This spring, college students everywhere have faced unexpected challenges, from shifting to online distance learning mid-semester to adjusting to life at home away from friends. For Christendom students, this has been a difficult change, as they have not only have faced the disappointment of missed time with friends and professors, but also the daily spiritual opportunities found at Christendom. Despite these challenges, many Christendom students have found solace in their student-run spiritual formation groups called Strongholds, uniting together in prayer even at a distance.
Christendom’s Strongholds are small-scale, peer-led, all-male or all-female groups that focus on spiritual growth and the pursuit of virtue. Each Stronghold selects a “common call” to work toward, like a patron saint, specific act of service, or vocational discernment. With this common call as focus, members meet weekly, pray together, and select challenges to inspire growth in virtue.
Even though students are at home, they have continued to meet with members of their Strongholds virtually. Through online discussions, prayer accountability, and weekly virtue building challenges, Strongholds have persevered in their respective missions despite the distance.
Freshman Julia Seeley, a member of the “Vita et Via Domini” Stronghold, which focuses on discerning the Lord’s will and seeking good examples of Christian vocations, both in religious life and marriage, has found comfort and encouragement by meeting with her fellow Stronghold members via Zoom.
In their virtual meetings, Vita et Via Domini members have been discussing spiritual reading and have been praying Vespers together. Praying together over Zoom has been a great practice, especially since they are no longer able to attend Daily Mass together. The members have also enjoyed simply being able to connect with their peers.
“We have solid conversations about life…it’s so comforting staying connected with my Stronghold community when community is so lacking right now,” Seeley shared. “I love being able to keep in touch with my Christendom sisters.”
Freshman Joseph Cole, leader of the St. Joseph Stronghold, shared that he and his peers have been meeting via Microsoft Teams every Saturday since being sent home for the semester. At a typical meeting, the group reads a reflection on St. Joseph, discusses the virtue exemplified in it, and focuses on growing in this virtue throughout the week through a common challenge. Not only has the Stronghold helped the young men grow in virtue, but it has also been a welcome opportunity for friendship and community.
“We believe this time of quarantine is really the Strongholds’ time to shine. We need the communal support they provide especially now, when we are physically separated from our Christendom family,” shared Cole. “The Stronghold helps us to live more intentionally, from academics and the spiritual life to friendships and community.”
Dean of Students Tim Judge, who has been instrumental in the founding of the Strongholds program, shares these sentiments. Judge believes that remote participation in Strongholds has been instrumental for many students in overcoming the social isolation of these difficult times.
“Strongholds have offered students an outlet, outside of the digital classroom, to interact with one another. It’s incredible to hear how Strongholds have endured the distancing, displaying a durability that’s surely strengthening our community at large,” shared Judge. “I believe that Strongholds were built for a time such as this and our Strongholds student leaders are rising to the challenge.”
To support the Strongholds initiative during this time, the college’s Student Life staff has been hosting online Strongholds Leader training sessions to equip Strongholds student leaders with a clear vision for those they guide and form them in Christ-like leadership.
Strongholds are a powerful way for students to pursue holiness, find spiritual community, and ultimately, draw closer to Christ. Amidst the numerous challenges of today, the perseverance of Strongholds is a cause for hope.