Conference Organizer Wins Prestigious Award


Eric Boldiszar received the 2017 Bert Thompson Award for Faith-Based Program from the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice, for his work organizing the Saint Benedict Institute Hope for Restoration conference. Below is his acceptance speech.

Whenever you begin a good work pray to [God] most earnestly to bring it to perfection.” These words from St. Benedict have been constantly on my mind as I thought about the community wide effort it took to bring the Hope for Restoration: Radical Hospitality and Prison Reform conference to perfection. First and foremost, God deserves thanks and praise for making the vision of this conference a reality. Only the hand of God can craft something that brings together Catholics, Protestants, and people other faiths; it brought together people of all races and creeds, and it brought together students, academics, businessmen, activists, politicians, corrections officials, and, of all things, prisoners—all for the common goal of restorative justice and the quest for a more proactive approach to repairing the lives affected by crime in our fallen world.

This award is not just mine, it also belongs to all of you—and it is a testament to the power of your love and dedication to social justice, improving society by acknowledging the needs of crime victims, rehabilitating offenders, and restoring wholeness and harmony to the community. Individuals have dreams, but the realization of those dreams comes from people working together towards a common end. Therefore, I’d like to thank: Jared Ortiz and the Saint Benedict Institute, the Corpus Christi Foundation, Hope College and the dozens of campus organizations that stepped up to support the conference, Drs. Cioffi and deGroot, Julie “the Boss” Bylsma, Nate Roels, Calvin College and Seminary, the speakers, Ryan Nichols and my other CPI brothers, MDOC director Heidi Washington, and Warden Burton, and most importantly those who attended, who all are committed to the vision of reforming and transforming the prison culture.

Before coming to prison, I like many others, never gave prisoners a thought, and if I did, I had the perception of thugs, monsters, and cold-hearted, callous men. While I have encountered such, I have also found loving fathers, eager students, and good-hearted men caught up in bad situations. I have also witnessed the power of community programs to transform the former. It is the latter two who motivate me and my brothers to cultivate opportunities and raise awareness for the need of such programs in prison. People should not be defined solely by their worst deed; such definitions negate the human potential to learn, to change, and to become something more. Such definitions negate the possibility of redemption and restoration by refusing a much needed second chance.

America is the land of opportunity and second chances, and I dream of a criminal justice system which affords such a grace, balancing the need for justice with mercy. I dream of a criminal justice system which sets aside retribution and focuses on rehabilitation, replaces stigmatization with restoration, and foregoes condemnation for transformation. That is why I proposed radical hospitality, a faith-based, Trinitarian guide to inform the restorative justice movement. Radical hospitality is an extreme generosity of spirit that is contrary to conventional social expectations. It is active and extends its love outward to all members of the community, viewing each individual as the image of God and seeking to liberate and reconcile the dignity of both victims and offenders. It is the gift of love that we are called to extend to others as God has extended to us.

As things stand now with the criminal justice system, the road to restorative justice is the road less traveled, and therefore, I call on all of you to give of yourselves to bringing about the change our incarceration nation so desperately needs. Thus, I urge each and every one of you not only pray to God daily to bring the restorative justice movement to perfection, but also to write your senators and government official to make the restorative justice movement a reality in America’s prisons. Moreover, I urge you to connect with and work with other organizations within the restorative justice movement because the key to success will be social networking and making your presence known and felt. If you don’t think there is enough good in this world of ours, I challenge you to join me in making it.

Thank you.


Hope Catholic to Enter Seminary


Originally from Lansing, Michigan, Corey Bilodeau graduated from Hope College in 2014. This fall, Corey will enter Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Recently, the Saint Benedict Institute Vocation Discernment Program helped fund Corey’s discernment pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We asked him to say a few words about his journey to the priesthood and the Holy Land:

I  had not thought much about the priesthood until my senior year of college. The catalyst that propelled my thoughts towards the priesthood was Dr. Ortiz’s Catholic Christianity class. He really went into depth about why Catholics believe what they believe. When we went over the topic of vocations I was instantly drawn to this idea of maybe I was being called to the priesthood.

