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Dancing in the Dining Room


Editor’s Note: Missioner-in-training Catherine Sullivan shares her experiences of community life and how living with 12 other people has impacted her. 

The two most talked-about aspects of our Formation are classes and volunteering. But what has been most formative for me during this process is living in intentional community.

As many people know, Saint Francis was no hermit. He had brothers and they lived in community together. As Franciscan missioners, we are asked to do the same.

There are 13 of us living together at the Casa San Salvador. We come from all over the US with very different histories and experiences. Despite our differences, we have become a close-knit family unit.

Our act of intentional community living does not merely consist of living under the same roof. We have morning and evening prayer together, we clean, shop, and cook together, and eat dinners together at least five nights a week.

Fellow missioner Allison working on homemade pizzas for dinner

Fellow missioner Allison working on homemade pizzas for dinner

It was not long before stories were shared, guards were let down, and the community began to take on the feeling and the warmth of ‘family.’

The concept of ‘home’ has always been a difficult one for me to grasp. My family travelled a lot, so no specific solid structure was ‘home.’ The only constant was the strong relationships I had with my siblings and my parents. So ‘home’ for me, has always been wherever there is family.

I did not expect to call the Casa ‘home.’ I expected to feel homesickness that would stay in my gut, small but present, throughout formation and even my time on mission. This community has completely changed that expectation for me.

I have found family here at the Casa. And since ‘family’ is ‘home’ for me, I have realized that I am ‘home’ here at the Casa, and I will be ‘home’ on mission. Through this community, God has opened my eyes to the comfort and familial aspect of intentional community.

There is no obligation to spend time with one another, but we have become such a close-knit group that often we just like to sit with one another.

Our dining room has been host to many community experiences. It has been a stage for Charades, a movie theater, a dance floor, a napping ground, and a safe place for deep conversations about family, difficulties, and our similar but different foundations in the Catholic Church.

Catherine and development associate Sarah Sokora dancing in the store

Catherine and development associate Sarah dancing in the store

Lately, the community has become obsessed with the daily Washington Post crossword puzzles. We have taken to gathering around the dining room table, all huddled around the puzzle of the day, and we have found that we can’t leave until the puzzle is completed.

Intentional community living also takes patience. It means being honest about any issue that may emerge, whether that comes in the form of someone playing Christmas music in early September (mia colpa) or someone wanting some alone time away from the group. With an atmosphere of honesty and openness, tension is rare and a calm that fosters relationships emerges.

I did not expect to become so invested in 12 new people when I arrived. Three months seemed too short of a time to form real bonds. Yet as the end of formation and the start of our mission work comes closer, there is a weight in my heart at the thought of saying goodbye to this community that has made strangers my ‘family,’ and a house my ‘home.’

Catherine Hope Sullivan is the youngest of five children raised by a sassy Italian and a historian of world religions. Thanks to them, her younger years were filled with new and interesting people from every walk of life. Forever a Belle, Catherine graduated from the all-women’s Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN, with degrees in English writing and Italian (and an unofficial degree in female empowerment). Catherine has a serious passion for world travel because of the amazing people and traditions one encounters in every part of the world. She chose overseas mission to serve and learn from every person she meets. She has been in Cochabamba, Bolivia, since January 2016.