What were households meant to be?

by Kathleen van Schaijik

I am writing in response to an article by Kathleen van Schaijik last semester in which she criticized the present situations of households on campus. She wrote about an “official interference with the workings of individual households,” and she questioned the purpose and meaning of the household covenants. As an FUS student interested in joining a household or possibly starting my own, I wonder what she thinks the purpose of households originally was, if indeed that purpose has changed over the course of time. What was it that made households then different and better for Kathleen van Schaijik?

The author, who is a sophomore, prefers to remain anonymous.

Kathleen van Schaijik replies:

I am very happy to hear that students are raising questions like these. It is just the sort of thing I hoped for when I wrote my article. It is so temptingly easy to just go with the flow and do what we’re told—accepting the system uncritically, ignoring evidence that things may be off kilter, and avoiding the responsibility to discern carefully for ourselves what is right and good and what may not be.

We should not forget that the household system, though obviously inspired by God, is nevertheless a human institution—subject to error, requiring correction and open to improvement. We do a serious disservice to that institution, to the University as whole, and to the students in particular, if fail to acknowledge this in practice—for instance, by treating honest and responsible criticism as if were an “attack” on households.1

As to the purpose of households, I think, at its most basic level, it is now what it always has been: to provide a means of conversion and personal growth for the FUS student body.

The difficulty, as I see it, is not with the purpose itself, but with the way that purpose is practically carried out by Student Life. In my view, too many at FUS (consciously or not) tend to interpret student evangelization too much in terms of pastoring. those who make this mistake put too much emphasis on “programs” and “teachings;” they treat households as if they were mainly a way of organizing students into accessible groups, open to a sort of trickle-down formation process going from Student Life to the RDs to the coordinators to the members; they look askance at student groups who resist their initiatives and prefer to go their own route; they think they strengthen and improve household life when they redouble the pastoring—more teachings, more central programming, more “access” to individual students through mandatory meetings. Whereas, in my opinion, as I said in my earlier article, the greatness of household life2 lies its being precisely not a pastoring thing, but rather a way for peers to help and support each other in their life of faith.3

I think that this bad tendency has always been present to a certain degree, just as it was present in the covenant communities which inspired the household system. But, by the nature of these things, if the tendency isn’t deliberately checked, it gets worse over time. When I was a student, at least for the first two years, there was far less of it.

Much more could and should be said. The discussion has barely begun. I hope others will send in their perspectives, including current students and staff members.

Besides the four years spent as a student at FUS, and the five semesters on the Gaming campus, Kathleen van Schaijik resided in Steubenville from 1994-1996, during which time she was frequently on campus and otherwise in close contact University students, staff and professors, as well as with household advisers. Her husband Jules taught philosophy at FUS during the 1995-1996 school year. Her parents live in Steubenville. Her father, Nicholas Healy, is a University Vice President .

  1. We should always be vigilant against error in any human institution, but at FUS we have special reason for being on our guard in the recent history of the covenant communities with which our University is so closely tied (culturally and historically speaking). There we see, graphically illustrated, the serious damage that can be done through even divinely-inspired, well-intended, and zealously applied programs for Christian living. Among the things we should have learned through that painful experience, is the importance of encouraging public reflection and open criticism of such programs. ↑
  2. While I’m on the subject, I’ll seize the opportunity to answer an objection to my previous article, which I’ve heard second hand more than once, and which goes something like this: “Kathleen van Schaijik doesn’t know what she’s talking about when she says households are a grassroots thing. They were never grassroots; they were instituted by Father Michael when he became president, and they have been organized and run by the Student Life Office ever since.” Here is my answer to this objection:
    When I said that households were essentially a grassroots thing, I was not speaking of their historical facticity, but rather of their “genius,” that is, of their distinctive greatness—of what it is about them that makes them such a powerful instrument for good at FUS. It is true, as a matter of historical fact, that households did not arise spontaneously from the student body, but were rather instituted (even imposed) by university officials. I think it is also safe to say that if they had not been officially instituted, they never would have happened. Nevertheless, I still say they are essentially grassroots—not because of how they began, but because of what they are, namely, a network of peer-support. University officials (thanks be to them and to God) got households off the ground, but once there, they took wing, so to speak, and began to live a life of their own—the kind of life that thrives best when its left mostly alone. ↑
  3. Not that I have anything against pastoring, in its place. What I’m against is the reduction of evangelization to pastoring, which tends to downplay or overlook the (often times more valuable) other ways the Holy Spirit is moving among students, such as through their friendships or through their studies. ↑

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I,1 NFP, by itself, does not compromise the marriage vocation I,2 What is a ‘real’ Catholic education? I,3 Orthodox not paradox I,4 How does a university evangelize? I,4 NFP and connaturality I,5 Thomism and intellectual freedom I,7 Keeping our worship in step with ‘what the Spirit is saying’ to FUS II,1 Can charismatics and traditionalists peacefully coexist? II,1 The horror of polygamy and the persistence of chauvinistic theories in Catholic academia II,2 The challenge of the Concourse: discussion without (much) contention II,3 When old ideas are breaking up II,4 Why the polygamy problem is not as passe as it appears: Kathleen van Schaijik responds to critics II,9 Why ‘charismatic spirituality’ belongs at the heart of our communal life III,1 What is the University Concourse? III,1 How not to help households III,3 Silence betokens ... What? III,4 The freedom of stricture III,5 What were households meant to be? III,5 Different degrees of authority IV,1 Love Never Leaves IV,2 Faith and Reason IV,5 A different perspective on the modesty question IV,6 Strangers to the world V,1 New face, same spirit V,3 The ‘Stratford man’ and the Shakespearean canon: no match at all V,4 Bringing the masses from starvation to full strength V,6 Branching out through Christus Magister V,6 Kathleen van Schaijik replies to John Doman on Shakespeare V,7 A Catholic critique of a current notion of courtship VI,1 The evil of exorcising judgement VII,1 Jump Start VII,1 Abusing NFP VII,1 It’s not the Vatican, it’s the laity III,6 Last words (for now) III,6 A suggestion regarding Extraordinary Ministers III,6 Catholic teaching on capital punishment III,6 A final thought on the household issue III,6 What is our mission, really? III,6 What if Shakspere wasn’t Shakespeare? III,6 Clinton’s sorry legacy III,6 Evolution III,6 Intimidated? Please don’t be. III,6 A gift for the graduates of ‘98 III,6 A point of policy III,6 A point of principle III,6 A word of thanks IV,7 Happy & sad IV,7 Oxford gaining on Shakspere IV,7 Of private and collegiate morality IV,7 Newman, education and context IV,7 Witnesses to Faith in the face of death IV,7 Viva the class of ‘99! IV,7 A prize winning physicist out of his depth IV,7 A positive psychology IV,7 How to become a leader IV,7 Campus politics IV,7 Thanksgiving V,8 Fr. Michael’s achievement V,8 Charity may be severe V,8 On the other side of the same coin V,8 The Weimar Republicans V,8 Drawing out an analogy V,8 Beware of economic Puritanism V,8 How to support the Concourse by buying books V,8 Shakespeare debate update V,8 What the education debate is and isn’t about V,8 Dear Class of 2000 V,8 Thanksgiving