Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

New York City Brownstone Is Home to 15 Millennial Catholics

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

New York City Brownstone Is Home to 15 Millennial Catholics

Article excerpt

NEW YORK * Even in an expensive city that inspires creative living arrangements, this is not your average New York roommate situation.

At dinnertime on a Tuesday night at Ford Hall, a four-story brownstone on West 114th Street in Manhattan's Morningside Heights neighborhood, six residents, of 15, gather for the first dinner shift at a long rectangular table laden with a larger-than-life pot of pasta.

But first, the sign of the cross is performed. Grace is said.

At Ford Hall, a 45-year-old co-op for single Roman Catholic graduate students at Columbia University, spirituality and social connection go hand in hand. It's a natural combination for most millennials of faith, even if these millennials are more traditionalist than most, with upbringings that can run counter to that of other digital natives.

"I went to an all-girls school. I was really sheltered," said one 28-year-old resident, who had never had roommates before moving into Ford Hall. "I never really had guy friends."

In Ford Hall, she said, she finds the unplanned interactions with like minds a boon. "I'm up in my room really struggling with something in my head, like a negative thought, upset about something and deeply sad, and I'll come down and it will totally change."

Besides identifying as Catholic--applications must include a spiritual recommendation from a priest or other faith leader--and pursuing a Columbia degree, "Fordies" are also expected to exhibit a desire for relationships and the willingness to take on a role such as a house director, finance director or social director. They'll also cook for their housemates once every three weeks.

Once they apply, prospective residents are invited to dinner. Afterward, the housemates decide whether to admit them. In 2018, four people applied for three rooms, though a few years back 13 people graduated at once, and a whole new set of residents moved in.

Last semester, there were six women and nine men, whose ages range from 24 to 32, from the U.S., Portugal, India, Canada and elsewhere around the globe. Each resident has his or her own bedroom and shares one of the 12 bathrooms. The decor might be described as '70s grandparent: a cork bulletin board in the dining room is layered with prayer cards, Mass cards and notes from alumni. Lining the walls of the creaky stairs are framed group photos of Fordies past, mostly in red holiday sweaters in front of a Christmas tree.

When Ford Hall opened in 1974, the headline of a New York Times article announced "22 Columbia and Barnard Students Form Coed Commune to Replace 'Inhuman' Dorm." Today Ford Hall isn't a commune but an "intentional community," though rent includes, besides the weekly dinners, house necessities such as paper towels and batteries.

Its goal, to offer a center for Catholic life on campus, has stayed consistent. Ford Hall opens its doors once a month for community dinners and weekly for men's and women's Bible studies.

As the core of that faith life, the house also hosts a weekly Mass (currently on Tuesdays after dinner) in the cramped chapel tucked into a former bedroom. Attendance isn't mandatory but strongly encouraged. The homily, given by Columbia's resident priest, Fr. Daniel O'Reilly, is tailored to the residents' lives. Each school semester begins with a required retreat for all occupants.

Other spiritual aspects of the house are less structured. Suffering a difficult breakup, one resident came home to a note on her bedroom door: "You are a beautiful strong, holy, and intelligent woman. …

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