After graduation, I volunteered in the Archdiocese of Baltimore for one year as Volunteer Coordinator in a soup kitchen. I realized I had to pursue the priesthood more seriously. After much prayer and spiritual direction, I applied to seminary. Part of my discernment process was a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

One of the highlights of that trip was that we were able to have Mass on the beach of Capernaum. It was an amazing experience to celebrate the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist where Jesus called His first disciples. I then had the opportunity to ponder on the beach what God was calling me to do in terms of my vocation.

Another highlight was hiking up Mount Tabor, which is where the Transfiguration happened. We did it in silence and it took about two hours to hike 1500 ft. to the top. It gave me time to really pray without any distractions and I asked for God’s mercy and for Him to grant me the gift of celibacy for the priesthood.

It was a truly blessed time where I learned how to read the Bible more deeply. I also learned how to draw closer to God in a personal and real way.

Please pray for Corey, our first seminarian since the founding of the Saint Benedict Institute!




Meet the Priest


Meet the Priest: An Interview with Fr. Nicholas Monco, O.P., Saint Benedict Institute’s New Chaplain

Where are you from and where did you go to college?

I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. I went to  Claremont McKenna College where I double majored in philosophy and economics so as to be able to feed body and soul upon graduation.

When did you know you wanted to be a priest?

The basic desire to do whatever was most important in life was there since I first had any ambitions at all. The calling to priesthood didn’t explicitly start to emerge until senior year of high school and I managed to resist it until my senior year in college.

Could you say a little bit about your faith journey?

Growing up my family went to Mass every Sunday (even on vacation) and my father would pray with me every night before we went to bed until I was in about fifth grade. Despite the somewhat pious upbringing and a strong sense of duty I would not have described myself as personally pious. I did not protest going to Mass but I cannot ever remember looking forward to the experience or feeling anything when I prayed. In fact, from about the age of five I became very interested in money and girls—two obsessions left unabated until senior year of high school.

When I was a junior in high school I began reading some of the works of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, which I happened to find on the bookshelves in my room. It was a revelation. For the first time in my life I encountered intelligent people who wrote intelligent things about theology and I experienced the beauty of truth. That started to awaken things in my heart that had been dormant for a very long time. At the beginning of senior year of high school I made a good, long overdue confession. It felt great but that was quickly followed by a short and intense period of spiritual darkness that wrought the deepest part of the conversion. As the darkness lifted what remained was desire to pray, to go to Mass, and to love God in general.

What is your favorite Scripture verse?

One of my all-time favorites has to be Jeremiah 6:16: “Stand by the ancient road, ask the pathways of old, ‘Which is the way unto good?’ and follow it and you will find rest for your souls.”

What is the biggest challenge young people face?

That’s like asking, “Who is the most dishonest person in government?” So many choices.  A top contender would be a culture that promotes disconnection or superficial connections between people as opposed to deep and lasting friendships.

What Catholic devotion is most fruitful for you?

Offering Mass. If I could keep only one spiritual practice in my life it would be that. It grounds everything else.

What advice would you give a young person thinking of a religious vocation? Marriage?

Jesus said, “If you are faithful in little things you will be faithful in great ones.” Do the little stuff right every day and the big questions will sort themselves out. That means daily prayer, Mass at least once a week, regular confession, and works of mercy.


Habemus Sacerdotem! We Have a Priest!

Habemus Sacerdotem! We Have a Priest!

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The Saint Benedict Institute is delighted to announce: We have a priest!  Fr. Nicholas Monco, O.P. has been appointed as the Saint Benedict Institute chaplain with a full-time ministry to Hope College.  He begins his ministry on August 1. 

Fr. Nick was born and raised in Chicago.  He went to Claremont McKenna College in California where he majored in philosophy and business.  He then pursued the priesthood with the Dominican Order of the Midwest Province.  He received a Master of Theology and Master of Divinity degree from the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, MO, where he also earned a Certificate in Thomistic Studies.  He was ordained in 2013 and has taught Theology at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, IL, for the past four years.

