Summer of Service

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After a year spent mostly stuck inside, Cindy Cintron, a junior at The Catholic University of America in Washington, spent the summer working with her hands to weed, harvest and build at Bethlehem Farm in Alderson, W. Va., a Catholic community centered around service and sustainability. For more than eight weeks, Cintron served as the point person for the farm’s orchards. She helped take care of the community’s 50 chickens. And, with the help of a revolving team of volunteers, she assisted local homeowners with much-needed building repairs and construction projects.

“A lot of the community members couldn’t afford to pay normal construction companies to help them repair their homes, so they coordinated with us and we agreed to help them with their projects,” Cintron said. “We did the labor free of charge and then worked out a payment plan to cover supplies so that in the end, the only cost for the homeowners are those resources.”

Cintron’s experience working on the farm was supported by the Office of Campus Ministry’s Summer of Service stipend program. As part of the program, Catholic U. students receive $2,500 grants to enable them to participate in long-term service projects (eight weeks or longer) of their choosing.

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Bahr is assistant director of media relations and communications at Catholic U. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021

We Heart Summer Servants

We Heart Summer Servants

A great group photo, as Joey was departing to catch the westbound train. The Summer Servant community this summer has been a huge support–they really put the “farm” in Bethlehem Farm and have made the self-build on the San Damiano Center for Sustainability possible. The San Damiano framing crew will miss Joey and all departing Summer Servants as they say, “until next time.”

Faith and Farming


Bonjour, I’m Claire, and I’m French. I like to say that when I applied to be a Fall Servant at BF, I was looking for “a farm-community to garden with Christ.” After traveling on my own and farming for several months, I felt the need to join a community with whom I could share both my faith and agroecological practices.

It was a blessed period for me in the sense that everything was unexpected! First of all, my stay at Bethlehem Farm changed my perspective on my future, deepened the relationship I had with Jesus, and broke the boundaries of the “impossible.” In the middle of the Appalachian Mountains, in the forest turning red and yellow and taking on the colors of autumn, I saw God every day in the perfection of Creation. I was mainly gardening alone and in silence, outside, all day. I’m usually very social and at first I wondered how I could appreciate so much time alone. But I was not alone; these awesome days spent outside were in the presence of Christ. I never had so much time to speak heart-to-heart to my Loving God. We often say that Nature is the fifth Gospel! I saw that! By listening to Him and looking at his Creation through the forest, bees, and the soil itself, I learned that Nature is perfect and also needs time. What a lesson of humility. Plants need time to grow, the soil needs time to regenerate, and humans need time to be shaped as mountains are by God. It’s not necessarily slow but it requires patience. And just like humans, they perish too. Like humans, who need to be put to rest by our loved ones after our passing, trees and plants might die a natural death, but they need to be sometimes removed from their place of death. For example, when a tree completes its cycle of life, it perishes – and sometimes it does needs a little help from professionals such as the ones at Greensboro tree service for instance to be removed so that they do not harm other plants (by taking away unnecessary space). Such is life, and I have learnt many things about nature from my stay at the farm.

My stay at Bethlehem Farm was blessed and unexpectedly awesome! I also saw God Himelf. With a current caretaker, we decided to start some days with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. What a gift! By joining BF I wanted to be gathered in the name of Jesus with other brothers and sisters and here He is. He came Himself to us. And so I thought, Christ is really always available, always waiting for us and looking after us. Here He is, right now. We simply need to do the first step, to open our hearts, to be available, and God will do the rest. And I praise God for what He did in my life during this time. I was at the end of my studies, full of ideas and with the desire to promote organic agriculture, care for Creation, and give attention to the poor. I really wanted to be involved in those domains and at the same time I was somehow afraid. Afraid to start, to do something too big for me that seemed impossible! I found everything impossible, even starting a company to defend these values, to get a piece of land and start gardening, to actually enter into action (what else?). Yes, it is impossible alone and that’s precisely the reason why Christ has put the desire in me, because He needs me for His work, and I need Him! The ministry of Bethlehem Farm really helped me to get over these fears. I realized how impossible it is to build a building alone; to cultivate the entire garden alone; even to procure equipment and tractor parts to continue organic farming practices (although, thanks to God, companies like Costex have made it easier); to wake up every morning, climb up the ladder to access work areas or materials that exceed the one’s reach and find the energy to assist our poor neighbors without the grace of God. Also there are so many risks involved while doing all these things. I even saw people climbing the rickety ladder there, which is extremely dangerous. However, most people do not have the funds to purchase a new one. Nonetheless, I introduced them to a few companies, such as Platforms and Ladders, from which they can order new ones whenever they are ready. (Well! I could have bought one for them, but I was just at the end of my studies, not earning anything). But the good news is that we are not alone! And God calls us to do things impossible to our eyes; He enters our lives and is our Help. I left the Farm with an inner desire to dedicate my life to daring to do seemingly impossible things. It won’t be easy but it will be with Christ.

