Joey Stribal was selected as the 2022-2023 Mother Jerome Schmitt Presidential Scholar, which asks applicants to submit a 1200-word narrative addressing how the Rule of Saint Benedict shapes the ideals of MMU and how an education at MMU has influenced their career path.
Read Joey's essay below:
Leaders Must Listen: A Reflection on My Time at Mount Marty University
Listen… can you hear the birds chirping? I hear them conversing far above my head as I sit underneath the campus gazebo, writing this essay. The dead, yellowed grass around me marks the recent fading of snow. Considering it’s early March in South Dakota, there’s no telling whether next week will keep warming up to Spring or hit us with another generous dumping of snow. I’ve seen both happen during my three years at The Mount, and this transitional weather makes me feel contemplative. I’m quite grateful for the beautiful memories I’ve collected and for the lessons that have been revealed to me here at Mount Marty University.
First, I think of how many opportunities I’ve had. As a nursing major, I certainly had the opportunity to connect with friendly masters-of-their fields such as Prof. Melissa McMillen, Dr. Krystal Diedrichsen, and others who taught me both the science of medicine and the importance of caring for the whole person—body, mind and soul. In fact, during my clinicals at a nursing home in Hartington, NE, I was able to connect with the residents by dusting off their piano and singing old “classics” during lunch. I saw them moved by the music—it unlocked precious memories for them and gave some of them a reason to dance. Plus, it ensured I didn’t have to help with dishes!
I wouldn’t have had that wonderful experience if I had strictly focused on checking off my “nursing duties” list. Rather, it was because I listened to the residents that I knew the value of investing that time in music. Listening is one of the key Benedictine values for this very reason. As St. Benedict says, “Call the whole community together and explain what the business is; and after hearing the advice, ponder it and follow the wiser course.” (Rule of St. Benedict 3:1-2)Evidently, listening requires setting aside time; “pondering” isn’t something that can be rushed, multi-tasked, or quickly “checked off.” I myself am what most would call a “busy person” considering the opportunities I’ve had in choir, theatre, nursing clinicals; winning intramural basketball and—umm, doing slightly worse at intramural volleyball; and finally, serving as the President of both the Student Nurses Association and the Student Government Association. Upon hearing me say all this, some of my close friends might roll their eyes (ahem, Andy Nanfito, ahem.) Yet, I don’t say this to brag but rather to make a point: I’ve had to learn the principle of slowing down and listening while I’ve developed as a leader. This occurred over time, whether through lectio during the “Busy Person Retreat” with Sister Marietta or reflecting on Psalms during Liturgy of the Hours with Sister Rosie. It all led to this year, during which I’ve been challenged alongside one of my best friends, Daniel Roche, to a daily personal hour of prayer and scripture reading that I spend in the oratory or in our beautiful Marty chapel. I’m forever grateful that my time here has connected me with so many individuals who encourage me to follow God’s lead.
Another experience I’ll remember fondly is one which reminds me of the value of community. During freshman year, I studied abroad on a trip to Germany and the Czech Republic. Dr. Richard Loftus and Dr. James Sullivan led this journey in which we left the United States, soared over an ocean, and landed in history. In Prague, I walked through the streets of my Czech ancestors, surrounded by people saying things I couldn’t understand and buying items with currency I didn’t know. When I found out they didn’t expect a tip, I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to calculate a percentage in “crowns!” Being so unfamiliar could make someone feel small, but instead I felt excited to be on an adventure with members of my Mount Marty community. Five of us were from the Performing Arts Club; we ended each night in one of the hotel rooms recording mock-interviews, chuckling at Elise’s unhinged laughter or Lucas’s impression of King Ludwig the Second (German accent included.) It was clear that we felt comfortable with each other—and as the Rule of “St. Ben” teaches—community involves trust, mutual respect, and working together. That sense of community is something I’ve noticed and loved throughout my time at MMU.
When that European journey took us to Germany, I was instilled with a life-long appreciation for history. Dr. Loftus had lined up some excellent tour guides who talked us through Berlin, a city whose sense of community was choked for decades yet persevered in the end. We later visited Dachau, the location of one of the first concentration camps at which they tested horrific tools of evil, such as the gas chambers. I was told to write three essays about the trip, but the effect of walking through Dachau will live firstly in my own memory. I reflected:
While there, I experienced an especially powerful moment that I’ll never forget. I was outside the Dachau crematorium reading the informational sign. The sign included a gruesome photo of a pile of corpses outside the building, not far from where I was standing. I started to imagine the horror and hopelessness I would have felt some eighty years ago in that camp when suddenly I noticed a bird start to chirp. I looked up toward the trees and noticed how beautiful it was with the sun filtering through the leaves. That moment showed me that even if it looks like the world has ended, good can still prevail and the sunshine is not gone forever. (Stibral, 2020)
Even though this trip was during Spring Break, our two Mount Marty professors planned it out of a love for learning. Being both proponents and disciples of “life-long learning,” they enjoyed the trip as much as any of us students did.
As I think of other Mount Marty community members who exemplify our Benedictine values, I can’t help but think of Professor Joe Rutten. Thinking back to my first campus visit, I experienced some grand hospitality from him. St. Ben writes, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.” (Rule of St. Benedict 53:1) Though he didn’t wash my feet, I do recall Joe’s infectious energy and his earnestness in saying he thought I belonged at The Mount. I would later go on to take the Benedictine Leadership Institute (BLI) course with Professor Rutten which allowed me to learn from his passion for learning. I was challenged to question many beliefs—including my own. I had the option to either roll my eyes and write off BLI as an ‘unnecessary Jesus class,’ or I could choose to stop and listen to his message…
Oh, listen! I hear the wind picking up, rustling through the tree branches overhead and startling those little birds… and the wind is not warm. More snow it is, I guess! I’ll put some finishing touches on this essay later, but for now I must go. One can’t stay in the same place forever, after all. Time keeps marching forward; we ought to accept that and move with it, while being grateful for the people and events in our past whom God used to help us grow. I know I’ll be leaving Mount Marty as a leader, a lover of learning, a builder of community, and as a servant who knows how to take the time to listen in the Benedictine way.