We feel particularly blessed to have Fr. Nick join the Saint Benedict Institute staff.  Once the school year begins, Fr. Nick will offer daily Mass on campus, frequent confession, and weekly adoration.  He will lead Bible studies and the rosary as well as the Vocation Discernment Program.  Fr. Nick will be essential for our goal of forming students intellectually and spiritually so that they will be thoughtful and joyful witnesses to Christ's love.

We also feel particularly blessed to have so many friends and benefactors praying for us and supporting us financially.  We could not have done this without you!  That said, we still need your help!  Please keep praying for this ministry so that Fr. Nick will reach the students God wants him to reach.  And please consider supporting us financially, either through a one-time donation or by joining our monthly giving program, the Saint Benedict Society.  Your prayers and financial support will ensure that this ministry will continue.

Thank you and God bless you!

A Prayer to Truth: Ortiz on Education

Video: A PRAYER TO TRUTH: Dr. Ortiz on education

This Spring, director of the Saint Benedict Institute and Hope College theology professor, Dr. Jared Ortiz gave a lecture for the Lumen Christi Institute at the University of Chicago on "All Things Hold Together: A Great Books Education and the Catholic Tradition.”  


Dr. Ortiz discussed his involvement as a University of Chicago student with the Lumen Christi Institute and offered this advice to current students: 

"With the exception of a handful of religiously-motivated schools, very few universities will provide such an education. So, it is up to the student to do it through the guidance of sympathetic professors, the wise selection of courses, the reading of select theological literature, and, of course, regular attendance at Lumen Christi events.  

But more than this educational dimension, the student who wants such an education must be deeply formed by prayer ....  In The Intellectual Life, the Dominican A.G. Sertillanges says, 'Study is a prayer to truth.'    

Prayer is a lifting of the heart and mind up to God. Prayer is our source of intimacy with him; it is the disposition of receptivity that we need to hear God speaking to us. Our desk can be an altar and our study a prayer to truth."

One encounter with the wellsprings of truth, discovered in the great texts handed down through the Church, can impact a student for a lifetime. Just as the Lumen Christi Institute had a great impact on Dr. Ortiz during his undergraduate years we, at the Saint Benedict Institute, hope to offer students a way into the great tradition of the Catholic Church. 

In the News: Catholic Faith at Hope College

In the News: Catholic Faith at Hope College

Father Bill VanderWerff joins Hope College students for dinner before an annual blessing of dorm rooms. Photo by Aaron Estelle.

Father Bill VanderWerff joins Hope College students for dinner before an annual blessing of dorm rooms. Photo by Aaron Estelle.

As the St. Benedict Institute seeks to add a chaplain to its ranks, the leaders of this campus Catholic center at Hope College, a Christian institution of higher education in the Dutch Reformed tradition, know the ideal candidate will be someone who can form relationships with students and engage the academy in ecumenical discussion. He also should have a strong background in Scripture.

“We are guests on a Protestant campus that loves the word,” said Jared Ortiz, a Catholic assistant professor in the religion department at Hope and co-founder of the St. Benedict Institute. “And we need someone who loves Protestants.”

Read the rest at Our Sunday Visitor.

(VIDEO) "Gold Out of Egypt": Christian Art and International Influences with artist Daniel Mitsui

"Gold Out of Egypt":
Christian Art and International Influences
with artist Daniel Mitsui

Scroll to end of post for video.

The Saint Benedict Institute hosted, “‘Gold out of Egypt’: Christian Art and International Influences,” a lecture by artist Daniel Mitsui, on Thursday, April 20, at 7 p.m. in the Fried-Hemenway Auditorium of the Martha Miller Center for Global Communication at Hope College.

The Apostles of Jesus were instructed to go teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. In every nation, Christianity has encountered a different culture, and worked to establish its own belief with it. Catholic artist Daniel Mitsui discussed the ways in which the conflicts and concords between religions, cultures and nations are expressed in Christian religious art. 

Mitsui examined the ways, historically, in which Christian artists have claimed elements of Classical and Islamic art as their own; will argue the necessity of their continuing to seek inspiration from foreign art; and discussed the dangers of treating the art of a single nation or culture as the basis of Christian aesthetic identity. 

