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Building a Community One House at a Time

The smell of pancakes, bacon and eggs fill the kitchen. The sound of laughter and music fill the house. The feelings of joy and community fill the heart…

Senior theology and philosophy major Anna Donnelly is recounting her favorite memory of a community breakfast held in the Simply Irresistible Women “household” at the University of St. Thomas, where she is the household leader.

From the outside, these households on campus seem to be UST’s answer to Greek life: same-sex organizations living in the same house, abiding by a distinct set of customs or traditions.

But, they are nothing like fraternities: at UST, a household is a group of women or men living in an intentional community, growing in faith together and striving to live virtuous lives. One of their priorities is to unite the campus through community, creating a type of family. Each household is required to create their own “household covenant,” which includes the household’s core values that members must sign onto to show their commitment.

UST currently has six such households. The four women’s households are SIW, Faith and Friends, Courageous Hearts and Simply Irresistible Student Nurses. The two men’s households are Viri Dei (“men of God”) and Aquinas Knights.

Donnelly said SIW and Viri Dei were both ministries before they became households.

“The ministries already mirrored the ideas of households,” she said. “Res Life approached SIW and figured the easiest way to get households going was by getting two already-existing ministries, and letting other students have the freedom to create their own.”

Sophomore education major Andrea Molina is both a member of SIW and an executive for the Student Household Association, which oversees all households and acts as an advising council.

SHA is actively trying to promote households and recruit more members, Molina said.  She said they offer office hours every Monday and Thursday for anyone who wants to learn more about or create households.

“You need five people to start a household and it has to be faith-based, but it does not need to be Catholic; it can be any religion,” she said. “Then you create a house covenant that all the members have to sign, and then you take it to SHA for approval.”

Members say faith-based communities are meant to help students grow in their faith, and indeed, junior education major Elliott Smith said he can now call himself an “active participant” in religion after joining the Viri Dei household.

“If someone is scared of joining a household because of the religious aspect of it, you shouldn’t be,” Smith said. “I was very scared, but they are very welcoming and not forceful with it at all.”

Molina said she first heard about the UST households from an Instagram post about “Intent Week,” which she compared to a sorority rush week.

“They have activities throughout the whole week to see if you want to commit to them, if they are a perfect fit for you, and then you decide to be part of a household,” Molina said.

Smith and sophomore finance major Zachary Micklitz, however, were recruited to Viri Dei by word of mouth. They were already friends with members of the Viri Dei household, so joining felt natural.

Micklitz said Viri Dei has since felt like a family.

“You can’t define household; we are more like a family than a group,” Smith said. “You can make a difference in the community more, because it is a family of nine, versus having one roommate in a dorm.”

Family and community are two words often emphasized by household members. SIW leader Donnelly said they are welcoming and that they encourage other students to join, or even just to sit in on a weekly meeting. Their goal is to unite the campus through community.

This idea of faith-based “families” on campus is especially appealing to UST archivist Betty Fischer, who graduated from UST in 1952 and has worked with UST ever since. Fischer said UST never had households prior to 2017.

“It sounds like a good thing, because I do believe in the small-community aspect,” she said. “I think that is the salvation…being in a community.”

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