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Meet the Presenters

Fr. Francis Benedict
has been a monk of Valyermo since 1967. He earned an MA in Philosophy from Loyola-Marymount University and an MS in Theology from Mt Angel in Oregon. He was ordained a priest in 1976. He served as the Abbey’s abbot for 16 years. His special areas of ministry include spiritual direction, preaching retreats, and working with 12-step recovery groups. In addition to many responsibilities at the Abbey, he now serves as the Director of Oblates.

Fr. Joseph Brennan has been a monk of Valyermo since 1994 after having served as a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for over 20 years. He is a spiritual director at the Cardinal Manning House of Prayer for priests in Los Angeles as well as St. Andrew’s Prior.

Diane Bunker
is a retired psychologist who worked with older people receiving care in Rehabilitation Medicine and Hospice. She obtained her M.Div. and Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. She comes with a wealth of personal, professional, and pastoral experience.

Dr. Michael Carey
is an oblate of Valyermo. He is an Associate Professor of Organizational Leadership at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. He has taught leadership studies at the graduate level for 30 years at Gonzaga and works to ensure that Gonzaga's graduate leadership programs follow in the tradition of Jesuit education that stretches back to St. Ignatius of Loyola. But his first love is St. Benedict and the community of St. Andrew's Abbey, which he has been connected to since 1971.

Fr. Stephen Coffey
, a Massachusetts native, has lived monastic life in Olivetan monasteries in Pecos, NM, Waialua, HI, and currently at the Monastery of the Risen Christ in San Luis Obispo, CA. He has ministered in several retreat centers and has also been involved in formation ministries. Besides serving as novice director, he has taught candidates for both priestly and diaconal formation, and for many years has been involved in the training of spiritual directors.

Dr. Laura Dunham
, former academic, retired Presbyterian minister, and Catholic convert in 2012, is an oblate of St. Benedict's Monastery in MN. She holds a PhD, MDiv, and Certificate in Spiritual Formation. Teaching and writing about Christian spirituality, guiding the Ignatian Exercises, and leading retreats and group studies of the mystics are her current work. Laura is the author of Path of the Purified Heart: The Spiritual Journey as Transformation (Cascade Books, 2012) and Extraordinary Time: Spiritual Reflections from a Season with Cancer, Death, and Transition (Cascade Books, 2018). A resident of Riverside, CA, she invites inquires about her work through her website,

Fr. Luke Dysinger has been a monk of Valyermo since 1976. He is a priest and a physician who writes and teaches in the fields of mystical theology and biomedical ethics. He earned a Ph.D. at Oxford University and currently teaches at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, CA as well as online courses.

Cheryl Evanson
is an oblate of Valyermo and former Administrator of the Retreat Center at St. Andrews's. She earned an MA in Education from the University of Denver and was an educator/curriculum specialist for over 30 years. She has facilitated retreats and workshops on team-building, balancing work and prayer, women in scripture and Edith Stein.

Sr. Gertrude Gillette
made her Solemn Profession as a Benedictine at St. Scholastica Prioy, MA in 1984. She received her Ph.D in Patristics (1996), and her S.T.L. in Monastic Studies (2007), and taught at Ave Maria University, PL for 8 years (2003-2011). During this period, she founded (along with the late Sr. Theresa Scheuren, OSB) a new Benedictine community, which eventually moved to NC where it resides today as the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Peace in Rutherfordton, NC.

Deloris Haddow
is an oblate of Valyermo. She is an artist and educator who studied in Europe, Ukraine, and Iran. She is involved with the California Plein Air Association and is a member of Faith and Forum, a liturgical art organization. She is a spiritual director/facilitator for adults, leading retreats and workshops on centering prayer.

Fr. Isaac Kalina
has been a monk of Valyermo since 1984. Having completed his theology degree in Rome at the Collegio Sant’Anselmo, he was ordained a priest in 1989. He has served the Abbey as Prior, Sub-prior, Kitchenmaster, Youth Director, Assistant Novicemaster, Vocation Director, and Juniormaster. He is involved in retreats and workshops, bilingual ministry, 12-Step recovery, addiction counseling, spiritual direction, and grief coaching.

Mary Kauffman
has been an Oblate of Valyermo since 1997. She has an MA in English and has taught ESL, various levels of English and writing, and literature courses at several colleges in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas. Now retired, she enjoys sharing her love of reading and writing through participation in different reading and literary groups, particularly those with an emphasis on discovering the transcendent and increasing our Christian awareness through exploration of the written word.

Reese Landi
is an oblate of Valyermo and has worked in Orange COunty as an RN for 30 years in critical care and recovery. In addition to her BS in Nursing, she is a life-long artists who is certified through Brandman University to work with Art & Creativity for Healing, a non-profit group that uses art as therapy for Wounded Warriors, battered women, autistic children, pediatric cancer patients, and other.

