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‘To find your people’ - How Catholics are building intentional communities

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St. Joseph Shrine in Detroit is a thriving parish.

Just minutes from the center of downtown Detroit, the stunning, historic church boasts a burgeoning congregation and a thriving parish life, with events including processions, galas, and a weekend-long Oktoberfest that includes a stein-holding competition and live pony rides.

St. Joseph Shrine. Credit: St. Joseph Shrine / Facebook.

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The parish has roughly 400 affiliated households, almost twice the number it had five years ago.

Unlike most parishes, which are based on geography, St. Joseph’s is a personal parish, set up specially in canon law as a home for Catholics with a devotion to the Traditional Latin Mass.

But some 90% of the parishioners don’t actually live in Detroit. They drive from all over – in some cases, up to two hours, to attend Mass at the shrine each Sunday.

And when people live so far apart, it can be hard to build community, believes Daniel Egan, an entrepreneur and parishioner at the shrine.

“I would say on average, people probably drive between 30-45 minutes,” he told The Pillar.

Egan was born in Detroit, but had moved away and spent three years in seminary in Nebraska. He was almost ordained a priest but eventually discerned that God was calling him to a different path.

During his time in Nebraska, Egan said, he experienced what a blessing strong parish life could be.

When Egan returned to Detroit a number of years ago, he found himself needing that community.

“I was coming to this realization that I needed to live somewhere where I had a really strong parish life,” he said.

Egan admits that he didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm for the Detroit area, even though he was born there.

But that changed, he said, when he encountered the Institute of Christ the King, a society of priests offering the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

“There was this young, dynamic, traditional order that came in to take over this beautiful historic church in the city. And it prompted me to say, okay, properly speaking, a parish is where people live. It's not actually a church. A church is a part of it, but you take the term parish, especially from the old country in Ireland, instead of the word ‘county,’ they use the word ‘parish.’ And so it prompted me to really begin thinking…the majority of people that go to my church, St. Joseph's Shrine, they don't live here, they commute.”

Reflecting on the history of the area, Egan was struck by the fact that the church building had originally been built by people living in the neighborhood.

Like many American cities, Detroit once had neighborhoods that grew up around parishes. The neighborhoods were largely ethnic – for example, the Polish community would all live near one another and attend a Polish-language Mass.

“It's hard to see that in Detroit now, because the city's gone through tough times and so many evolutions along the way, so you can only see the remnants of the neighborhood that did build this church, mostly German immigrants in the mid to late 19th century.”

What if, he wondered, there was a way to recreate that community? What if parishioners could somehow buy up the neighborhood around the shrine, and forge the kind of strong social bonds that existed generations ago?

“Look, there was a neighborhood here before, which built this place,” he said. “We did it once before, and that is the most appropriate way to be associated with your parish, is to be able to live near your parish, to walk to your parish, to see it from your bedroom window, so to speak, see the steeple from your bedroom window.”

The more he thought about it, the more Egan became convinced that he should explore the idea of creating a Catholic neighborhood for parishioners to live in. 

Or even better, an urban village, with not only housing, but shops and common spaces.

Egan floated the idea to other members of the parish, and the vision caught fire immediately.

“I think Catholics, way deep down, that are committed to their faith, they understand that this is the way things ought to be,” he said. “This is the way our great grandparents lived. They lived in tight-knit Catholic communities. It wasn't a utopia by any means, but it's much more fitting and appropriate to be in a village and a culture where people generally share your values, hopefully they share your creed, and you're able to walk to your parish church on Sunday instead of having to get on the freeway.”

“And think about these big Catholic families that come to our parish, God love them, they’ve got seven kids in tow. It's a real chore to get all those kids in the van, let alone the expense of it,” he continued.

“Ideally speaking, that whole family could walk to Mass, and we've fallen away from that in the modern suburban Western world that we all live in now. And really more than anything, we've developed a concept of something to dream about and to work for. That's the idea.”

Egan stressed that the idea is still very theoretical. Turning it into a real neighborhood will require overcoming a number of hurdles, including finding a suitable and available location for the urban village, and finding the capital to purchase the land.

But a general design for the urban village has already been sketched out. Architect Erik Bootsma, working with Egan, has proposed a concept design for the theoretical neighborhood.

The proposed layout for the St. Aubin Urban Village. Credit: Bootsma Design.


The planned neighborhood is designed around a town square, with a large park at the center. A chapel is featured prominently at one end of the park. Bootsma explained that the chapel would be for daily use, and could be used for processions to the main church. The original piece of land that had interested the parishioners was about half a mile from the main church; it is not clear where the neighborhood might eventually end up, if at all.

“We had some talk about whether it would be a chapel or just a social hall or something like that, but I think they like the idea of it being sort of a neighborhood sort of daily chapel [and] building it around that,” Bootsma said. “There's a tradition of that in this country and throughout Europe, that a church sits on the square, so it's a public space. It's a public space where the church is.”

Another side of the central park is labeled as a market area, with spaces set aside for small shops, restaurants, cafes, and offices, which members of the parish could rent.

The park would function as an open space in the summer, and could have a skating rink added in during the winter, Bootsma explained.

“The whole idea was to be a year-round public space for everyone,” he said.

Surrounding the town square would be different types of housing, ranging from apartments, townhouses, and duplexes, to small single-family houses, cottages, and mansions.

The idea, Bootsma explained, is “to create a neighborhood that basically anyone who lives in the parish could buy a house and live there.”

“There's a diversity in the parish, in any good parish really. It's a diversity, not just of ethnicity, but it's of age, income, family size, etc. So what we're looking to do is try and create something that has the ability to have any number of houses in it… A widow or an elderly couple could live there, young couples could live there, single people could live there. People with a couple of kids, people with five, seven, eight kids could live there.”

Bootsma said the goal is to have a master plan with different zones. Individuals within the parish would then have a chance to buy specific lots and build houses on them. There may be some rental options, but the goal is to allow people to generally own their own homes and parcels of land.

The proposed village spans eight square city blocks – about 22 acres of land. It includes around 200 housing units, which would hold the majority of families in the parish, Bootsma said.

If the parish were to grow, the hope would be that people could buy lots on adjoining blocks at some point in the future to be part of the community as well.

“And then we really think that a plan like this, because of the diversity of housing types, it becomes a place where you can age in place,” he added, “so you can go through all stages of life and not have to leave the neighborhood and not have to leave the community.”

