Rest and Relaxation at Holy Wisdom Monastery—Brother Paul Richards, OSB on Sabbatical

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Brother Paul Richards visits the library to catch up on his reading.


How do we find balance in our hectic lives? One way is by taking a break from our ordinary lives, and going to a quiet, peaceful place. Many people come to Holy Wisdom Monastery in search of this peace and quiet and leave feeling rested and renewed. Brother Paul Richards, OSB is spending a sabbatical from his work at St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota, at Holy Wisdom Monastery from October 2011 until May 2012. And he is finding the rhythm of the day at the monastery provides him the rest and relaxation he is searching for.

Why does a Benedictine brother need a sabbatical? Doesn’t the Rule of Benedict highlight a balance of daily work and prayer? Then why does Brother Paul need a break from his work? As with any job, the stress and high demands placed on us can be draining, so a change of pace and a change of place is needed.

I talked with Brother Paul about his journey to community life, the work he does at St. John’s and what he is doing on his sabbatical. This is what I found out.

Were you always called to community life?
“While I was a student at St. John’s, I was attracted to the monk’s life.”

Brother Paul grew up in northern Minnesota in the iron mining district with 13 siblings. He was interested in music and attended St. John’s University because of their strong music program.

He received his undergraduate degree from St. John’s University in choral music and a degree from the University of Iowa in conducting. He became a novitiate in 1978 at St. John’s Abbey and finished a 4 year trial period in 1982. He founded the St. John’s Boys’ Choir and directed the choir for 25 years, performing nationally and internationally.

In 2003 Brother Paul founded the St. John’s Benedictine Volunteer Corps and currently serves as director. The mission of this Volunteer Corps is “to provide a student or alumnus of St. John’s University with nine to twelve months of volunteer service at a Benedictine monastery while he participates in the monastic life of that community, supporting the life and the apostolic work of the host monastery.”

In addition to directing the Volunteer Corps, he is the director of formation at St John’s Abbey, where 12 men are in formation, which is sometimes a high stress area of work.

Why did you come to Holy Wisdom Monastery?
To rest.
Brother Paul came here in search of rest from the demands of multiple jobs, and he is getting just that. The sisters have several connections to St. John’s including a long friendship with St. John’s University president Father Robert Koopmann, OSB, who spent his sabbatical at Holy Wisdom Monastery and has returned numerous times to give concerts. Brother Paul visited Father Koopmann when he lived at Holy Wisdom Monastery and came to love the rhythm of the day at the monastery, and the Madison area. When Sisters Mary David Walgenbach, Joanne Kollasch and Lynne Smith invited Brother Paul here for his sabbatical, he jumped at the chance. His days are filled with rest, prayer, exercise, bread baking, healthy eating, reading and community with the sisters and guests at the monastery.

“I’ve nurtured and nourished my spiritual life here and I hope to hang on to those things and keep doing them once I return to work.”

He’s also made significant progress in his job with the Volunteer Corps. During his sabbatical, he visited the Bahamas to help set up a volunteer site for next year and he is heading out this week to Africa to visit four of the current volunteers.

“One of the unexpected outcomes of my stay at Holy Wisdom is that in my capacity as director of the Saint John’s Benedictine Volunteer Corps, I am helping Belmont College in North Caroline start their own Benedictine Volunteer Corps. One of the sites where they hope to place volunteers is with the Benedictine women in Nairobi, Kenya. Sister Mary David opened that door.”

Sister Lynne told me that she also benefitted from having Brother Paul here. “I talked with him a couple of times about St. John’s Benedictine Volunteer Corps, to exchange ideas from his experience with our ideas for the Benedictine Sojourner experience at Holy Wisdom Monastery.”

Brother Paul looks forward to returning to Holy Wisdom Monastery after his trip to Africa and continuing his quest for balance, so he can return to St. John’s energized and ready to jump back into his community life and work.

To learn more about the St. John’s Benedictine Volunteer Corps visit

To learn more about coming to Holy Wisdom Monastery for your own version of a sabbatical (personal retreat) visit the retreat section on our website or contact us at or 608-831-9304.

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