Christendom was founded to be not only an academic community, but also a community where students could thrive in a supportive environment and be known to others on campus – both faculty and students alike. The college fosters this community through a great number of campus-wide events, from dining together during lunch, to engaging with each other at academic events, to praying with each other at daily Mass. This fall, the college’s Student Life Office began a new initiative to help continue to build up this community. Called “strongholds,” these communities of three to twelve members exist to intentionally foster an even more authentic sense of community on campus.
Strongholds combine mentoring from faculty and staff with student-run meetings dedicated to a particular saint or charism. This model took off when dean of students Tim Judge, residence director Tim Cook, and philanthropy officer David Costanzo sat down to brainstorm.
“Strongholds were definitely a long time in coming, probably for the past decade,” says Judge. “Student Life has been trying for a long time to create small groups on campus for accountability. Over the summer, David, Tim, and I sat down to discuss how to do this, and we came up with the idea of strongholds. We really pushed strongholds at our opening talks, and a lot of people signed up right there.”
There are currently 11 strongholds on campus, with each stronghold consisting of three to twelve students with a faculty or staff mentor to guide the meetings. A patron saint and devotion are chosen by the members to form the groundwork of the particular stronghold’s character, as expressed in the stronghold’s vision statement. For example, the men’s stronghold “Soldiers Surrendered to Christ,” guided by Judge, fosters a particular devotion to St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Life can be challenging, but no one should face their struggles on their own. Strongholds offer students a place to be themselves, encourage each other in virtue, and enjoy each other’s company. Sophomore Monica Marsh loves this aspect of the strongholds and belongs to a women’s stronghold dedicated to St. Therese of Lisieux.
“I love the name ‘stronghold,’” says Marsh. “It reminds us that God is our stronghold.”
The meetings, lasting roughly an hour, involve reading a spiritual work together, discussing the most valuable points, and collaborating to apply these points to everyday living. In this way, students can work together to grow closer to Christ and share His light with the rest of campus. Marsh’s stronghold, guided by literature professor Sharon Hickson, is currently reading Edith Stein’s letters to women at their meetings.
Though strongholds are created under a faculty or staff mentor, the students themselves organize the meeting times. Each stronghold organizes acts of service to the campus throughout the semester, as well as arranging stronghold Masses once a week or praying Morning Prayer together. Strongholds also offer a way to come together with peers. The men’s stronghold Cristeros hosted a special movie night for the men of campus as a means of bringing other students together, while introducing them to the ideas of strongholds at the same time.
Strongholds have been received very positively so far by the student body, as they begin to make more of an impact on the life of the Christendom community as a whole. This initiative proves the dedication and willingness of students to commit more deeply to growing spiritually in the community, showing the vibrancy of life on campus. Christendom looks forward to welcoming more strongholds in the years to come as the campus continues to grow, helping students in their formational journey in the process.
Special to Christendom College by contributing author Riley Damitz ’20.