Bootsma said he is not aware of any other Catholic communities that have successfully built an urban village around a church, although he knows of several others that are considering the idea, particularly in areas where a parish already owns land near the church building.

But the concept has been carried out in the secular world. It’s part of a broader architectural trend known as “new urbanism.” The movement, which has been around for about 40 years in the United States, focuses on walkable neighborhoods which blend residential and commercial areas, with plenty of accessible public spaces such as libraries and parks.

The St. Aubin Village Plan has attracted significant interest within the New Urbanism Movement, Bootsma said, and it won the Urban Guild Award a few years ago.

But while it reflects several tenets of new urbanism, such as walkable neighborhoods and mixed-use spaces, the St. Aubin project also emphasizes the Catholic identity of the parish, with the chapel at the center of the neighborhood, Bootsma said.

“We have a lot of talk about - in a lot of the new urbanist circles - the thing that drives public spaces is usually commerce. It's usually putting up a bar and putting up a restaurant or a coffee shop or something like that,” he said.

But the idea of a house of worship driving a public space – whether it be a church or a Muslim mosque – adds a new dimension to the community, he said.

“We really had the idea that public space is really activated and made into a real neighborhood by a commonality of faith, commonality of looking at a common good.”

While new urbanism is a recent architectural movement, the St. Aubin Project draws from decades and centuries-old elements in architecture as well. The plan includes an emphasis on traditional materials, planning and design, with a goal of creating buildings that are beautiful, Bootsma said.

The idea of a town square and church in the center of a village is a common theme in European architecture. Bryant Park in New York City is one of the inspirations for the park in the development. The market hall along the side of the park is modeled partly on the market hall on the south side of Philadelphia.

A sketch of the proposed plaza in the St. Aubin Urban Village. Credit: Bootsma Design.

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At the same time, Bootsma said, the project sees Detroit itself as a source of inspiration, drawing from the city’s history of traditional ethnic neighborhoods.

“When we started the project, I came to Detroit and…we drove around, saw the whole city just about,” Bootsma said. “We were really trying to draw a lot from the traditional stuff that does really come from European traditions, but we were looking at Detroit itself as being a good inspiration for it [too].”

“Detroit has a really great tradition, like so many other older cities, of neighborhoods basically growing up around parishes. A lot of them in the past were ethnic ones,” Bootsma explained. “And so really what they're trying to do is bring back that idea of people living next to their parish so that they could be a real community together and live together.”

Egan stressed that the goal is not to create a reclusive neighborhood, withdrawn from the outside world.

“I'm a big believer that the Catholic Church is, in fact, a big city religion. I mean, you look at the great basilicas, the great liturgies of the Church historically…it happened in the metropolis. It happened in the urban centers and the urban environments. I think if the Catholics are serious about retaking the culture and converting souls, we need to be a force to be reckoned with in the cultural centers,” he said.

“Largely speaking, the great cities in the United States were dominated by Catholic influence for a long time. We need to get comfortable taking up space again and regaining our influence within these cities - not for our ego, but for the sake of the kingdom of God and for the sake of saving souls, ultimately.”

Egan believes that a concentrated neighborhood in the city could help Catholics regain their political presence in the city council, and build up influence with the mayor and other local politicians. He thinks it’s important for Catholics to realize that they are a minority in the secular culture.

“We need to be able to represent ourselves within this city in order to protect the interests of Catholics and our families in this Church and the future generations of the Church,” he said.

“We need to come together, support our own. One of the real problems with suburban sprawl is that there are a lot of Catholics in number, but we don't live together anymore so we really can't campaign for things without a lot of difficulty.”

St. Aubin’s will need to overcome a number of hurdles in order to become a reality. In addition to finding a viable plot of land, the Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on religion. 

Rather than trying to exclude non-Catholics, Egan said, the approach would need to be an organic one in which a critical mass of motivated parishioners respond to “an attractive opportunity to live in a beautifully designed urban setting within walking distance of their parish” - likely over the course of years.  

“We're not envisioning building a Catholic utopia, rather we're seeking to re-establish a neighborhood adjacent to our parish that is conducive to a wholesome life. One which is properly ordered, built to last for generations, and designed according to the best principles of urban planning and design.”

There is also the question of financing the project.

Critics of new urbanism note that communities in that model can become a type of “playground for the wealthy.” 

But Egan said his vision would intentionally incorporate different income levels and stages of life, to reflect the diversity in the parish.

“The community, if it's going to be successful, is going to be designed to accommodate all parishioners, young and old, whether they're singles and newly out of school, just trying to get their life together, or whether they're seniors, empty nesters that are just looking to maybe downsize and live a more simple life, or Catholic families,” he said.

“That's a tall order. It's not an easy thing…[but] that needs to be the ultimate goal,” he said. “If we can't figure out how to accommodate for people from all walks of life, it does just become a ritzy plaything.”

Solving the financial problem will probably require creativity, Egan said. He has explored the possibility of establishing a financing wing of the development, as an alternative to traditional mortgages. But the specifics of any possible solution will need a lot of work, once a viable plot of land is found.

The location in Detroit presents both benefits and difficulties. On one hand, real estate and construction in Detroit may be affordable in a way that other big cities would not be. On the other hand, many people have “a visceral reaction to living in Detroit,” Egan said – another challenge the parish neighborhood would have to overcome if it is to become a reality.

For that obstacle, he believes the key is attaining critical mass.

“I think a good number of parishioners would happily do it if they knew that the families they already know and love were within walking distance, because there's a lot to be said for the safety that comes about - no matter where you're living - if there's a certain density of a population and you know your neighbors and everyone shares same worldview, the same creed, there's real safety that can be developed there very quickly.”

Ultimately, Egan hopes the idea is one that could be replicated elsewhere, albeit in different ways, particular to other locations.

“I don't want it to be something that's just uniquely successful in Detroit. I'm hoping we can find ways and establish best practices and processes to make this sort of thing available elsewhere,” he said. “[There are] so many beautiful parish churches around this country that need to be revitalized and one of the best ways to do that is through community, getting people to find a reason to live nearby.”

Egan said he doesn’t envision the neighborhood housing all of the parishioners. As a personal parish rather than a geographic parish, he said, St. Joseph’s will probably always attract some people from outside of Detroit who have a love for the Traditional Latin Mass.

But he would love to see “a solid core of the parish that lives within walking distance, that lives within this community that we seek to develop.”

He clarified that he doesn’t know if the final product will actually happen in his lifetime. 

But Egan doesn’t mind chasing after a dream.

