Across America many Catholic convent buildings, which once housed a blessed surplus of religious sisters, are now standing underutilized and sometimes completely empty. The disuse of these buildings is expensive on our already cash-strapped parishes. On the other hand, there’s another set of problems: chilling statistics that show that our young people are becoming more and more disengaged from the faith, a sharp increase in loneliness and depression among young people, and a lot of young people wondering where they belong in life in a world that is changing so quickly.
In San Francisco, we thought, why not solve these problems with one solution? We formed a non-profit organization called Harbor and leased a convent building next door to a parish. We found several young men who wanted to live a more intentional Catholic life. These men live in this repurposed convent according to a rule appropriate for committed single guys including regular times of prayer, a weekly common meal (everyone takes turns cooking and cleaning!), a commitment to serve the local parish community, and to attend a monthly vocational seminar. They also agree to meet with a mentor and a spiritual director once a month to help keep them focused and so they do not drift around aimlessly.
We haven’t been open long, but we’re already seeing fruits. I think your parish should turn its convent building into a house for young adults too. Here are some reasons why.
6 Reasons Your Parish Should Open Its Convent Buildings To Young Adults
1. It will generate some extra cash for your parish.
While not the most important reason, perhaps the most obvious reason to open your convent to young adults is that it can be a source of revenue for your parish. Over the years of disuse, pipes become corroded, roofs need repairs — these buildings which should be assets become liabilities. Let’s be good stewards of the gifts God has given us! Most convents will not only pay for their own repairs, they will also generate surplus revenue for the parish that can be used to further other important parish endeavors.
2. It will honor the legacy of the people who built it.
But it’s not just about money. It breaks my heart whenever I find out about another convent being sold to developers for secular purposes. Our convents were built in love by generous benefactors to support the mission of the Church. To honor their legacy, wouldn’t it be better to use these convents in a way that continues with this mission? In the long run, helping to form intentional communities of young people to pray and be open to the callings of the Holy Spirit may be the very recipe to once again fill these convents with sisters and brothers.
3. It will draw young people to your parish.
Most of our community attends daily Mass at the parish next door. A few days after Harbor opened in San Francisco, an elderly lady walked up to me and remarked, “We haven’t seen young people come to daily Mass in decades!” She then used this opportunity to include members of our community on the roster for liturgical functions like reading at Mass.
4. It will create a “hub” for young people.
Because of our shelter-in-place regulations, Harbor has not been able to host many guests in the past few months. However, once things begin to normalize, Harbor wants to be a Catholic hub for young adult Catholics in San Francisco. Even without having guests, we still receive inquiries from young faithful Catholics moving to San Francisco wanting to live in intentional Catholic community. We look forward to hosting barbecues, film nights, book clubs, dances, Bible studies, and more.
5. It will solve a big problem: growing loneliness among the young.
A global health service company called Cigna performed a nationwide survey to measure loneliness in America. As it turns out, our country is getting lonelier with Millennials and Generation Z being the loneliest. The secular world has responded to this need by establishing co-living communities in cities. Co-living communities are apartments that provide beautiful common living spaces and activities like common meals, bar hopping, and personal development opportunities. Our community is providing a Catholic alternative to these secular co-living communities.
6. It will provide opportunities for discernment, formation, and intentionality.
Many of our young people who want to serve Christ are looking for opportunities to live in a setting that fosters their relationship with Christ. We firmly believe that you cannot discover your vocation without community. You need people to help you discover your gifts, to bounce ideas off of, and a good network of friends to provide emotional support. Our community also keeps everyone accountable. We make sure we remind each other to honor the Sabbath, to make penance on Fridays, to have chaste relationships, and to stick to our prayer rule.
These intentional Catholic communities can take all kinds of forms and shapes. In fact, our community has its very own co-working space where we hope young Catholic professionals can work and collaborate on their projects. Perhaps the fruits of this might be the next Catholic Twitter!
Communities like Harbor are popping up all over the United States. We believe this is a movement of the Holy Spirit. In the long term, we hope to see more vocations to the religious life, to faithful Catholic marriage, to other “third way” vocations.
But where can you start? There’s a lot that goes into transforming a convent building into a thriving Catholic community of young people. If you’d like some support on this journey, organizations like Harbor are here to help. To learn more about Harbor, visit http://www.goharbor.org.