By Nadia Maria Smith
CS&T Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA – Thanks to the efforts of one young adult and a Capuchin priest, 35 young adults have found family-style fellowship and Catholic community in Philadelphia.
David Sao, 24, a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Parish, said he noticed how young adults were struggling with their faith and living alone after college. He found that many of those he spoke to dreamed of living in community with other Catholics. Sao approached Capuchin Father David Engo, the young adult ministry leader at St. John the Evangelist, for help in starting community houses for adults in their 20s and 30s.
In less than a year, four community houses have sprung up around Philadelphia under the spiritual direction of Father Engo.
The first home for men is in Northern Liberties in the former rectory of Immaculate Conception Parish, and the female counterpart is in Queen Village in the former rectory of St. Stanislaus Parish. They are both houses of prayer and discernment – meaning that “it is a place where people come together to discern their vocation, whether it is to the religious, married or consecrated single life,” Sao said. “You can do it with support and with others who are discerning as well.”
“The idea is to discern God’s will and do it,” Father Engo said. “By age 25 you are so beaten up by life that you need to rest and heal from that in order to move forward with a decision about your vocation. The community houses offer structured prayer and accountability.”
The other two homes are centered on prayer and service in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. The female house is located in the former rectory of St. Joan of Arc Parish and the male house is across the street so the two can support each other in what is otherwise considered a rough neighborhood.
“They live the same prayer life and are still discerning their vocation, but the emphasis is on service to the community,” Father Engo said. “They all have regular jobs but they have particular ministries to the community such as door-to-door evangelization, monthly brunches and Holy Hours for the neighbors and assisting the parish out there.”
The houses have Morning Prayer five days a week with nightly Holy Hours Monday through Thursday. Each house member commits to at least one Holy Hour a week and 30 minutes of inspanidual prayer in addition to the community prayer. Each member also has a spiritual director to help with discernment. There is a Mass for all the community houses and a spiritual formation gathering once a month.
The distinctive feature in the houses is that because they are former rectories they have a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament, which is ideal for the type of faith formation the homes provide, Father Engo said.
“The former rectories are from combined parishes where the parish is still open but the priests are living in the other parish rectory. They are still paying to keep these empty rectories heated and the electricity on. By living there, we are fulfilling their needs as well as ours,” Father Engo said. “The pastors have been more than gracious and good about assisting the houses and we’ve had the full support and backing of the Archdiocese.”
Sao, the “father” of the Immaculate Conception Men’s House, says the experience has been life-changing.
“I didn’t think I could live in a rectory as a single person with nine other people and love each of them,” he said. “Community life can be a great gift from the Lord, and it can also be a great penance. It has taught me a lot about what it’s like to be a priest and what it would be like to have a large family. There is always lots going on, and each of us wants to take care of each other. There are struggles, but also edifying conversation and communion.”
Although the community members make a one-year commitment to live in a community house and although they are not given a time frame by when they need to leave, the houses will have a high turnover rate because their purpose is to help young adults get into their vocations as soon as possible, Sao said.
For more information or to inquire about living at a discernment house, contact Father David Engo at (215) 563-4145.
CS&T staff writer Nadia Maria Smith may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (215) 965-4614.