“It's an ambitiously tall order, and I think it's only going to be successful by the grace of God and some savvy business strategy,” he said. “And it's probably the sort of thing that's not going to happen in years, it's going to happen realistically over the span of decades.”

“I'm sad to say that, but Americans need to realize that we generally are very impatient, and Europe was built over the span of centuries, not even decades.”

If parishioners are able to make their vision come to life, Bootsma believes the project holds significant promise for the growth of Catholic friendships.

“Living as neighbors allows community members to build friendships based on living in proximity to each other…and being able to create friendships in the physical sense,” he said. “Kids can grow up together and be together and really share a lot of those things.”

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Close to monks, close to nature

Nearly 1,000 miles away from Detroit, in the Ozark mountains of northeastern Oklahoma, a different kind of Catholic community has formed.

Nestled in the forested hills is Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey, a Benedictine monastery that houses 55 monks.

Clear Creek Abbey. Credit: Clear Creek Monks.

Monastic life is, by its nature, isolated from the outside world. At Clear Creek, monks do not often leave the abbey property. They spend their time in prayer and labor – gardening, raising sheep and cattle, and even making their own clothing.

While some Benedictine communities run a school, the Clear Creek monks do not. Rather, the community’s website says, they are “entirely ordered towards contemplation.”

Established first as a priory in 2000 and then elevated to an abbey in 2010, construction on the monastery has continued slowly over the years, to accommodate the growing number of vocations within the community.

But the monks likely did not expect that the growth of their community, within the monastery walls, would be accompanied by the growth of another community right outside.

In the past 20 years or so, dozens of families have moved to the area, in order to live near the abbey. The monks did not solicit these new neighbors. But nonetheless, they came.

“There's a certain amount of land, and land used to be cheap all around them,” said John Haigh, who served as project manager on Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey for much of its construction.

“The draw of an abbey is that sense of permanence…including the availability of sacraments,” Haigh told The Pillar, “to see that an abbey is able to set down roots, and well, especially at Clear Creek, really for the most part, do a lot of living off of the land.”

“A lot of families moved out from California and different places, just to have access to that kind of integrity - the way that the monks were building is to build for a thousand years, they have that French motherhouse at Fontgombault and they didn't want modern construction methods…not kind of the typical flimsiness or throwaway style of building.”

Today, that community has grown to around 200 people.

But unlike the carefully-planned urban village in Detroit, Clear Creek Abbey was never intended to be home to a Catholic community, beyond the 55 Benedictine monks who live in the abbey itself.

And without intentional planning, there is a lack of a town center in the community that now surrounds the abbey, Haigh said.

Accessing a grocery store or pharmacy requires a significant drive – probably about 30 minutes, on a dirt road, he said. The lack of a town center also limits the personal, human interaction that is necessary for a genuine village.

This is not to say that people near Clear Creek Abbey don’t know their neighbors, Haigh added, noting that he knows families who have lived there for decades and formed rich friendships out of necessity – sometimes coming together as the result of power failures or ice storms.

But, he said, there is an intentionality in many of the beautiful European villages, towns and city courts that is lacking in the spontaneous Clear Creek community.

“Certain people are just buying [because] they want to get away from it all, which is not necessarily the attitude that's going to help with any kind of town or village. It should start with village, town, city type planning.”

Haigh suggested that the community could eventually coalesce into something that looks more like a town.

But with most of the land near the monastery already purchased - and the remaining land expensive after a buying frenzy a number of years ago - it’s not clear what that would look like. 

Clear Creek Abbey. Credit: Clear Creek Monks.

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Josh and Laura Martin are among the people who moved to the community near the abbey.

They say that while the life near Clear Creek Abbey is not always easy, it is a joy to live near the monks – and near other families with similar values.

“We lived out in the country, south of Dallas,” Josh told The Pillar. “We had an idea that we wanted to raise our kids in an agrarian environment, but we didn't really have a Catholic community down there.”

“We visited [Clear Creek Abbey] and just fell in love with the place and the people that we met here and decided to move shortly after.”

Josh and Laura bought a plot of land near the abbey in 2006 and moved out in 2007 with their four children and their fifth on the way.

At the time, they said, there were about 50 people living in the area, about a quarter of the number who now live within a 15- or 20-minute drive from the monastery.

The people come to be close to the monastery, where they can attend the Traditional Latin Mass and other beautiful liturgies, the Martins said, and where they can be near the monks and their prayers.

The residents are fairly varied in age, Laura said. There are retired people who are oblates at the monastery and attend prayers there throughout the day.

There are many young families – and some with as many as four generations.

“I would say that right now there's a really nice group of young kids, 10 and under. There are not quite as many teenagers,” Laura said.

The remoteness of the area has both pros and cons.

Most of the people who moved to the area wanted an agrarian lifestyle, Josh said, at least in part.

“I would say virtually everybody has chickens. Definitely people wanted to live out in the country.”

In addition to the draw of the monastery itself, residents tend to be attracted to the rural environment – the slower pace of life, traditional way of doing things, and retreat from the secular world.

Families generally want to limit technology for their kids, and encourage a variety of other interests and forms of entertainment.

“There are a lot of creeks in this area and a lot of lakes, so there's a lot of water sports,” Laura said. “I think the natural beauty that's built into this area is something that people use as more of a way of life. Not like, ‘Oh, we're going to the lake because we're on vacation.’ It's like you can go to the creek every week in the summer or every day if you want to.”

But living near the abbey is not exactly the idyllic rural life that people may envision.

“For the first five years we were out here, it was just catastrophe after catastrophe,” Josh said. “And that's not an uncommon experience. It is a very, very difficult place to get your bearings and to get a footing - just for various reasons.”

Moving away from family, particularly with their four young kids, was challenging for the Martins. And they were not prepared for how difficult the transition from management to manual labor would be.

“We grew up in and around Dallas-Fort Worth. Moving to Cherokee County, it's almost like a completely different world. There’s a very, very steep learning curve,” Josh said.

“It's a difficult place to get a plumber to come to, much less trying to build something. The roads are such that you can pretty much bank on getting five or 10 flat [tires] a year,” he continued. “It’s very beautiful, but if you're used to existing within a modern American context, it's a pretty difficult place to assimilate.”

Making a sustainable living is another obstacle for residents near the abbey.

Josh currently works remotely for an insurance company. A handful of other locals have remote jobs as well.

“The Cherokee Nation actually paid to put fiber internet in, so if you're able to find a remote job, we have really, really fast internet,” he said.

