I made my first trip to Minnesota in January of my senior year of high school. The college counselor thought that the College of Saint Benedict would be the perfect place for me to study. I had spent my whole life in Kansas City, Missouri; I liked it there and wanted to stay somewhat close. At the same time, I was attracted by the adventure and possibility that a place like Minnesota could hold. The school, a women’s college partnered with a men’s university several miles away, sounded like a great fit for me: rigorous academics, strong and sound theology, valued women’s intellect and contribution to the world. The only problem was that it was five hundred miles from home.
Despite the distance, mom and I decided to make the drive. One can’t say no to an opportunity without being fully informed of the decision being made. When we hit hour eight of nine, Neil Diamond was singing “Both Sides Now.” We had just gotten in to Minneapolis and a steady snowfall was coming down around us. I began to cry. Mom navigated the fairly stressful driving conditions and managed to ask why I decided now was a good time to start freaking out.
“I can’t do this,” I said. “There’s no way I can be this far from home.”
“Should we turn around?” she asked.
“No,” I told her. “Let’s go see it. But I’m not coming here!”
Knowing that I wouldn’t be attending the school that coming autumn, the tour was fairly relaxed. We saw the college campus, marveled at the dorms that were connected by tunnels, saw the library and campus ministry offices. All this in the bitter cold with nearly a foot of snow on the ground. As part of the tour, mom and I went to Saint John’s University, the men’s campus that is partnered with Saint Ben’s. Saint John’s is home of the School of Theology, a well-respected graduate school and seminary. I remember nothing of the tour of the Saint John’s campus but our leaving. We headed toward the interstate, the abbey’s bell banner filling the rear window, and I said to mom, “Well, I’m not coming for undergrad, but maybe I’ll get my master’s here.”
Early in my junior year of college I contacted the admissions director for the School of Theology at Saint John’s. He knew a friend of mine in Atchison who also taught at the SOT. Sister Irene, a member of the women’s religious community that cosponsored the college I attended, stopped me one day as I was heading to the chapel for prayer. “I hear you’ve been talking to Mr. Duffy,” she said, smiling.
“Yes, I have. How did you find out?”
“He called a few days ago asking if I might know a certain young woman who was looking at coming to Saint John’s. When he said it was you, I laughed and told him I know you very well. We need to talk about Saint John’s some day!”
Not long after that Irene and I had a three-hour conversation about Saint John’s—her experiences as a student and a teacher, her friendships with the monks, her sense that it would be a wonderful place for me.
I left her office determined to study at Saint John’s.
This necessitated another trip north. Again, mom came with me. Again, I was nervous about the distance. But this time there was more excitement than trepidation. We met with professors, sat in on some classes, dined with students, and wandered around the campus. Immediately I knew I was home, that this would be the place for me to study.
And so it proved.