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 .
- 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. ↑
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. ↑
- 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. ↑