There’s also the Institute for Excellence in Writing – a homeschool curriculum company for teaching writing – which is based in the area and employs about 10 people.

But that’s about it in terms of local jobs, Josh said. Some people commute to Tulsa, which is about 50 miles away.

Many families move to the area thinking they will be able to farm or raise animals. But the rocky terrain and poor soil quality make it almost impossible to live off the land, Josh said.

“Several people have tried several different things, including us, to make a living off the land. And it's just really easy to underestimate how difficult that is,” Josh said. “I would say it's an agrarian community, but…nobody’s really making a living [off the land] here. A lot of people have really big gardens and they have animals. And if you want to buy milk direct, there's several options for that. But as far as making a living, I would say no.”

Clear Creek Abbey. Credit: Clear Creek Monks.

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Educational options in the area are also limited, although families tend to be ok with the options that are available, the Martins said.

Many families homeschool their children – either out of ideology or necessity. There are a few local co-ops.

There is a small K-8 public school nearby, to which some families send their kids.

Some families, including the Martins, send their sons to Catholic boarding schools for high school. A school in Pennsylvania and another in Kansas are popular picks because they emphasize a low-technology, agrarian lifestyle.

But despite the challenges that can accompany rural life, the Martins say that they – and their now seven kids – are richly blessed not only by their proximity to the monks, but also the friendships and community life that have developed around them.

“We just have really, really good friends. We've developed relationships over the years, and there's a lot of cooperation,” Josh said. “If you make a call and say, ‘Hey, I need help with this,’ you would just get flooded with offers for help. I think that the difficulty of living out here and the pioneering spirit that everyone shares, I think it lends itself to a lot of cooperation. It's very enriching.”

Part of the reason that the community works, the Martins said, is because the local residents are committed to making it work.

While it’s true that there is no town center – no parks, coffee shops or restaurants to gather with friends – people open their homes instead.

For example, one local resident has turned part of his shop into a tap room where families gather on Sundays.

Residents have formed a book club for men, and another one for women. There are a few Bible studies run out of people’s homes. There are concerts and feast day celebrations. There’s the 35-mile Three Hearts Pilgrimage, held each October, which draws up to 1,800 people from far and wide.

The community has an email list and a Google group for people to keep in touch and stay informed about upcoming events. One local resident creates a directory and updates it annually.

Large gatherings can be logistically difficult to host at individual houses. And the abbey is not a parish church, so it does not provide a parish hall for events. But as they do in so many other ways, the families that live near Clear Creek Abbey adapt and persevere.

“It’s a very grassroots thing,” Laura said. “If you want something to happen, you should probably plan it. And people give up their time pretty generously, honestly. So it ends up being a situation where people share the burden, the work and the joy, of course, of hosting these things together.”

“The All Saints party is always hosted in someone's home - they're just a super generous family that really wants that to go on, and so they every year open up their home for that,” she said. “Someone has a big Easter party at their property and roast a pig every year, and things like that.”

Ultimately, the Martins believe the community that has been fostered outside Clear Creek Abbey has impacted their family in a positive way. And that, they say, is worth all the hard work.

“I would say that our kids have been given a really independent and expansive view of Catholicism,” Laura reflected. “Their exposure to the monastery has given them the opportunity to learn about Gregorian chant…just having that exposure perpetually to such a beautiful liturgy, I think it soaks into them over time.”

“And also, I think just being able to live close to nature gives them a real sense of who they are…I feel like they really know who they are and who they are in Christ. And I know that being in this place has had an incredible impact on them being centered in that way.”


Finding ‘your people’

St. Aubin’s and the Clear Creek Abbey community are among several modern examples of Catholics coming together and living in close proximity.

While the concept may seem unusual, the idea of Catholics living near other Catholics is not a historical anomaly, explained Haigh, who also works as an architecture professor at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

In a country built by immigrants, he told The Pillar, “you wanted to make sure you could find, in order to survive, you wanted to find your people. That's why there's so many of these great old ethnic neighborhoods in different cities around the U.S. Finding somebody who will take care of you if you're coming here as a stranger moving away from home.”

This resulted in both ethnic and religious communities springing up throughout the United States.

“If I were to go out through the towns of Kansas, along the old train lines towards Denver, it pretty much works out that every other town is either a historically Catholic or historically Protestant town,” Haigh said.

And while that arrangement faded in much of the country, it appears to be experiencing a resurgence, in various forms.

There are probably multiple factors driving this trend, Haigh said. Among them, the social isolation that results from modern technology – when so much of commerce and human interaction is reduced to pushing buttons on a screen – may be pushing people to respond by intentionally seeking out greater community.

Interestingly, he said, this phenomenon was predicted by the prominent Catholic intellectual Marshall McLuhan some 60 years ago.

McLuhan believed that there would be a future re-ghettoization of Catholics, as technology became more wide-reaching and took hold of human life at every level.

“He sort of foretold the coming of a smartphone, or something that was handheld that would give you access to the world's knowledge. He talked about this in the ‘60s. People would feel much more separated, one from another, even when they're living on the same block, as most of their transactions move into a machine,” Haigh said.

In response to this new reality, Haigh said, McLuhan predicted that people would either accept the increasing atomization of society – and the risk of increased loneliness and despair that accompany it – or they would make an effort to seek other people with whom they can share their lives – by worshiping together, building family friendships, and sharing community meals.  

In addition to the general sense of isolation from modern technology, people may be seeking greater community in response to the intensified social isolation of lockdowns during the Covid pandemic, he added. Plus, more people are able to work from home in post-pandemic America, and so they can think more creatively about where they want to live, based on criteria other than job location.

Instead of moving to a new area based on a job prospect, Haigh noted that he personally has met more and more people who say they are moving to an area with a strong Catholic core, and will then look for a job in that area.

“For the first time, it seems like it's not the job itself or the profession itself, which of course is always related, but a real striking sense of intentional community.”

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Observing parish boundaries

The Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska offers yet another model of Catholic community – one that is prescribed in the Church’s own law.

“Canon law has structured the Church in a very clear and community-based model, and that is the parish,” said Lincoln Bishop James Conley. “And so parish boundaries have always been very much a part of the way we kind of organize communities.”

Canon law states, “A parish is a certain community of the Christian faithful stably constituted in a particular church…As a general rule a parish is to be territorial, that is, one which includes all the Christian faithful of a certain territory.”

