LATROBE, PA – Junior theology major Angela Zenchak has been named the first recipient of Saint Vincent College’s Rev. Nathan J. Munsch, O.S.B., Scholarship, recognizing academic achievement, humility and character, pastoral commitment and financial need.
A member of the Saint Vincent Benedictine monastic community since 1993, Father Nathan retired in 2020 after being diagnosed with ALS. He taught theology and Latin at both Saint Vincent College and Seminary for more than 20 years, while he served as pastor of the parishes of Saint Benedict (Marguerite), Saint Mary (Pocahontas) and Saint Michael (Salisbury). From 2015-20, he was also director of pastoral formation for Saint Vincent Seminary.
A Pittsburgh native and graduate of Oakland Catholic High School, Zenchak is the daughter of Tim and Mary Beth Zenchak and an active parishioner at Blessed Trinity Parish. She was surprised and humbled to learn of her selection for the scholarship from Dr. Lucas Briola, assistant professor of theology.
“Before my Catholic-Jewish Dialogue class one day,” Zenchak recalled, “Dr. Briola asked if he could speak with me. I was panicking because I thought that I was in trouble, so I was trying to imagine what I could have said in class to upset him. Then, he told me the Theology Department had selected me for the scholarship. I asked if I could hug him, and he said I could, so I did – twice!”
Briola, assistant professor of theology, formally presented the award to Zenchak during December’s Saint Nicholas Theology Dinner in the Fred M. Rogers Center. He was effusive in praising Zenchak, saying that she was an ideal candidate for the new scholarship.
“Angela stood out because of her ardent desire to blend her study of theology with pastoral care,” said Briola, “both of which are grounded in a deep spirituality. This integration shines through not only in her work in the classroom but also in her vocational aspirations. She has expressed her hope to enter the religious life and work with pro-life ministries, and this scholarship can help her toward this end.”
Zenchak changed her major to theology during her sophomore year when she began discerning the Sisters of Life, an active female order dedicated to the promotion of pro-life causes, and she feels that being selected to receive the scholarship is a sign that she made the right decision.
“When Dr. Briola explained to me all of the details of the scholarship,” she said, “it felt like God was taking my hand and supporting my change of major. When he presented the award at the St. Nicholas Theology Dinner, he elaborated about the Sisters of Life and what they do and I was very proud to know that the word was being spread about them and their work because it’s amazing and is definitely needed in our society.”
Briola explained that the scholarship was created to show gratitude for and preserve the legacy of Father Nathan, as he helped to shape the lives of thousands during his career as a priest and educator.
“Father Nathan has been a steady, stalwart presence in the Saint Vincent College Theology Department, Saint Vincent Seminary and Monastery, local parishes and even in my life and the life of my family,” said Briola. This scholarship hopes to honor that legacy. He has modeled to all of us how one can integrate theological study, pastoral care and spirituality in a way that benefits others and glorifies God. That’s also the type of student we want to foster in the Theology Department and this scholarship will help realize that possibility. All of us – faculty and students alike – are forever thankful for the generous donors who have made this hope possible and have honored Father Nathan in this way.”
An invaluable member of the Theology Department for so long, Father Nathan feels that its connection to the Saint Vincent Benedictine community sets it apart from others.
“The Theology Department at Saint Vincent,” he said, “has the advantage of being part of a Benedictine environment where common prayer, worship of the Lord and service to others are a part of life. There is no coercion, but there is always an invitation to students to become part of it. It seems that Angela has accepted that invitation.”
Though she was never able to take a course taught by Father Nathan, Zenchak is well aware of the indelible impact that he has made on the Saint Vincent community. She first connected with him by writing a thank you note during a workshop on campus and upon receiving his response, she experienced his grace and kindness firsthand.
“I was really embarrassed because my handwriting wasn’t that great and the lines were crooked,” she said, “but he sent me a note a few weeks later thanking me. He said it was very sweet and well-written, and I was absolutely blown away at his kindness. His words were saturated with the grace of God and he reminded me that God is always with me, which was very comforting to hear.
“I never spoke to him in person,” she continued, “but I know that he’s Dr. Catherine Petrany’s (assistant professor of theology) spiritual director. She’s my role model, because she’s an icon of Christian humility and kindness, so I know that Father Nathan must have had something to do with that.”
Father Nathan was equally moved by the note from Zenchak, and was especially struck by the similarity between their personal journeys.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “we have never met due to the COVID-19 restrictions. She sent me a marvelous thank you note around Christmas, in which she described her personal journey. What struck me at the time was the resemblance between her personal journey and my own. Namely, entering college without the slightest intention of studying theology, but then having my future plans unsettled and finally changed completely by a series of personal and religious experiences which set me in a much more seriously religious direction. In her case and mine, the changes were precipitated by the experience of required theology courses at Saint Vincent and contact with the theology professors.
“The other monks have informed me that Angela regularly attends Vespers,” he continued. “When I was a sophomore in college, I almost accidentally stumbled into visiting a Benedictine monastery in France when I was on foreign study. I may have entered as a tourist, but I was transformed into a pilgrim, fascinated and drawn by the experience of common prayer singing the Psalms. That was the beginning of a journey that ended up being a vocation to Saint Benedict and his life.”
As she continues to discern the Sisters of Life, Zenchak is not fully certain of what her future holds beyond her time at Saint Vincent. Despite the uncertainty, she will continue to look to God as she awaits to see what’s in store.
“Some people compare discernment to the Gospel passage where Peter is walking on water, and that’s a pretty accurate description,” she said. “There’s so much on the line, and I’m not Peter, so I can’t look up and see Jesus and know where he’s calling me. I think, if anything, God is definitely saying something to me with this scholarship, telling me that theology is what He wants me to study. I’m not certain about where this is going, but I know that God doesn’t let anything go to waste, which is comforting to remember.”
Father Nathan has been touched by the support from so many for the scholarship fund and hopes that it will continue to help students who may be planning for a religious life.
“Since my career is drawing to a close,” he said, “I am delighted beyond words that so many friends, supporters, family, former parishioners and others have seen fit to contribute to the scholarship fund which will assist young people in the future who may be walking on the same personal journey that I did. That is not to say that they will resemble me personally, but will be living a life in which they feel drawn by the Lord.”
PHOTO 1: Angela Zenchak is presented the inaugural Rev. Nathan J. Munsch, O.S.B., Scholarship by Dr. Lucas Briola
PHOTO 2: Fr. Nathan J. Munsch, O.S.B.