Statistically, each fall, many students stop practicing their faith. In order for a student to maintain or grow in his or her faith, it must be nourished. Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) missionaries Eric Clark and Amanda Anderson recognized this truth, and by the grace of God, took it upon themselves to assist in this nourishment.
According to its Web site, focusonline.org, FOCUS missionaries, stationed on college campuses throughout the nation, seek to "know Christ Jesus and to fulfill His Great Commission by first living and then communicating the fullness of life within the family of God, the Church." FOCUS began its ministry at North Dakota State University in the fall of 2004.
After a retreat, Eric Clark and three NDSU students discussed the possibility of living together in a house of Catholic community near St. Paul’s Newman Center.
"I found out that I wasn’t alone in my desire. These three guys thought how great it would be to live together and pray together," Clark said. After prayer and discernment, they began to prepare a household of fellowship, prayer and work.
Clark first consulted St. Paul’s Newman Center pastor Father James Cheney. Clark then wrote a letter to Bishop Samuel Aquila for permission to rent the house since it is owned by the Fargo Diocese. Discovering that he had written the letter on the Feast Day of St. John Bosco, the men decided to name the community the St. John Bosco Household. St. John Bosco is the patron saint of the formation of men.
"It was amazing to the see the fruits of the guys that lived together that first year. All [three] ended up becoming FOCUS missionaries," Clark said. "The greatest fruit would have to be our commitment to each other. Modern technology has allowed us to be very secluded and individual, but living together in a community allowed us to strive for virtue together."
This commitment to striving for virtue has continued for three years. FOCUS missionaries Jason Eilers and Lucas Martin now live in the St. John Bosco Household with five NDSU students. NDSU senior Dan Kaffar shares that the St. John Bosco Household has positively influenced his faith walk.
"We’re easily able to keep each other accountable living in a Catholic community. All of us strive to establish an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ by attending daily Mass, reading Scripture and really questioning where we are in our faith," Kaffar said. The students meet Monday through Friday for morning prayer, attend a formation meal and Bible study once a week and do chores.
Seeing the fruits of the household, FOCUS missionary Amanda Anderson decided to pray about establishing a women’s household similar to the St. John Bosco Household.
At FOCUS summer training, Anderson heard a talk about nurturing all four relationships severed by the fall of Adam and Eve: between God and man, man and creation, man and fellow man, and man and himself.
"In order to nurture the whole church, you need to nurture all of these relationships in your own spiritual lives: the building up of the community of believers, your personal relationship with God and your responsibility of social justice," Anderson said. She believes that by living in a communal setting, the women can nurture those relationships. Anderson took the idea to prayer, decided to name the community the St. Clare Household and asked two students to live with her and FOCUS missionary Rebecca Sitte during the 2008-2009 school year.
Each week, the students attend Bible study and a formation meal. They meet daily for morning prayer and Mass. The students periodically volunteer for service projects. The women strive to make the house welcoming and practice hospitality.
"Having a community of women to encourage each other in our Christian walk provides stability and helps foster a family environment," Anderson said. "The best part is getting to share my life with other women who are seeking holiness and being able to share in their joys and sorrows."
Dana Petricka, a senior at NDSU, was asked by Anderson to join the household last fall. After living together for an entire school year, the women have developed fruitful relationships with each other and with God, Petricka said.
"It’s one of the best places I’ve lived because we’re all of the same faith and share the same beliefs."
Prior to living in the St. Clare Household, Petricka had attended Sunday Mass at the Newman Center but hadn’t become involved on a daily basis.
"Living right next door to the Newman Center has helped me to be more part of the Newman community and has completely bolstered by faith life and daily Mass attendance."
To learn more about the St. John Bosco and St. Clare Households, visit St. Paul’s Newman Center’s Web site at www.ndsunewman.org.
Printed with permission from the New Earth, newspaper from the Diocese of Fargo, North Dakota.