Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Community: Our Need to Connect

by Stephanie Kornexl

For most of my teens and into my 20s, I looked forward to the day when I would live on my own, in my own place. Growing up with three siblings, I was accustomed to sharing bunk beds, a bathroom and what limited closet space there was available.

When I moved out of my parents' house for my freshman year of college, it was a matter of learning to share an even smaller dorm room with two roommates - and no closet space to speak of. And later, I moved into a house where I learned to make treaties in order not to disrupt the established peace with housemates who had peculiar ideas about when and how to wash the dishes in the kitchen sink or scrub the toilet. 

So after 24 years of sharing cramped spaces, making compromises and living by someone else's rules, I was anxious and eager to move out on my own. This, I thought, would be bliss.

My opportunity came last year when I took a job at a church in a new city where I knew not a soul. My options were to risk signing my name to a lease with a stranger looking for a roommate in the classifieds or… finally live on my own like I had dreamed of doing for some time.

I opted for the latter, and was glad to be choosing an apartment for myself. I hunted around on the Internet and drove around neighborhoods in search of the perfect place. And to my astonishment, within a day, I had found a reasonably priced studio apartment in a lively little neighborhood. It seemed too good to be true. 

For the first three months, I enjoyed the solitude that came with living alone. I enjoyed coming home to peace and quiet after exhausting, stressful days. But after some time, I found myself staying at work longer each night, not wanting to return to an empty apartment where there was no one to talk to or to share dinner with or to exchange stories about the day.

Some days after work, to avoid going home, I would wander aimlessly into places where I could simply be in the company of others - restaurants, art galleries, coffee shops, the library and the gym. But with each passing day, it became clear to me that I needed something that I was desperately lacking - community. 

Dorothy Day, one of the greatest Catholic social justice activists of the 20th century who helped found the Catholic Worker movement, wrote in her book The Long Loneliness: "We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community."

She and co-founder of the movement, Peter Maurin, opened houses of hospitality during the Great Depression to welcome the poor, sick, marginalized and lonely, and encouraged Catholics everywhere to have "Christ rooms" to welcome the stranger. Knowing this, I don't suppose it was coincidence last August that led me to find myself on the doorsteps of a Catholic Worker not far from where I live.

Outside this Catholic Worker, staked in the front yard, is a weathered but welcoming sign that reads: "A Sacred Space in an Urban Place." It is here that I've found a piece of the community for which I've been longing. Each Sunday evening, and at various other times throughout the week, I gather with a handful of others to pray Liturgy of the Hours, share stories, and to be nourished by the familiar presence of friends.

The aspects of living in community that I had resented at one time - making compromises and unceasingly thinking of others first - are now voids I long to fill and that I increasingly recognize as essential for true growth.

Because we live in a world where our jobs are more mobile and our lives more hectic than they've ever been before, authentic manifestations of community - which require an element of stability and commitment in order to flourish - are no longer incidental to the places where we live, or even the parishes where we worship. Instead, if we desire true community, we're challenged to find, build or create it intentionally.

I'm sure the monks at Saint Meinrad, where I attend classes regularly as a lay degree student, can attest to the sacrifice and deliberate efforts required of communal living. And any family that attempts to carve out sacred moments of time to spend together on a regular occasion could speak to the frustrations and effort that is required to be intentional about coming together to share as a family, rather than simply interact as a collection of individuals living under the same roof.

Being community involves a patient tolerance of others' idiosyncrasies, a willingness to share vulnerabilities, and an acceptance of differences. It can be a difficult task creating community, but I think it's necessary, and in the end, produces something much sweeter.   

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.