“It used to be that parishes were marked by the sound of the bell,” Conley told The Pillar. “Once you got out of hearing range of a bell in a church, then you would go to the next church. And that's sort of how the boundaries were marked in old medieval villages, things like that.”

“But today we have these territories which are marked out in every diocese and parishes are organized that way - not by the sound of the bell, but by the way that the boundaries have been drawn.”

In recent decades, as people have become more mobile, those boundaries have come to hold less practical significance, Conley said.

When most people in a given area have access to a car, and there are numerous churches in driving range, people are able to go to the parish where they feel they are being spiritually fed, or which has the most convenient Mass time. If they’re running late, they can even find a different parish with a time slot that works better for them on a particular day.

But the Diocese of Lincoln takes parish territoriality seriously. Catholics are expected to be active at their geographically-defined parish. Anyone who wants to be part of a different parish must receive permission from the pastors of both the parish they live in and the one they want to attend.

“The Catholic community is very closely connected. The communities have remained strong and the boundaries of the parishes have been observed closely,” Conley said.

If a family moves to a new house in a different neighborhood, they are expected to switch to the church and school in their new geographical parish.

People do sometimes seek exemptions from the policy, and pastors give that permission “pretty readily,” Conley said.

“I think we have to be flexible…[and] realize that we live in a very mobile community,” he explained.

“But I guess the point is that these communities are taken seriously, and the people who live on your block and in your neighborhood all go to the local church.”

The result, he said, is the natural growth of community. People form a strong bond and identification with their parish.

“You can see this also in other kind of traditionally Catholic communities, like St. Louis or even New Orleans. People identify themselves by the name of their parish: ‘Where do you live?’ ‘Oh, I live in St. Patrick’s.’ ‘Yeah, I grew up in St. Joseph.’ And everybody knows. They know what part of town that is, they know what neighborhood is. Less so these days. But in Lincoln it’s still true. There’s still a lot of mobility, people moving in and out, but we’ve managed to emphasize the importance of the boundaries.”

In addition, people get to know the other people in their parish, who are also their neighbors.  

“[The parish boundaries] define community, territorially, and it gives you some clarity as far as, ‘Okay, this is my community. These are the people who I worship with. These are the people who are my brothers and sisters in Christ’,” he said.

“And there’s a certain expectation of support that you’ll receive from your fellow parishioners and also from the parish itself — that the parish itself can help with somebody struggling economically, or if there's a tragedy in some family’s life, that the parish will respond because it’s part of the community and they know these people.”

St. Patrick Catholic Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. Credit: Facebook.

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The Lincoln policy is longstanding, and predated Conley’s 2012 arrival into the diocese. But he wholeheartedly supports the idea.

The territoriality model, he said, is based upon a concrete understanding of the parish as encompassing more than just those who show up to church on Sunday.

“The pastor of the particular parish - that's his flock. And he has to know who his people are, and where they live, so that he can shepherd them…not only the Catholics, but the non-Catholics. According to canon law, a pastor’s flock consists of everyone living within his geographical boundaries, the canonical boundaries of the parish.”

This also provides an impetus for evangelization, the bishop said. 

“It encourages people to reach out to their neighbor, no matter what their faith is, and invite them to come to church, invite them to a parish event, invite them to send their kids to the Catholic school.”

Unlike other models, which seek to create a Catholic community set apart from the secular world, the Lincoln parish model is meant to create communities within already-existing geographic boundaries, with Catholics living along their non-Catholic neighbors.

Conley says he sees a lot of value in that set up, particularly in the call to evangelize.

“There is, I think, something more natural and something more evangelical, that you're rubbing elbows with the rest of the world. You're with the larger community. And you act as a leaven to raise up the whole community and to be salt and light in the larger community,” he said.

“And the community itself is more than just the Catholic Church. It's a community of people who live in a neighborhood. In our case, 20% would be Catholic, more or less.”

When Nikki Shassere and her husband moved to Lincoln more than 10 years ago, they knew they wanted to attend St. Teresa Church. So they looked at homes within the geographic boundaries of the parish.

“We knew that there were a lot of other young families around our age [at St. Teresa’s],” Shassere said. “It was just friendly to children. You walk into the parish and you're always hearing kids at Mass times, and that was encouraged.”

“We knew that it also was a parish that was focused on Eucharistic adoration,” she added.

“Then also, it's just a cute neighborhood.”

Shassere said Catholics in the diocese often take parish boundaries into account when they make decisions about where to live.

Many dioceses have parishes which attract specific congregations – like young adults or large families – because of the liturgical styles they employ or the ministry programs they offer.

But Shassere said the Lincoln parishes have developed unique characteristics largely based on the demographics of the neighborhoods where they are located.

“Where we are at St. Teresa's, within our boundaries, there are a lot of starter homes for families, so we have a lot of young families that are in our parish,” she said.

In addition, Cristo Rey, a largely Hispanic parish, is near the boundaries of St. Teresa’s and does not have its own school, so many of the parishioners from Cristo Rey send their children to St. Teresa’s.

St. Teresa Church in Lincoln. Credit: Facebook.

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Shassere said in her experience, the parish territoriality model does help foster community. Before moving to Lincoln, she lived in a diocese that did not enforce parish boundaries, and she said she can see a difference in how community is lived out.

“You're attending Mass with your neighbors. Your children are in school with your neighbors,” she said. “Even YMCA sports teams, where they group by neighborhood – even if the other kids don't go to school at the Catholic school, you still often will recognize them if they're Catholic and they're at Mass.”

One complication to the parish system arises when families do not want to send their kids to their local Catholic school.

Some schools in the diocese have unique characteristics, such as religious sisters teaching, an ethnically diverse student population, or a classical curriculum.

Under the parish territoriality model, families are generally expected to send their children to their geographic Catholic school, rather than choosing the school that seems like the best educational fit.

St. Teresa’s school switched to a classical curriculum a few years ago. This has led some families outside the parish boundaries to seek admittance to the parish school, because they would prefer a classical education for their children. Other families who do not want a classical model have sought other schools.  

Families who want to attend a school outside their geographic parish must then switch their parish affiliation in order to receive the in-parish tuition discount.

But Shassere said these issues tend to be dealt with by families making intentional housing decisions based on the parish and school they want to attend.

Bishop Conley acknowledged that inequality in resources can also pose a challenge to the Lincoln model - both for parishes trying to offer programming and ministries, and for schools. 

