By Jerry Duggan
Growing up, Terri Bonebrake made her faith a focal point of her life. Baptized in a creek in Jefferson County, Mo., at the age of 11, Bonebrake for some time envisioned herself becoming a missionary. While God had other plans in store for her, she considers her current role, as director of administration at White House Retreat, as “the next best thing, and an incredible blessing.”
After being active in Protestant churches as a young adult, Bonebrake became a member of the Catholic Church after she married a Catholic. In time, she grew to love the Church and became acquainted with the Jesuits in particular.
“I always admired their emphasis on education and the fact that they are missioned around the world to serve in God’s name,” she recalled.
Bonebrake worked for some time as an accounting clerk and general accountant. In 2010, she took on an administrative assistant role at Saint Louis University Hospital, her first job with a Jesuit-affiliated institution. There, she found that what she always thought about the Jesuits proved to be true.
“To be surrounded by such wonderful colleagues – men and women of strong faith and character – was a real blessing,” she said.
In 2012, Bonebrake accepted an administrative position at White House Retreat in south St. Louis County and has been there ever since. She considers this the perfect job for her at this point in her life.
“I could not imagine a better work environment,” she said.
As director of administration, Bonebrake does, in her words, “a little bit of everything” for White House – overseeing the reservation process, helping retreatants check in and sorting through donations left at the end of retreatants’ stays. She also handles various accounting-related tasks.
Bonebrake’s work helps to keep White House functioning day in and day out.
Bonebrake finds joy in her interactions with retreatants and the impact that White House has had on them. This joy has shone through ever clearer in retreatants since the easing of the coronavirus pandemic.
“When people come back for the first time since the start of the pandemic, I can see the smiles on their faces,” she said. “They are thrilled to be here, and I’ve been able to see that when I help them check in.”
The process comes full circle when Bonebrake sorts through the donations left by many retreatants at the conclusion of their stay.
“When someone makes an offering, there is a line for comments, and very often people, in addition to making a donation, will leave a comment about what a wonderful time they had and how they cannot wait to come back,” she said.
She enjoys the spiritual aspect of the job as much as her day-to-day interactions with retreatants.
In a time of personal hardship a few years ago, she found her Jesuit and lay colleagues to be quite comforting and understanding.
“Everyone here helped me get through a very difficult time,” she recalled. “They knew exactly what to say, and that, for me, reinforced that the Jesuits and their lay colleagues really practice everything that they preach.”
She also finds joy in the beautiful campus.
“Working on these beautiful grounds has been great for me,” she said. “Whenever I need a reminder of something greater, or to recharge during a busy day, just a quick walk outside puts everything back in perspective,” she said.
Ultimately, she sees her role as helping retreatants connect with God.
“Working for a place whose main purpose is to connect others with God is most rewarding.”