Following in the footsteps of the successful men’s houses, the Center for Catholic Studies now supports a Catholic women’s house. Opened in August 2007, the women’s house (on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, close to St. Thomas) offers opportunities for four women to live together in communal study, prayer and fellowship.
Gwen Adams, a 2007 graduate of the Catholic Studies master’s degree program, serves as prefect for the house. The undergraduate students are Jenny Kohler, Sheila Kenney, Emily Van Acker (who lived in the house during fall semester) and Melissa Hackenmueller (who lived in the house spring semester). The four women meet every Saturday for brunch and also every other week for dinner and a period of formation with Father Michael Keating. They also gather for night prayer most evenings, and they share a 5 a.m. holy hour in the Koch Commons perpetual adoration chapel. “Aspiring to imitate Mary and Martha, we also try to practice hospitality by hosting occasional dinners with students and faculty,” says Adams. “We all have busy schedules, so coordinating any kind of meeting or get-together beyond these is very difficult – and probably my biggest challenge as prefect of the community.”
Kohler, a senior Catholic Studies major, applied to live in the women’s house because she thought it would be a great place to deepen her faith while attending the university. As she put it, “I like seeing how the other girls live wonderful Catholic lives. I’ve learned so much from each of them on how to be a holier person.” Kenney adds, “I most appreciate the down-to-earth sense of daily living out the Catholic faith. It gives a rounded sense to the entire undergraduate Catholic Studies program, providing the daily opportunity to put into practice what I spend all my class time attempting to learn.”
Participating in communal life makes for treasured memories. “One of my favorite memories is getting Sheila all dressed up for the Winter Dance,” recalls Kohler. “We spent an hour and a half doing her hair and she looked so beautiful. I don’t have a sister, so it was a lot of fun for me to help her dress up. We listened to music while she was getting ready – it was a blast!” Adams participated in the memory making by surprising the women with a live tree on December 6, St. Nicholas day. “I got up about 2 a.m. and snuck outside to get the tree, which was hidden in the garage. Because it was all wrapped in netting, I could actually get my arms around it to haul it inside. If the girls had awakened, they would have seen the hilarious sight of me trying to shove that tree through the kitchen door. Next morning, they were so shocked and delighted; they thought it must have been a gift from the guys in the Men’s House, which says a lot for the fun-loving spirit of the fellows!”
Living in community is not always easy, however. “It has been somewhat of a trial living with the other girls at times and having to submit to the rules of the house rather than do what I would like to do,” Kohler admits. “I have a really strong will, and it’s been a struggle to manage it over this past semester, but it has been, at the same time, a very good thing for me in terms of spiritual growth.” In addition, very practical issues of communal life can arise. The women’s house, for example, has only one shower (in the basement), and the house has only limited water pressure. Kenney laughs, “These issues alone can produce difficulties, but with a house full of four women – they can be nearly impossible to survive.” Adaptation, communication, and prayer are the keys to overcoming these obstacles as the students strive to put their Catholic faith into action. To learn more about the daily life of the students living in the Catholic Studies women’s house, as well as the men’s houses, visit the Beyond Career to Calling website and click on the “A Day in the Life of…” link at www.stthomas.edu/beyondcareertocalling/