“Some of our older neighborhoods which are less economically strong can't pay their teachers as well as out in more wealthy areas. And so sometimes you get teachers that just leave and go to the other Catholic schools - because they need to make more money, because they're raising families. And you can't blame them. And the larger parishes in the wealthy areas can offer more. It's unfortunate. We sometimes lose good teachers in smaller parishes that have less income.”

Another challenge to the model, Conley added, is the temptation for a parish community to become closed in on itself, to the point that it becomes unwelcoming to newcomers.

“Just by human nature, a community can be very closed in on itself and hard to break into it, especially if [there] have been multi-generations at a particular parish,” he said. “And then somebody moves in from out of town, let's say, and they move into the parish. It’s a real challenge for those people to welcome them and to be open and make them feel welcome.”

The bishop said he has talked to families who have moved to a new parish and feel like outsiders trying to make their way into a clique or club. He said he tries to remind parishes that while generations-deep community is a wonderful thing, it is also important to welcome new members.

This can be especially important in areas where there is a shift in demographics, he continued.

“That's a real challenge to welcome immigrants into a parish that … has got generations of families that have been in that parish for a long time,” he said.

“As the Hispanic population grows with immigration, [parishes] need to be welcoming. They’ve got to reach out to our Hispanic brothers and sisters and make them feel part of the parish. … Sometimes we don't realize how difficult it might be for somebody new to come into a community and not know the customs or the ways or the culture. And people need to be aware of that.”

But overall, the bishop believes that the emphasis on territoriality has helped the diocese thrive.

“It's really beautiful to see how the Church envisions a parish,” he said. “And we try to follow that as much as we can.”

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An ecumenical covenant

Deep in the heart of the American South, another Christian community has been quietly growing for half a century.

The Alleluia Community, an ecumenical community in Augusta, Georgia, celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

The community consists of a few hundred people – including families, couples, and single individuals. Most have entered into a covenant solidifying their intention to share a common life of prayer and unity in Christ.

The community comes together for a common prayer meeting each Thursday night. Depending on who is leading it, the service may or may not begin with the sign of the cross.

Families gather for an Easter egg hunt in the Alleluia Community.

There are also small groups, consisting of members from different Christian denominations, that meet weekly for fellowship and prayer.

The community also has a number of ministries, including an ecumenical school of spiritual direction and a school of ministry.

But all of these ministries are a secondary purpose of the community, said Dan Almeter, an elder – or elected leader – and one of the early members of the Alleluia Community.

“Our main focus is loving one another and living a committed Christian life and laying our lives down for one another, serving one another,” he said.

Fr. John Johnson is a priest in the diocese of Savannah, Georgia.

He grew up in the Alleluia community.

Johnson’s parents – flower children-turned-Jesus freaks – had heard about a new Christian community called Faith Village on the south side of Augusta, Georgia. They decided to move from Virginia to check it out.

“These people had pooled their money together… and ended up buying, I think initially it was three contiguous blocks of Section 8 housing,” Johnson said. “Most were Catholic, but there were also Protestants.”

The people in the community restored the dilapidated housing, creating a small neighborhood within a neighborhood.

When Johnson was born in 1979, his parents lived in a small two-bedroom duplex. As the families – including Johnson’s – grew, they started putting up additions on the back of the houses, he said.

“If you go to the end of Faith Village, it stands out a little bit, I'd say, from the rest of South Augusta because it's a little bit of an oasis there, and housing that has been modified and made to work.”

Another defining feature of the neighborhood was that the houses opened up into a common backyard space, allowing children to play together and families to visit and get to know one another better.

“When I was a kid, my whole life consisted of playing out in a big open backyard with all my other friends - BMX biking, building forts, and otherwise getting into trouble,” Johnson said.

“I grew up in an actual neighborhood where people really knew each other.”

The community also bought an old public school building a few blocks away, and turned it into a K-12 school for members’ children.

“It kind of had an old school feel to it - big high ceilings, very sort of academic hardwood floors and open windows. There was no air conditioning. They have it so nice now that they've done some renovations… But back then, it was just like we were hot when we were hot, we were cold when we were cold.”

The school created a whole new level of community, Johnson said. He attended the school from kindergarten through high school.

The experience of living in Alleluia Community profoundly shaped Johnson’s faith.

Today, he said, he is one of more than a dozen priests that have come out of the community, in addition to a number of religious.

Although he didn’t discover his vocation to the priesthood until after college, Johnson says that looking back, he can see how the seeds of his vocation were being sown as he grew up in the Alleluia community.

“The older I get, the more thankful I am for my experience with Alleluia,” he said.

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The Alleluia Community grew out of the charismatic renewal in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

It started with a multi-denominational prayer meeting in Georgia, from which 12 people – all Catholics – decided to enter into a covenant, making a lifelong commitment to share a common Christian life with one another.

In their first month of life as a community, they went on a retreat to ask God whether he wanted the group to be specifically Catholic or ecumenical. Within 30 minutes, all of the members felt God clearly calling them to create an ecumenical community.

Their desire was confirmed by the local bishop, and the Alleluia Community was born as an ecumenical group.

Children play in the common backyard area at the Alleluia Community.

Almeter, who is himself Catholic, told The Pillar that the word “ecumenism” makes some Catholics nervous, because they associate it with compromising the fundamental beliefs of the Church.

“But that's not the kind of ecumenism we have here,” he said. “It's very much becoming one mind and heart by our relationship with the Lord together and what we focus on, what we have in common.”

Johnson said members of the ecumenical community feel a special call to help reforge the broken body of Christ in a substantive way.

“That communion is just something that's very treasured. And the ecumenical part is, I think, just because it hurts. To be clear on that, it's not easy…A lot of people would, I think, find they really want to be in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. And that's not going to be at the center of one of the big gatherings.”

“But it's just a fundamental thought, feeling that God wants us to do this however we can.”

Johnson said he doesn’t remember much tension between members of different Christian denominations growing up.

Differences are acknowledged clearly and accepted up front. The goal of the community is not to proselytize, and members understand that. Residents have intentionally sought to live in an ecumenical community, he noted, and they are there out of a desire to forge unity, not to pick a fight.

“We love each other, we trust each other, [there’s a] common faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ as our bedrock,” he said.

He said that in his experience, the Protestants in the community are very respectful of Catholic beliefs. And the Catholics in the community take seriously their belief that ecumenism is a duty in the light of the Second Vatican Council.

Still, Johnson believes the ecumenical community is oriented toward authentic evangelization - largely through relationships. Protestants are welcome to all the Catholic-specific events in and around the community – such as rosaries and Masses at the school – and they are free to ask questions and learn more about Catholic beliefs and practices.

