Monks host monthly men’s discernment group

Pizza Monks

By Ben Sonnek, The Circuit

The new PPM nights at St. Benedict’s Abbey are feeding young men in both body and soul, giving them a taste of the celibate vocation.

PPM—standing for “Pizza, Priests and Monks”—is an open discernment group for young college men. These hour-and-a-half mini-retreats are held once a month, beginning at 6 p.m. in the basement of the Abbey Guest House. The meetings start with a pizza dinner, followed by some personal testimony from a priest or a monk about their vocation story.

Br. Leven Harton OSB, Subprior and Vocations Director of St. Benedict’s Abbey, and Fr. Scott Wallisch, Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, were the ones who had the idea for this group.

“I have to give credit to Fr. Scott,” Leven said. “He approached me about two years ago and said he’d like to do some kind of discernment group at Benedictine College. He and [another priest] were doing something like this at KU where they both live.”

He and Wallisch started a BC discernment group last year. The location of the group was not fixed, sometimes meeting in the Abbey and other times in the Dining Hall. Leven remembers that it was somewhat successful, but it took off when the meetings became set up at the Abbey—and free off-campus pizza was added.

Wallisch credits Leven for the idea to add pizza to the meetings. They then came up with the name and started the PPM nights last fall.

“We felt like offering a dining option that is not part of [the] meal program would be an attraction to guys,” Leven said. “We wanted to create an environment where it is maximally easy for guys to encounter witnesses to celibacy.”

Leven estimates that 20-30 young men show up per meeting, and both he and Wallisch are impressed not just with the quantity but with the quality of the young men who show up.

After his first visit, junior Nathan Sotebeer said, “I think it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s really good to get to hear real stories from people who are already a priest or a monk. It’s something that isn’t available to everyone when they’re trying to discern what they’re called to.”

Freshman Gabriel Ogle has been to several other PPM nights.

“The priests and the monks are both pretty cool,” he said. “I’ve never regretted going. Every single time I’ve gone there’s been a fascinating story, something that caught my attention. It’s definitely helped with vocational discernment as well as straight-up ordinary prayer life.”

All young men of the college are encouraged to attend when they can, even if they have never been to a PPM night yet or cannot make it to all of the meetings.

“It is very low-key, there’s no pressure,” Wallisch said about the meetings. “It’s just, ‘Hey, come find out what celibacy is all about through the eyes of the people who are living it.’ Get some free pizza, hang out with some really cool guys for an hour and a half, and just come and enjoy.”

“You learn what you want by following the Lord,” Leven said. “Being open to celibacy, being open to the religious vocation or the priestly vocation does nothing but expand your options and coming to PPM is an opportunity to cultivate that desire. The Lord only wants your joy.”

There will be three more PPM meetings this semester: Feb. 26, March 26 and April 30.  For more information, contact Br. Leven at