Besides the time and work I offered to the community, I was looking for a job in France. This time of searching woke up uncertainty, fear, and impatience and yet, as a friend had advised to me, I seriously involved Christ, Mary, and Joseph in the search to really listen to them instead of following my desires only. The graces this brought me are peace, hope, perseverance, and patience. And at the same time I clearly mentioned my demand, letting them know that I feel urged to act and promote an agriculture of life. Now I surrender to the God’s time, trusting Him and praising Him for the life He gave me. I feel that sometimes we need to have our eyes opened to see all the good and all the chances we have.

The Farm’s Mightiest Heroes

We cannot do it alone.  If a group of nine caretakers tried to run Bethlehem Farm in the spring and summer months we’d be dead by Cinco de Mayo.  This summer we have been saved by an enormous crew of Summer Servants.  We will continue to eat because of them and there will be a completed Caretaker Residence because of them.  But why are they here?  That was the question I posed.

These are the stories of the Farm’s Mightiest Heroes

Taylor Fulkerson is a rising junior are Xavier University and is spending his entire 13 week summer break with us.  Taylor had never been to Bethlehem Farm before he rolled up just in time for a May college group week.  What would possess a young man to make such a commitment?  Taylor has been active with social justice circles at Xavier and spent a semester in Nicaragua.  Struggling to figure out what “justice” meant in his own life Taylor was directed to the Farm by former Summer Servants Anna Robertson and Katie Wiggins.  “I have found roots of justice in the short time I’ve been here.  That pretentious sounding part of the Mission about transforming lives…it’s the real deal.”

Noblesville, Indiana native Zach Haselhorst was also originally introduced to the Farm by friends who had been here.  Zach admits that he isn’t a trailblazer; he just surrounds himself with people that he trusts and who lead him to great places.  “The best moments of my life have come from word of mouth recommendations.”  Having been here for a few group weeks Zach decided to try his hand at living the Farm life for weeks in a row.  “I think I’m here because I’m at my truest form when I’m here.  No masks….I trust me feelings and thoughts and prayers when I’m at the Farm away from the rest of the clutter.  When you live a simpler life there’s not stuff to get in the way of clarity.”

Recent Villanova University grad Lauren O’Brien did not have plans for the summer between graduation and leaving for a year of Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest in Boise, Idaho.  She recently became interested in agriculture and food production and heard about the Farm from former Summer Servant Jenna Cucco.  Lauren dreams of creating a center for victims of domestic violence on a farm, believing in the life giving and peaceful qualities of producing one’s own food.  “I don’t know squat about where to start with a farm.”  She is also drawn by the spiritual aspect of the Farm that allows her the opportunity to pursue faith as an adult outside of the comfortable community of college.

Jake Badger doesn’t know why he is here.  In his sophomore year at Holy Cross College he took a Service Learning class in which they had to choose one of thirteen service opportunities and write an essay about why they chose that track.  Jake’s essay about Bethlehem Farm read, “I’m not good at helping people and I don’t know how to do it.”  He was hesitant as he heard more things about the Farm.  “I was told to get ready for a lot of hugs, no meat, working on a farm and helping people.  I’m not a big hugger.  However my hesitancy was squeezed out of me when I first arrived here.  I just really liked being here.  It’s a great place to become a better person.”  He remembers that the best part of his group week was Home Crew with Colleen.  After going home he missed the Farm and needed an excuse to come back so he applied to be a Summer Servant.

Pope John Paul II high school alum Maria Bednar does know why she is here.  She first came to the Farm after her sophomore year of high school and after the first hug she knew that this place was home and these people were family.  “That’s why I’m here.  Because this place is home.  What was I going to do after freshman year of college?  I wanted to come home.  So I applied.”  Her experience of community at the Farm has changed the course of her life.  Having been introduced to it here she began searching for it in every area of her life.  “I chose a college that has an intentional community of service and learning.”