Daniel Mitsui specializes in ink drawing and his meticulously detailed creations, done entirely by hand on paper or vellum, are held in collections worldwide. He is especially inspired by medieval illuminated manuscripts, panel paintings, prints and tapestries; as well as by the Arts & Crafts movement, biological illustration, Japanese woodblock prints and Persian art. Mitsui lives in Chicago with his wife and family. More of his work can be seen at

The event was co-sponsored by the Departments of Religion, Art and Art History, Asian Studies, International Studies, and the Center for Ministry Studies at Hope College.

On April 20, 2017, Daniel Mitsui presented "Gold Out of Egypt: Christian Art and International Influences" at Hope College as part of the Saint Benedict Institute Catholic Speaker Series.

“Voices from the Global Church”: Upcoming Panel Discussion with Berta Carrasco, Miguel Abrahantes, and Marissa Doshi

“Voices from the Global Church”

Upcoming Panel Discussion with Berta Carrasco, Miguel Abrahantes, and Marissa Doshi

"Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:12). The Saint Benedict Institute is hosting a panel discussion, “Voices from the Global Church,” followed by a festive evening of fellowship on Tuesday, March 14, at 7 p.m. in the rotunda of the Martha Miller Center for Global Communication at Hope College, Holland, MI.

Hope College has many Christian professors from all around the world who share their experience and unique perspective on what it means to live the Gospel from within their own cultures. Professors Berta Carrasco, Miguel Abrahantes and Marissa Doshi will tell stories of faith, persecution, interreligious communities, and what it means to grow up Christian in Spain, Cuba and India.  Dessert with coffee and tea will be served.

The public is invited. Admission is free.

Berta Carrasco de Miguel is an assistant professor of Spanish. After completing her undergraduate degree from the University Antonio de Nebrija in Madrid, Spain, she earned her master’s and Ph.D. at Western Michigan University in Spanish women’s writings, focusing on the testimony of women who were in prison during the Spanish Civil War. Related to this topic, she researches how the change of generations affects the way women define themselves. Besides her interest in women’s writings, Carrasco also conducts research on hybrid learning and teaching.

Miguel Abrahantes is an associate professor of engineering. His fields of interest include modeling, simulation and control of systems in areas of robotics and mechatronics. Abrahantes’ current research includes non-wheeled rovers and autonomous multi-unit robot systems. He is originally from Cuba where he received his undergraduate degree in electronic engineering from the Universidad Central de las Villas. He went to Argentina for his graduate studies and finished his Ph.D. in control systems at the Universidad Nacional del Sur in Bahia Blanca before coming to the U.S.

Marissa Doshi is an assistant professor of communication. She holds a Ph.D. in communication and a master’s in science and technology journalism from Texas A&M University, and a bachelor’s in life sciences and biochemistry from St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, India. Doshi's research draws on feminist perspectives to examine the creative and cultural dimensions of the media and technology practices. Her work has been published in journals such as Journal of Communication Inquiry, Communication Research, and Journal of International and Intercultural Communication.

The event is being co-sponsored by Campus Ministries, the campus-wide GROW (Growing Relationships through diverse Opportunities to strengthen involvement in an ever-changing World) initiative and the communication, engineering, modern and classical languages, and religion departments at Hope.

The Martha Miller Center for Global Communication is located at 257 Columbia Ave., at the corner of Columbia and 10th streets.

In the News: SBI and Restorative Justice Conference Featured in Holland Sentinel

It's going to be a bit of an unusual conference. The public can attend, but the organizers cannot.

"Hope for Restoration: Radical Hospitality and Prison Reform" was conceived and organized by inmates from the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia. Although they cannot be at the conference, the Calvin Prison Initiative Students from the R.A. Handlon Correctional Facility will have a chance to watch recordings of the proceedings later. 

The Saint Benedict Institute is hosting "Hope for Restoration: Radical Hospitality and Prison Reform," a daylong conference on restorative justice, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, March 4, in the Maas Center at Hope College.

The conference developed after Eric Boldiszar connected with Jared Ortiz, Ph.D., of the Hope religion faculty and executive director of the Saint Benedict Institute.