The community has hosted a Eucharistic mission with a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, for example, which attracted significant interest from Protestants and Catholics alike.

There is also a small chapel in the middle of the community, used by both Catholics and Protestants, where the Blessed Sacrament is present. When the bishop agreed a few years ago to allow the Eucharist to be permanently present in the chapel, he said he would do so only if the approximately 70 non-Catholic members agreed to it, which they did.

Almeter said that the non-Catholics in the community recognized the presence of the Eucharist in their midst as a gift, and everyone maintains a sense of reverence. 

“Even though we cannot yet share the Eucharist at Mass, we are now able to share the Eucharist in adoration,” he reflected.

Sometimes, people within the community do convert. Almeter, who has been part of the community for more than 45 years, said that in the early days, there were many Episcopalians in the group. As the Episcopalian church became more liberal, many of the community members became Catholic.

Over the years, a handful of Catholics have converted to other denominations. But there have been far more people in other denominations joining the Catholic Church. Catholics have always made up the largest portion of community members, despite the fact that Catholics make up only about 1% of the population in Georgia.

Still, Almeter clarified, “We don't try to convert each other…That's up to the Holy Spirit.”

Instead, the community focuses on unity – the things they share in common and the richness that each tradition brings, in order to create a welcoming environment.

Respect for other faith traditions is key in the Alleluia way of life.

“When we pray together, when we meet together, it's almost like we've developed a language,” Almeter said. “We focus on Scripture, which is common to everybody… if we're in a meeting where our brothers and sisters from other faiths are there, we wouldn't stand up and lead us in a Hail Mary, because for some of them, that's just not in the tradition, and they don't do that.”

If a Catholic wants to share a reflection on the daily readings from Mass, he might begin by saying, “In my church tradition, the readings today were…” in order to recognize that not everyone there is Catholic.

“When we meet in common, it’s a community, it belongs to everybody. We share in a way that it belongs to everybody,” Almeter said.

“We've really learned, and we're still learning. I mean, we've become a learning ground for 50 years now of how to work together in charity and love with one another.”

Years ago, Almeter said, the Alleluia Community School offered separate Catholic and Protestant theology classes. “But we found it was very divisive for the kids,” he said. “It's one thing for adults to deal with this, but for kids, they don't have the maturity to deal with it.”

So now, the school focuses on Scripture and Christian formation. There is a high school level Church history course that covers both Catholic and Protestant history, and a Theology of the Body class that pulls from Catholic teaching, but the general focus is on shared teachings and ideas.

Classrooms at the school include both a crucifix and a plain cross - a visible recognition of its ecumenical nature.

“To be honest, anybody here would tell you that we're as close to the Protestant brothers and sisters as we are the Catholic brothers and sisters,” Almeter said. “I'm a lot closer to most of my Protestant brothers and sisters here than I am to a lot of Catholics that I know because of the intensity of their holiness and the way they serve the Lord.”

Catholic members of the Alleluia Community attend several different local parish churches. Johnson said they are about evenly split, primarily among four nearby parishes.

At one point, he said, there was discussion about whether the group should apply to become its own Catholic parish or internal chaplaincy. But the idea was ultimately rejected. The members decided that it was important that they remain part of their own outside parish communities, as well as part of the Alleluia community.

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People who want to join the Alleluia Community go through a trial period, in which they are immersed in the community life, typically for a few years. This stage – which is referred to as “underway” – is a time of mutual discernment, for both the individual and the community’s leaders to determine if they believe it is a good fit.

“If they are ready and we feel they're ready, then we make a life commitment,” Almeter said.

These members agree to a one-page covenant, which recognizes Jesus as Lord and acknowledges a call to love and support one another, to recognize and pray for the community leaders, and to pursue holiness.

Other people who are attracted to the spirituality and life but cannot make the full commitment can become “associate members.” These members are able to attend events and be part of the community, but without the full commitment.

Associate members may be parents of current community members who have moved nearby to be closer to their kids and find the spirituality appealing but are older and unable to keep up with the full community life. Or one individual in a marriage who is interested in the community, but whose spouse does not feel called to make the full life commitment. Because of the intensity of the lifestyle, Almeter said, a married couple must join together if they wish to be fully covenanted members.

About 25 years after the community was formed, the leaders saw a need to formalize the way of life that they had already been living out, beyond the basic covenant.

A rule of life was produced, laying out the principles of common life in the Alleluia community.

The first rule is to pray daily. Members are not told how to pray, however - that is up to them.

Members also commit to avoiding gossip and to limiting business activity on the Lord’s Day. They agree to fast weekly, carry out works of service, adopt a life of simplicity, and financially support one another.

When the Alleluia Community was first formed, Almeter said, it was a commune.

“We were in total sharing. It lasted about seven years where we put in our paycheck, didn't own anything.”

But the rapid growth in the community made the commune-model difficult, and members came to believe that there was a need for greater subsidiarity and family responsibility.

Today, covenanted members are generally expected to tithe 10% of their income to the community and another 6% to the school – even if they don’t have a student there.

Almeter said many of the residents give far more than that and also pitch in readily to help their neighbors in need. While these numbers may sound high, he said that in joining the community, people are already giving their whole lives, so financial giving follows naturally.

The community is not affluent, Johnson noted.

“It's definitely straight down the middle, middle class. I mean, there's a lot of professionals in Alleluia, so doctors and lawyers and whoever else, but that's not at all the tenor and feeling,” he said. “I think the fact that it's in South Augusta has helped with that. I mean, South Augusta, you're on the wrong side of the tracks.”

As the community has expanded, it has outgrown Faith Village, although Almeter estimated that some 75% of the members still live there – about 250 families within a square mile.

But there are other neighborhoods too, and even a rural area out in the countryside, where about a dozen Alleluia families are living.

The community is still growing, Almeter said, typically by three or four families per year. Most are drawn by word-of-mouth and fall in love with the community when they come to visit.

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Sharon Cosper is a mom of six kids, living in the Alleluia Community.

She and her family live in one of the housing areas with a large common backyard.

“It's wonderful, because your kids just have so much space,” she told The Pillar. “It's ideal really, physically, as far as space to play. It's huge. Football, soccer field, baseball field, whatever you want to make it during that particular activity. But then also just being able to have the freedom in childhood to just run and explore and not be contained by a certain space in what today would just be a very small…yard.”

Cosper has always been part of the Alleluia Community. She grew up living in the community with her parents.