Tim Shovlin a rising junior at Dayton University is on his second summer as a Servant at the Farm.  He describes himself at Dayton as unsure.  He had trouble finding his niche at school.  He played football for Dayton for a year and a half and yet never felt like he fit in on the football team.  After blowing out his knee and leaving the team he realized he had no community at school.  Looking back at his high school group week at the Farm he remembered that friendships were generated so naturally.  He returned to the Farm last summer and was very shy but soon had built the same friendships as before with the Summer Servants and Caretakers.  “I think I’m here because…this is where I’m the happiest and where I feel a part of a group.  I’m accepted.”

St. Louisan Hannah Wroblewski came to Bethlehem Farm for the first time in March of this year as a volunteer with the University of Missouri-St. Louis Newman Center.  Leaving the Farm she confessed to the UMSL Campus Minister that she had felt a great peace at the Farm.  When asked what it was about the experience that she enjoyed she couldn’t answer.  She did not know what it was.  So she quickly signed up for two weeks as a Summer Servant to return to the community.  The work and the life at the Farm again brought her peace.  She left still unsure as to definitely what brought her such deep joy at the Farm.  She has since visited the community at Jerusalem Farm in Kansas City, MO and found the same feeling.  Undeterred by the lack of answers and spurred by the deep joy felt in the communities she says she will continue searching.

Indiana University violinist Emily Mansfield also came to the Farm for the first time in March with her college group.  She immediately felt comfortable enough with such an inviting community to open up and be herself.  She felt called to come back and explore more deeply the alternative lifestyle offered at the Farm and has since taken it back home with her.  “Since I’ve been home I have found a farm in my town that has a program that provides produce for families and children on government assistance and have started volunteering there.”

University of Michegan Quidditch player Danielle Dubois had been to the Farm on a group week and thought a lot about why she came back. Ultimately, her answer is that simultaneously, everything AND nothing made her come back. She did not really think about coming back, I just did it. “Why not? I don’t really have anything else going on during the month of May, let’s hit up WV!” She needed to get away from the stress and routine of school, needed a change of pace, of environment, of priorities; to be reminded again of what she wants to value as important in her life. At the Farm she realizes that the goal that propelled her to work hard in high school and college: to get a good job in order to “be comfortable” in life is no longer my goal. She learned to embrace discomfort, to live simply and to be supported by the amazing community that is BFarm. She needed to remember that prayer is whatever it is that helps me to see God and that it comes in all forms. To remember that I love the Catholic Church because of what it was in the beginning of its existence, and to remember those elements in my daily life. Most of all, at the Farm Danielle is reminded that at the basis of everything, God is love.


Reflection by Jenna

Jenna Steltenpohl of Jasper, IN, spent time with us as a fall servant from September to October, 2016:

It was a warm September day when I stepped off of the Amtrak train and onto West Virginia ground.  It had been a long trip; I was eager to get some fresh air.  However, I have to admit that I was nervous.  I had never been away from my family and friends for more than a couple weeks.  I knew that this next month at Bethlehem Farm would be filled with many firsts, and I was looking forward to the spiritual and personal growth that I would experience there during the special Jubilee Year of Mercy.

I was overjoyed to be visiting the Farm again!  I spent most of my first weekend there wandering outside and finding God’s mercy in everything that I encountered.  The Caretakers made sure that I felt welcome, and nobody seemed to mind that I was such a quiet, introverted person.

Living with the community seemed to give me the perfect balance of prayer, work, fellowship, and quiet time.  Every morning we had group prayer in the chapel.  It gave us the chance to thank God for the new day, and to prepare our hearts for the experiences He had in store for us.  I would ask God to give me the grace to always serve joyfully, and when I did, this prayer would stay with me throughout the day.  My work days were usually filled with me doing small things around the farm, and I also got to help out at a particular work site, Cathy’s home.  Even though I had almost no experience with some of the projects, I was always encouraged and never frowned upon when I didn’t know what to do.

When we weren’t working, we would spend time playing board games, swimming in the cold, clear river, and walking the Web of Life trail, among other things.  I remember the long car rides, good conversations, and the beautiful mountain views that kept me ever thankful for the chance to stay at Bethlehem Farm, even if only for a time.  When we returned from whatever we had been doing each day, I made an effort to visit the chapel and pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for all of my family and friends back home.

