I read this quote years ago, and it comes to mind as I write this. It is the best summary of my St. Thomas Catholic Studies experience; whenever I think back of how it started, I just remember feeling at home.

My experience began when my mom dropped me off at the Living Learning Community Catholic Women’s Floor my freshman year. As a homeschooler, living on the Catholic Women’s Floor gave me the first taste of being part of a community of learning and friendship – what I had imagined high school was like. We saw our friends daily. We studied together and got in theology debates while brushing our teeth. Living in a more diverse setting helped us learn from each other, and we would go to class the next day able to see the material from different points of view. It was not without challenges, though. There were disagreements, there was the reality of living with a roommate with whom one shares many differences, and figuring out (and learning to respect) one another’s quirks. Yet, learning that there are multiple ways to do something right was a major highlight.

Later into my freshman year I discovered the Catholic Studies Catholic Men’s and Women’s Houses. The men’s house hosted a party for the students living in the houses and on the residence hall floors. Although I knew a few of the men and women from the houses, I was surprised by the warm welcome I received from everyone. I was charmed by their gracious hospitality, and even more charmed to discover that they discussed topics that I talked about with my closest friends from home. Despite being two years their junior – and looking several more – they treated me like an equal; I was not just part of the crowd. I felt completely at home, and continued to attend talks and events hosted by the house. I began to see the girls who lived in the Catholic Women’s House as big sisters.

I applied to live in the women’s house for my sophomore year and was accepted. I was excited to live and enjoy the stability of a home that facilitates learning and community. Yet, I did not anticipate just how much I would need to learn!

Perhaps the biggest lesson for me was that there is no ready-made home. We struggled for a while because we independently tried to make it our own house instead of together working to make it our home. People are always there – in your bedroom, shower and kitchen, and making noise way past your preferred bedtime. When my roommate and I complained to one another we would say, “Offer it up!” But that was easier said than done. It took a long time for us to recognize that this effort should be done together instead of trying to do it individually.

Eventually it was our commitment to the four pillars of our house community – Prayer, Unity, Gift of Self and Diligence – that helped. How we upheld those pillars was completely up to us. Originally, I found this flexibility a bit disappointing but, ultimately, this provided the freedom that we needed to use our own initiative, leadership skills, distinct talents and personal expression required to uphold and grow from the pillars, both individually and collectively.

One way we successfully upheld these pillars was by bringing the men’s and women’s houses together. Every Wednesday we had morning prayer with the Catholic Men’s House before the 7 a.m. campus Mass and, afterward, we had breakfast together. The simple act of sharing a meal together strengthened our community as well as the blessing of friendship developed with our brothers.

I have discovered this freedom and diversity to be one of the most beautiful possessions of the Catholic Church. Discovering how to live and express the community pillars was an important part of our living and learning together. I am grateful for this discovery and for the welcome that this community has provided.

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