Men living in former convent grow in faith, friendship

| Susan Klemond For The Catholic Spirit | March 29, 2011 | 1 Comment

From left, Steve Kautzman, Kyle Woodworth and Paul Cernohous prepare to share dinner as part of their life together in the convent at St. Matthew in St. Paul where they live with four other men. Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Last summer as Ed Working’s St. Paul condominium was becoming too small for his steady stream of houseguests, the Nativity of Our Lord parishioner considered buying a house to share with other Catholic single men.

Paul Cernohous, who belongs to St. Joseph in West St. Paul, was thinking the same thing and found plenty of guys who were interested. The two house hunted separately until a mutual friend suggested they rent the top floor of a former convent near St. Matthew’s church in St. Paul.

Since moving into two adjoining convent apartments in September, Working, Cernohous and five other men, mostly in their 30s and 40s, have created something they admit is rather countercultural: an informal community of single men seeking to live out their faith and support each other in Christian friendship. They say their eighth “roommate” — Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in the convent’s chapel — guides them in their life together and in discerning their vocations.

Unique experience

The men share faith and occasionally fellowship with four single women friends living downstairs who tipped them off about the open apartments.

St. Matthew’s pastor, Father Steph­en Adrian, said he hadn’t expected men to move into the convent but wasn’t surprised by it. About 20 years ago, the parish converted to apartments the convent’s two upper floors, which had previously been occupied by School Sisters of Notre Dame, he said. Two nuns still live in the building and single women also have shared an apartment since 2003.

St. Matthew’s first offered the apartments to religious communities, Father Adrian said. “There really weren’t any takers and all of a sudden these gentlemen showed up and indicated they were looking for an opportunity to have a community life in a community space and we rented it to them.”

None of the guys thought they would live in a convent. “I’d never been in a convent before,” said Clay­ton Emmer, a parishioner at St. Louis King of France. “My image of that was maybe something from the ‘40s or ‘50s, which is probably a very different kind of space than what we live in.”

Also living in the household are St. Agnes parishioner Hank Jand­rich; Steve Kautzman and Lars Nelson, both Cathedral of St. Paul parishioners; and Kyle Woodworth, who attends St. Joseph in West St. Paul.

More than roommates but not an official community in any way, Kautzman said, “the question often would come up do we want to function as a community or are we a bunch of Catholic guys just living together doing our own thing? I don’t know if that’s really been answered in a lot of ways.”

It’s more like brothers living together who have their own commitments with central connections and a bond in their relationship with Christ, Working said. Beside sharing food and the rosary, the Blessed Sacrament brings them together.

“Really we have an eighth man on this team who is really the first man,” he said. “We have Christ. He’s the one who put us all here.”

Living with Christian men is better than living alone, Working said. “To try and live out one’s faith and try to go out in the world and face the junk that’s out there. . . . It’s good to have people that act as the Body of Christ.”

Forming a household with men from different places was challenging, Emmer said. “I wouldn’t say it was painful, I would say it was challenging for a month or two as we figured out the ropes.”

Chance to grow

Different temperaments — and even different temperature preferences — have meant opportunities for growth in virtue, Cernohous said. “It amazes me at different times how each one of them in their example in some aspect or some area of virtue or some way of being strikes me, this is how I should be.”

Learning to live together helps with preparation for a vocation, the men said. Some are discerning religious life and priesthood while others are considering the vocation of marriage.

As they wait on the Lord, there’s also time for fun, such as when the men and women shoveled out each other’s cars after a snowstorm, attended Sunday Mass and shared brunch.

“We’re all friends here and we’re roommates second,” said Mary Gib­son, a St. Agnes parishioner who lives downstairs from the men and initially told them about the convent space. “That is what makes all the difference, especially in the Christian life.”

Gibson’s roommate, Cathedral of St. Paul parishioner Anne Braam, also was positive about the men’s household.

“Overall, I’m excited for them that they have the opportunity to not have to live alone but to experience brotherhood and friendship in that way,” she said. “They’re good friends and they’re good brothers.”

Working said he isn’t sure how long he’ll stay in the household, but he knows who really moved in first — Christ.

“Regardless of what day it is, regardless of the time of day, I have the same housemate that greets me at the door,” he said. “He was here first.”

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