Rugby, Monks, and Friendship at Benedictine College
Watch above or read below a stirring testimonial about what Benedictine College and the monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kansas, meant to one 2008 alumnus and his family.
Shane Rapp grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. He played four years of soccer and rugby at Benedictine College, where he met his wife, Megan. He graduated in 2008 with degrees in English and Secondary Education and returned to Benedictine to earn his Master of Arts in School Leadership. Rapp went on to earn his Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from Baker University. He currently serves as the principal at St. James Academy in Lenexa, Kansas. He taught English and Theology at St. James for seven years before moving into administration.
Thank you so much for this opportunity to speak. My name is Shane Rapp, and my wife Megan and I are 2008 graduates of Benedictine College.
We have three beautiful children. I currently serve as principal of St. James Academy in Lenexa. I was asked to share a few thoughts on the monks’ impact on my life. It is an honor to do so, not only because of what they have done for me over the last 14 years, but also because I get to speak on the same stage as Archbishop Nauman, who has been an inspiration and guiding force for me as a disciple and educator in this archdiocese for the last decade. Thank you, Archbishop, for your leadership.
My story with the monks began in 2004. I came to Benedictine College that August with high hopes for my collegiate soccer career and a whole lot of preconceived notions about what college was supposed to be like. By the end of that first semester, I had settled in nicely to a starting spot on the soccer team and was enjoying the typical college experience I had expected upon arrival. Granted, the starting spot was on the junior varsity team, which I didn’t even know existed at the college level, and the typical college experience had left me confused and with my eternal soul in peril, but other than that things were going great.
Now to be fair, that first semester I made some lifelong friends, including the woman who would be my wife, so to pretend it was a waste would be to overstate the case. But it is safe to say I was longing for more.
Second semester, two important things happened for me. The first was that I was peer pressured into playing rugby. Through rugby, I encountered a group of friends a few years ahead of me who seemed to have something I didn’t. Their conversations had depth. Their friendships included accountability. Their beer actually tasted like something. While I knew many of the friendships I had were good and real, I saw something different in them. And I wanted to be a part of it.
The second significant event was when I went to confession on my own for the first time in my life. One night after 9:30 Mass in the St. Martin’s chapel, the priest offered to hear confessions in the sacristy for anyone who was interested. I knew I needed to go. I walked in, super nervous, sat down, said forgive me father it’s been a year since my last confession, and rattled off about six vague categories of sin before shooting a bashful look at the priest, hoping he wouldn’t ask for specifics. He smiled at me, and in a soft but gravelly voice, said, “Well, let’s unpack those a bit, shall we?”
Once I realized this guy wasn’t going to let me off easy, I shared it all. The conversation that ensued and the freedom I felt when I left stirred in me the same desire I felt when I witnessed those friendships the older rugby guys had. I had been awakened to a sense of adventure and vigor that my life had not had up until then.
The group of friends that inspired me included a man who would go on to join St. Benedict’s Abbey just two years later: Leven Harton. Those of you who know Brother Leven are probably thinking, “I didn’t know Brother Leven played rugby!” You’re right; he didn’t. His delicate frame wouldn’t have been able to handle it. But he was friends with some of the rugby guys and came to our games.
All jokes aside, my relationship with Leven and some of the other men in that group was my first introduction to virtuous friendship, to relationships that elevate the soul and broaden the horizon of what is possible in life. His is a friendship I still cherish, as we talk on the phone weekly about everything from the challenges of our vocations to how poorly the Royals are doing.
The priest that I went to for confession that night my freshmen year was the late Father Bruce Swift OSB. Father Bruce went on to hear my confessions weekly, sometimes daily, for several years as I started making my first faltering steps along the path of intentional discipleship. He soon became my first real spiritual director. He was so gentle with me, so kind and understanding, never judging, always prodding me forward, every confession or spiritual direction session ending with a white card pulled from his habit with a psalm or quote on it, telling me to take it to prayer. I miss him dearly. Fr. Bruce, pray for us.
So by the end of my sophomore year at Benedictine I had found a spiritual father in Father Bruce and gained a lifelong friend and brother in Brother Leven. If I had more time, I could talk about conversations with Father Meinrad or the passion and good humor of the then prior, now Abbot, James, or the retreats I took to the guest House that re-centered me and helped me fall in love with silence and the psalms.
These are the gifts the Abbey gave me. That force I encountered in those friendships and confession I later learned to be the movement of the Holy Spirit. It is in large part because of the work of the Holy Spirit through the monks of the Abbey that I found a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church, discovered my vocation as a husband, father, and educator, and had an experience of authentic community that responded to a call from the deepest part of my heart.
Whatever gifts we may give tonight pale in comparison to the ones God has given to me and to so many others through the monks. They are small sacrifices compared to those these men have made so that we can be reminded that there is more to this world than pleasure, more to life than money, more to being Catholic than a duty to fulfill. They are here to remind us of what is possible when we stake our life on something and make a radical choice to respond to the call of God. I am forever grateful to Fr. Bruce, Brother Leven, Abbot James, and all the monks of the Abbey for showing me what it means to be a man, to be a disciple, and to stand firm in the face of the darkness of this world to shine a light for all to see.