, a Consecrated Woman of Regnum Christi living in Dallas, spends several days at the college each month, vitally helping the section and offering spiritual direction. As well, Regnum Christi members, Jeff and Donna Garrett, travel often from their home in Omaha to mentor students and share their experience of living the lay Regnum Christi vocation in marriage and family life. “We wouldn’t be complete if Tammy was never around, and we wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t have the example of Jeff and Donna, and the actual RC college students themselves,” says Father Ryan. “When all those come together, working in a team, you really see the beauty of the charism of having that spiritual family. It’s been a really beautiful experience.”
And of course, the support of the neighboring Benedictine community has been key to the growth of Regnum Christi on campus. “At the abbey here, the abbot, the campus minister, the chaplaincy, the president of the college, everyone has been very intentional about making Regnum Christi feel welcome here,” says Father Ryan.
Along with Tammy and Jeff and Donna, Father Ryan has been working to intentionally share and live that beauty of the charism of teamwork and Regnum Christi family life with the RC students on campus. This year, the section has formed an AFIRE team of five women and five men who have taken on the organizing of campus events. Besides leading regular weekly encounters, the team has worked together to run a five-week Regnum Christi Discernment series, held a weekend leadership formation course with Jeff and Donna, organized an apostolic outreach with Habitat for Humanity, and helped plan a special Mass for the Feast of Christ the King that welcomed 5 new members to the section. And that was all in the first semester of the school year! These days, the AFIRE team is busy preparing for their biggest event of the year – in January, they’ll be hosting a weekend-long Spiritual Exercises, which is open to the entire campus and generally has over a hundred students in attendance each year.
This spirit of teamwork and family life is an important aspect of the Regnum Christi mystique, and one that Father Ryan feels is a vital element to keeping the RC section at Benedictine College – and the students themselves – thriving. “A lot of times on campus, the activities can be very piecemeal – you go to adoration, you go to a service project, and if you’re just going to a meeting and then you’re leaving, then you really can’t form that kind of mystique,” says Father Ryan. “But Regnum Christi provides a holistic opportunity – within RC, you’re praying together, you’re doing apostolate together, you’re getting formation. The RC students have formed a real community where they have found real, solid Christ-centered friendships. This is a place where students can really thrive.”
One of those students is Juliana Esparza, who is a sophomore at Benedictine and a former RC missionary. “Regnum Christi has opened doors for friendships for me, and has encouraged me to live out my prayer life through my relationships,” says Juliana. “I was able to create meaningful friendships with upperclassmen who have lived out the RC charism through prayer and apostolate. These people were key in my first year – they showed me how to love simply and in a Christ-like manner.”
Lucas Hoffman participated in the Catholic Worldview Fellowship Experience, a month-long accredited course abroad, and it was here that he met Regnum Christi for the first time. When Lucas returned to campus in September for his junior year, he began the RC Discernment Course and started attending weekly Encounters, both of which he now helps lead. Says Lucas, “Regnum Christi gives me an authentic Catholic friend group that motivates me to do my best, and has impacted my life by giving me a tangible outlet for living my faith as best I can. It is my ‘elective class’ that points me in the way I want to live.”
The Regnum Christi section at Benedictine College has also had a profound impact on the life of Katrina Rebholz, who credits her experience with Regnum Christi, particularly the Spiritual Exercises weekend retreat, with deepening her prayer life and her relationship with Christ. “During my senior year, the Lord revealed himself to me in a whole new way, and Regnum Christi was a major part of that, introducing me to so many new ways to encounter the Lord,” says Katrina. “Now I am fully involved in Regnum Christi, learning more every day, and loving every second of it. I cannot thank the Lord enough for bringing Regnum Christi into my life!”
Father Ryan doesn’t want to keep the secret to creating and sustaining a flourishing on-campus Regnum Christi section to himself – he and the AFIRE team at Benedictine College have been working to form a model of what it means to live Regnum Christi as a college student, and how to start, build, and grow a vibrant section that forms apostles that can continue living their Regnum Christi vocation long after graduation. “It is a life-long mission,” says Father Ryan, “once you graduate Benedictine, Regnum Christi continues, and the students love that they can get plugged into RC wherever they are.”
To find out more about the Benedictine College, visit their website at www.benedictine.edu.
To get more information about the Regnum Christi section at Benedictine College, email [email protected].