Lisa Marion
is an oblate of Valyermo and Spiritual Director in Orange County. An energetic leader she has over 25 years of pastoral experience ministering to people of all ages and life stages. Leading numerous events both locally and nationally, she conveys her awareness of God and his love with a subtle yet honest sense of humor. Having experienced many seasons of trial and suffering, Lisa is well equipped to journey with others through their own trials and seasons of struggle. Her attunement to the Holy Spirit makes her uniquely gifted for this ministry. For more information about Lisa and her ministry visit subscribe to join her growing community of those seeking peace and spiritual growth.

Fr. Aelred Niespolo
has been a monk of Valyermo since 2001 and was ordained to the priesthood in 2005. Having competed the Master of Theology program at Oxford University, he teaches at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, CA.

Carlos Obando
nacio en Costa Rica y vive en Los Estados Unidos desde 1966. Esta casado, tienes tres hijos y un nieto. En el ano 2009 obtuvo una maestria de la Universidad de Loyola Marymount, Los Angeles, en Teologia Pastoral, es instructor en la Universidad de Loyola en el Centro de Religion y Espiritualidad, el Instituto para el Ministerio Pastoral y tambien para la Escuela de la Renovacion Carismatica en a Diocesis de Orange. Ha sideo Director Espiritual por mas de 20 anos. Trabaja con la comunidad hispana desde 1979 en los condados de Los Angeles y Orange en la formacion de lideres y dando retiros a jovenes y adultos.

The Rev. Dr. Greg Peters, Obl SB, is a Associate of Medieval and Spiritual Theology at Biola University, La Mirada, CA. He is also an Anglican priest serving as Rector of Anglican Church of the Epiphany, also in La Mirada. He is the author of Reforming the Monastery: Protestant Theologies of the Religious Life, The Story of Monasticism: Retrieving an Ancient Tradition for Contemporary Spirituality and forthcoming The Monkhood of All Believers: The Monastic Foundation of Christian Spirituality.

Maria Rohde
is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and an oblate of St. Andrew's Abbey. She earned a BA in Psychology at UCLA, and an MA in Community/Clinical Psychology at California State University, Northridge. She has been in private practice in the Antelope Valley for 25 years, and works primarily from a cognitive-behavioral perspective, specializing in treatment of anxiety disorders.

Michaela Russell
is an oblate of Valyermo. She has a BA in International Studies/East Asia and a Graduate Certificate in Advanced International Affairs. Michaela spent many years in Asia and is fluent in Mandarin. She has co-facilitated retreats on the desert mothers, women in scripture, and Edith Stein.

Sister Joan Marie Sasse
is a Benedictine Sister who was a member of Holy Spirit Monastery in Grand Terrace for many years. When the Community left California in 2012, she joined St. Lucy's Benedictine Community in Glendora. Sr. Joan Marie has earned degrees in Education, Theology, and Neuro Linguistics Programming. She was a teacher and school administrator in various elementary schools for over twenty years and served as a Parish Administrator or Pastoral Associate for thirteen years. Sr. Joan Marie was a Retreat Director at Serra Retreat House in Malibu for five years where she published five Meditation CD's and two CD's for self-improvement. Sr. Joan Marie currently gives weekly Retreats at Grand Terrace, CA.

Dr. Audrey Spindler
is an oblate of Valyermo and a presenter and facilitator of Centering Prayer under Contemplative Outreach. Having earned her Ph.D and RD, she is a former professor of Foods and Nutrition and Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics in the School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences at State University. She received over 10 teaching awards and published more than 40 refereed papers.

Nikki Tucker
is an oblate of Valyermo and a private Marriage and Family Therapist. She earned a BA in Art History at UCLA with a focus on Medieval Art and an MA at Fuller Seminary. She has lectured and given retreats on art and spirituality and has facilitated several cinema workshops.

John West
is an oblate of Valyermo and founder of the Valyermo Dancers. A gifted dancer, choreographer, liturgist, and writer, he has been conducting dance workshops at St. Andrew’s and Holy Spirit Retreat center, as well at international and national collegiate and university levels. His professional associations include serving on the board of the Sacred Dance Guild and as a member of the prestigious North American Academy of Liturgy.

Yvonne Comstock Wilber, Obl.OSB, is an oblate of St. Andrew's Monastery and works as an academic librarian and adjunct instructor of Religion at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. Yvonne holds master's degrees in Library Science and Intellectual Leadership, and earned her Ph.D. in Humanities with a major in Philosophy. Yvonne's intellectual work lies in the intersections of humanity, technology, and ecology, which supports her "heart work" in helping people build bridges across all sorts of differences.