She became less active in the community life when she went to college and medical school – both locally – and she moved away briefly to complete her residency. But she says this time away from the community made her realize just how much she loved it.

Her husband, also Catholic, was involved with an extension of the community about half an hour away in Aiken, South Carolina.

Once they got married and began having kids, Cosper said she particularly appreciated the community’s “focus on family and the culture of supporting one another, having common values and beliefs.”

“For us, we really see the beauty of the support, and really feeling like you're a part of a big family who really is available to support you as you need it.”

That support is manifest in different ways – from the practical benefits of having a friendly neighbor to turn to if you need to borrow a tool, to the emotional benefits of finding solidarity with other parents raising young children.

“Sharing a lot of common values, I think, as a parent with other parents, really helps create unity and it helps create stability for our children. And I think that it allows a place for them to be formed…I think really a key of that is having support in the formation of our children by so many people that are around us,” Cosper said.

Fellowship with other families is another big blessing from the community, she continued.

“If my kids are out in the yard and they want to play, then they might have friends over, and then their mom might come over and it just turns into fellowship for them, fellowship for me. Just a lot of that kind of relating day-to-day happens all the time, very unscripted or unplanned.”

There are definitely challenges to living in a tight-knit community, Cosper acknowledged. But she admires the way that people work through personality differences and other interpersonal conflicts.

“I think that the reality is we're all going to have times where we do think differently or we have differences of opinion. At least in my experience, it always seems like people are able to bring it back to the core, which is we're committed to one another, we're committed to work things out. And ultimately, at the end of the day, the relationship is the most important thing, not whatever the disagreement is about,” she said.

“I've seen people really work through hard things and come out preserving the relationship and being able to move forward. And I think that it's that commitment to one another, and ultimately the commitment to one another and the Lord. And that's why we're able to maintain an ecumenical life. We don't all think the same, and we still retain relationships.”

Almeter also acknowledged that interpersonal conflicts are bound to arise when there are hundreds of people living together in a community. But one of the agreements of the covenant is to accept correction humbly.

“That’s how you grow in holiness,” he said. “Literally, that’s part of our formation…learning how to biblically deal with conflict with one another.”

For example, he said, disputes can arise over uncleaned dog poop in the large open space behind the houses. While the general rule is that owners need to clean up after their own pets, “some people are more fastidious about that than others.”

If a dispute arises, members are expected to give and receive correction in a loving way.

“If there's a huge dispute and somebody can't get it settled, we bring in pastoral help to work it through,” he said. “It would be the same with marriages. We have a pastoral care system here where every couple, every family has pastoral care, somebody to go to if there's issues going on. That keeps our divorce rate really low. Most of our families are all intact.”

Cosper said her own experience of being raised in the Alleluia Community shaped her ability to love others more fully.

“I feel like I was raised in a way that was very loved and very nurtured and very intentional, and that I was given just great stability. And then I in turn have the desire to share that with others that maybe haven't had that same experience.”

She hopes her children have a similar experience of growing up in the community.

“I would hope that it provides them with a sense of being loved and having a foundation that is secure, and that then they can go and foster from that a sense of confidence and empathy and the pursuit of pouring that love back really into society and into others,” she said.

“Having good support, I think, helps me in forming children that are whole people, that can go and then impact society in a positive way.”

Cosper added that she finds the ecumenical nature of the community to be “so beautiful,” and she hopes it teaches her kids that diversity is not a threat.

“People thinking differently than you is not something to be defensive about. It's something that you can be curious about and you can learn from others that think differently or are different in their faith than you,” she said.

“As I think about them being part of the larger society, it prepares them to not be intimidated or to not be unable to relate with people that think differently than them and to love others in their differences.”

Families gather for a celebration in the common backyard area at the Alleluia Community.


Johnson recognized that the community is not a utopia, and it faces the same challenges that are endemic to human nature.

But he said that the friendships and mentorships he developed there profoundly shaped his faith and spirituality.

Johnson moved away from Georgia for college, and lived in Washington, D.C., for a while.

But after returning to Georgia a number of years ago, he felt called to “sign the covenant” to formalize his affiliation with the community. 

As a diocesan priest, Johnson’s life didn’t change much when he became a full covenanted member of Alleluia. Most fully covenanted members live in or near Faith Village, but the community recognizes the requirements of Johnson’s priestly vocation, serving in a parish about two hours away.

“There's a long-distance relationship that is, I can't explain it, but I would just say that I find it spiritually efficacious,” he said.

He does try to make regular visits to Faith Village, where his mom and brother still live.

“I go there on my day off, walk out in the backyard, and there's 10 moms and a bunch of blonde-headed, red-headed kiddos running around, just like it was when I was a kid. And there's just a kind of a beauty - the fact that there's a commitment to each other that's based on their faith in Jesus, that even if I don't like you, I'm still in some fundamental sense, committed to you.”

Johnson hopes that he can bring some of the features of the Alleluia community to his current parish, albeit perhaps in a different style. He thinks parish life would benefit from small groups and a drive to “light this place on fire” – fighting spiritual inertia with the “expectation that God is alive, the Holy Spirit is powerful.”

One of the gifts of living in the Alleluia community, he said, was its embrace of different styles of worship, despite the generally charismatic nature of the community.

He describes himself as liturgically “very conservative” and “a traditionalist,” although not a “rad trad.” But he says he also loves praise-and-worship, and he felt at home attending college at Franciscan University of Steubenville, known for its charismatic style of worship.

Most of the priests coming out of Alleluia are similar, he said. Some have a love for the Latin Mass.

“All that's kind of accommodated, I'd say in some ways.”

The Alleluia community, he said, has managed to avoid much of the polarization found in other parts of the Catholic Church in the United States.

“I think that for whatever reason, Alleluia has avoided the polarizing effects of the Traditional Latin Mass vs. laissez-faire sort of liberalism [division]. And also stayed away from the fray of…the pugilistic aspects of Catholic social blogs right now.”

“It's not a big deal in Alleluia,” he said. “I suppose I see that to be just part of the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Johnson thinks the broader Catholic community could learn from examples like the Alleluia Community about the power of unity in the Holy Spirit to overcome differences and division.

“When you're really making a serious sacrifice to live in a place, and to spend your money on a place, and to invest in it in that way, and to do that with a trust and conviction…just the way that we've chosen to follow the Lord and live with each other, you're kind of making sacrifices that hurt,” he said.

“And it tends to, I don't know, those jagged edges get smoother, I suppose.”

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