"He read an interview with me in the FAITH Grand Rapids magazine a few years ago," Ortiz said. "He invited me to the prison to speak to his restorative justice reading group. I did and was very blessed by the exchange. We kept up a correspondence."

Read the rest at the Holland Sentinel.

Jared Ortiz Discusses Upcoming Restorative Justice Conference with Catholic Radio's Al Kresta

Hope College professor and Saint Benedict Institute director Jared Ortiz was a recent guest on Ave Maria Radio's Kresta in the Afternoon show with Al Kresta. Dr. Ortiz spoke about the Saint Benedict Institute's upcoming conference "Hope for Restoration: Radical Hospitality and Prison Reform."

Listen to the audio archive here.

(VIDEO) “Hope for Restoration: Radical Hospitality and Prison Reform” Conference on Restorative Justice

“Hope for Restoration: Radical Hospitality and Prison Reform”

A Conference on Restorative Justice Organized by Calvin Prison Initiative students from the R.A. Handlon Correctional Facility

Saturday, March 4, 2017
9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Maas Center at Hope College
264 Columbia Ave.
Holland, Michigan 49423

The Saint Benedict Institute hosted “Hope for Restoration: Radical Hospitality and Prison Reform,” a day-long conference on restorative justice, on Saturday, March 4, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Maas Center at Hope College, Holland, Michigan.

The public was able to do something that the event’s organizers cannot: attend. The conference was conceived and organized by inmates from the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, who will have a chance to watch recordings of the proceedings later.

The conference’s keynote speakers were Ted Lewis of the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking at the University of Minnesota; Kristen Deede Johnson, associate professor of theology and Christian formation at Western Theological Seminary; and Eric Boldiszar, Handlon inmate and Calvin Prison Initiative student, through a pre-recorded presentation.

Other speakers and panelists included Bishop David J. Walkowiak, Diocese of Grand Rapids; Rep. David LaGrand, state representative (D) for Grand Rapids; Rep. Joe Haveman, former state representative (R) for Holland; Troy Rienstra of Network for Real Change; Warden DeWayne Burton of Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility; Tricia Worrell, director of prison and jail ministry, Diocese of Grand Rapids; and Julie Bylsma and Todd Cioffi of Calvin Prison Initiative.

In addition to the Saint Benedict Institute, the conference was presented in partnership with Hope College, Calvin College, Calvin Seminary, the Calvin Prison Initiative and the Corpus Christi Foundation.  The Calvin Prison Initiative is a partnership between Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary that provides a Christian liberal arts education to inmates at Handlon.  A total of 40 inmates are participating in the initiative, which leads to a Bachelor of Arts degree in ministry leadership.

Event co-sponsors included Hope Campus Ministries, the Center for Ministry Studies, the Dean of Social Sciences, the Dean of Arts and Humanities, the Departments of Art and Art History, History, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Religion, Sociology and Social Work; Encounter with Cultures Program, Emmaus Scholars Program, Hope United for Justice, Hope Catholics, Hope College Republicans, Hope College Markets & Morality, and the Tocqueville Forum.

Film Screening of "Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism"

Free Film Screening of
"Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism"

The Saint Benedict Institute and Hope College Markets and Morality hosted a free film screening of Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism, on Saturday, January 28, 2017 at 7 p.m. at Hope College’s Knickerbocker Theater in downtown Holland.

A lecture by Dr. Jonathan Pidluzny of Morehead State University followed the screening.

Liberating a Continent, narrated by Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ, Person of Interest) and with original music by Joe Kraemer (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Jack Reacher), tells the incredible story of one man’s unwavering faith born of deep personal suffering, his steadfast defense of the dignity of the human person amidst the horrors of Nazi and Soviet Occupation, and his unyielding belief in the spiritual unity of Europe. Liberating a Continent portrays how these convictions toppled an empire and how they remain today the moral foundations for a prosperous and free Europe.

Liberating a Continent was honored with two Emmys at the 58th annual Chicago/Midwest Emmy Awards.

The event was co-sponsored by Hope College Campus Ministries, the Economics and Business, History, Political Science, and Religion departments; the International Studies Program, the Peace and Justice Minor and the Tocqueville Forum. 

Photos by Aaron Estelle.