On my last day at Bethlehem Farm, I remember walking up Bill Mann’s Hill and reflecting on how things had changed since I had first arrived.  I had definitely gained more self-confidence, and I had been able to make prayer a bigger priority.  It seemed like stepping away from my Indiana home for a while gave me a new perspective on my life there.  And now that I am back home, my experiences from Bethlehem Farm still remind me to take care of myself, the world I live in, and most of all, to live simply and trust in God.  Thank you, Bethlehem Farm, for this awesome opportunity!  I miss you all and hope to return soon!


Serving, Embracing, and Praying

Does the cold weather have you pining for warmer summer days?  Let 2016 Summer Servant Jeff Baker take you back . . .

“After a somewhat long, but adventurous drive, I rolled up a narrow cork-screw road. As my tires slid on the gravel, I had a strange feeling I was literally in the middle of nowhere. It was like the opening scene to a typical horror movie–on top of that, in all the irony, the farm was seemingly deserted…”~ Day 1 Journal Entry.

I fortunately found a human, and was given an offer I could not refuse—bailing hay. I had just finished the backend of a seven-and-a-half hour drive and was a little tired. However, I proceeded to plop my arms out like a forklift and stack bales of hay into a barn. For some reason I was excited about this work. My self-explanation is that I felt like I was a real farmer! Check, there goes another one off the bucket-list. Within a day I was helping to prep the facilities for a high school group week.

“Welcome home!” I exclaimed as I awkwardly embraced several strangers loading off from a long trip. The farm had this thing, where you would say welcome home to people and hug them. “High schoolers usually think we are some kind of a cult,” one of the caretakers calmly said. “I thought you guys were pretty weird, but…[insert something positive],” exclaimed one of the high school students. “No you are right, we are weird,” the director nonchalantly interjected. So you can get an idea of the kind of people you would be meeting if you were just arriving at the farm—the awkward, the weird, and affirmation of weird. Did I mention one of the summer servants said I should never be a sales man?

Anyway, what is Bethlehem Farm? Where is the sales pitch? Well, here it is. Bethlehem Farm is a…farm in West Virginia, that strives to be an intentional Catholic community in Appalachia. This community serves local homeowners, volunteers, and my stomach! There were some serious recipes rolling out of that kitchen! Lots of on-site garden vegetables and local organic foods.

I know, I know….I am only scraping the surface. But how could I explain broad-shouldered mountains that stood like military columns? Or the trees breathing out mystical mists onto the faces of humble giants? The cows grazing and gazing a dampened, matted pasture? The faces of the students as they warmed, gleamed, and cried? The youthful zeal, heightened emotions, and hearts pouring out in prayer? The heroic acts of mud waddling under a flood stricken home? The sweat, toil, frustration, and courageous will to serve a stranger?

Service is a funny thing, because it reveals so much character with the utmost simplicity. To serve is to make a choice and the choices that we make decide who we serve. We can serve either God or the other guy; others or ourselves. There was a priest one Sunday mass that mentioned the following: “If you could boil down the Bible down to one word…it would be service.” He had witnessed many volunteers who aided in flood relief. He spoke volumes of the many volunteers who lent a hand to their fellow brothers and sisters in need. It was really beautiful how everyone rallied to help their neighbors. It was both touching and comical to hear the priest demanding people to stop bringing towels. He had so many towels he jokingly exclaimed the possibility of opening a towel shop. As people let out soft smiles and laughs, it brought out another side of service—a yolk that is much lighter. It is the joy that comes out of us as we stop, listen, and give what we are holding in our hearts.

Then, there was another side of service; community. I witnessed this additional side through the volunteers, Bethlehem Farm staff, and the summer servants. Every day we would clench each other’s hands and make a commitment to each other. Together we were going to make some sacrifices for the good of others–whether it was flood relief, home repair, or just having conversations. We had a hand in helping our neighbors in need. In this way, we were fighting for other people’s human dignity and all while strengthening our camaraderie. It was a glimpse of what Jesus asked us to do, and what we are capable of doing. Jesus never asked us to just sit there and isolate ourselves, but to take up our crosses and follow Him–to follow Him into those mountains, under those muddy houses, on those rooftops, and into the loving embrace of those “weird” people at Bethlehem farm. The farm’s staple “welcome home” and hug meant something. Home is the economy of love; it is the place of commerce where we exchange conversation, good food, and good company. So I know a place called Bethlehem Farm, but some people like to call it home, because “business” is booming.

Jeff Baker