Finding Friends in Faith and Service

As seen in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 16)

By Stephanie Birmingham and Kyle Cothern

The Norbertine Volunteer Community (NVC) is a full-time service and outreach program of the Norbertine Community of St. Norbert Abbey. Since its establishment in 2008, the NVC has seen nine groups of young adults enter the community, typically as complete strangers, only to become friends during their time living and working together. Steph and Kyle are two such friends and were members of the NVC between January and June 2011.

Steph and Kyle join forces in a memorable karaoke performance.
Steph and Kyle join forces in a memorable karaoke performance.

We came from different states—Steph from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and Kyle from Kokomo, Indiana—and backgrounds (even cheering for different NFL football teams!) to find a common experience in the NVC. That January we both joined during times of transition: Steph had just moved back home from working in the Washington, D.C., area, and Kyle was in the process of discerning religious life. Whether our meeting was circumstantial or through grace, we remain grateful to the Norbertines for their support of the NVC as an opportunity for young adults like us to come together and experience living in an intentional community grounded in faith (through shared meals and daily prayer at home) and service (by reaching out to the poor and marginalized in the local community).

As co-workers we volunteered at both Golden House, a domestic abuse shelter, and the Brown County Jail and Juvenile Detention Facility. Kyle was always drawing dinosaurs to entertain the little ones at Golden House and earned a reputation as “master dinosaur-draw-er”! We worked in the chaplain’s office at the jail to assist with the spiritual and emotional needs of incarcerated men, women, and juveniles.

2011 members of the NVC (left to right): Lindsay (Koeppel) Konrad, Steph, Kyle, now-Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem., Angie Knutson
2011 members of the NVC (left to right): Lindsay (Koeppel) Konrad, Steph, Kyle, now-Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem., Angie Knutson

Although we were only together at the NVC for six short months, this distinctive opportunity to volunteer at two of the same sites gave us ample time to bond through our successes and setbacks. It took a lot of energy to be present to the people we served—especially working with those who had committed unimaginable crimes, challenging our hearts and sense of mercy. Relying on each other, especially between shifts, helped us process our collective experiences. We became more confident in our own paths of personal growth—learning not only from each other, but also from our fellow community members.

Much of our work together was serious, but there were plenty of ways to have fun, too. Whether it was walks around the neighborhood, evening sing-alongs, or movie and popcorn nights, as a community we found ways to balance work and play.

Stephanie Birmingham and Kyle Cothern
Stephanie Birmingham and Kyle Cothern

Our time in the NVC has long since passed, yet our friendship continues to grow. Steph lives in Green Bay and Kyle lives in Chicago, but we stay in touch through the occasional FaceTime call, text, greeting card, or visit. We love to laugh over Steph’s hilarious journey as a first-time cat owner, and Kyle’s adventures as a big-city dweller from a small town. We recently connected over a story shared by a former inmate, who vividly remembers the wordplay games from our days volunteering at the jail and still appreciates those joyful moments so many years ago.

Physical distance might keep us apart, but our memories of the NVC keep us close, and we look forward to being lifelong friends.

Reflections on Norbertine Volunteer Community

To learn more about the NVC, a full-time service opportunity and outreach program of the Norbertine community, contact

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