Loneliness from within: An examination of household life today


“College freshmen are the loneliest people.” The Rev. Michael Scanlan, TOR, stated this as his reason for starting households at Franciscan University of Steubenville in the 1970s, and over 40 years later, his words still ring true — yet now the loneliness plagues campus from within the system as well.

According to Bob Lesnefsky, director of Household Life, around 60 percent of Franciscan students join a household. However, a factor of household life that is less discussed is why some people choose to leave household.

A former student named Rachel said, “I left household because the atmosphere before I became an intent was very welcoming, but after I became an intent … I no longer felt at home or welcomed with the women, except for a few.” Rachel said that this was partially because she found out that some of her sisters were gossiping about her and also because she felt drawn to a slightly different spirituality than the other sisters.

Senior Michael Olenchuk likewise said that he started to pull away from his household, Disciples of the Word, when he noticed cliques forming. “I noticed the household was devolving into two cliques that wouldn’t interact with each other and then people like me on the outskirts,” said Olenchuk. “It feels like, ‘if you’re not a Disciple and you’re not interested in becoming a Disciple, we don’t want to talk to you.’”

Olenchuk said he originally joined his household because he wanted to live its covenant. “It was the charisms and the covenant that made me a better person; it wasn’t the guys, even though the guys were cool,” he said. Toward the end of his sophomore year, when he noticed cliques forming, he found himself on the outside.

And Olenchuk noticed that he was not the only one on the outside of his household’s cliques. “(Scanlan) made (households) because freshmen are lonely. So, what are households for? Households are to reach out to freshmen and be like, ‘hey, there are communities here. We want you to be part of our community. Whether you are a member or not, we want you to enjoy being a part of what we do.’”

A current senior, who will be called Mary, also noticed that “besides going to commitments, there’s not a lot of ways to get involved with households for people who are not in households.”

In her own case, Mary joined a household her freshman year, but she felt isolated within it for most of her time as an intent and sister. This was partially because, like Rachel, she felt drawn to a different spirituality, but she believes that much of her isolation derived from her intentship being so rushed that she did not have enough time to get to know her new sisters or decide if this was the right household for her.

“I was in household for almost two years and just ignored the feeling because I felt so trapped,” said Mary. She explained that she had thought about leaving household before, but she worried about what the rest of household would think. And indeed, when she first confided in a household sister, her sister reacted as she anticipated. “I came to her very broken,” said Mary, “and it immediately flipped to ‘what is household going to think? … This isn’t good for us.’”

While some people see the cliquishness and internal isolation of households and decide to leave the system or never even join, other students try to combat this and form new ones. According to “No Longer Strangers,” a history of household life written by the Rev. Gregory Plow, TOR, and Regina Doman, Franciscan usually sees about one new or re-activated household per year, but since spring 2018, six new households have formed.

Sophomore Emma Vansuch, coordinator of Magnifica Amorem Christi, said that she and her group of friends formed a household during their freshman year because “by the middle of our freshman fall semester, we were basically already functioning much like a household.”

“While we love household life and the other households on campus,” Vansuch said, “we found that many of the households seemed stuck in ruts of comfort or complacency. We felt that a household should not only foster a healthy growth in and between each of its women, but that it should be active in and contribute to the overall culture of the campus.”

Other coordinators of new households shared this perspective. Freshman Luke Pipa, Defenders of Purity coordinator, said, “We don’t want to be clique-y; this is a household, but at the same time, anyone can come.”

With the induction of each new household, more and more students have begun to question the seemingly-relaxed requirements for new-forming households.

“I think there needs to be a criteria for what makes a household,” said junior Emily Cattapan, member of Sacrifice of Love, “and if there’s a household we have already that has the same charisms, stick with the one we already have.”

Junior Cindy Wolfe, member of Roses of the Immaculate Heart, agreed with Cattapan, adding that “new households being formed affect smaller households.”

“I admire all of the new households,” said Wolfe. “However, … a lot of the members of the new households are freshmen, and I don’t think freshmen should be allowed to start their own households because they’re not given enough time to look at all the other households and truly see if the other households maybe have the charisms that they would like to follow, because a lot of the new ones are very similar to a lot of the old households.”

A group is not required to visit any households before forming its own, and of all the households interviewed, most of the founding members visited less than half of the households for their gender. Wolfe and Cattapan agreed that there should be some set prerequisite for people who want to form new households.

Lesnefsky offered a different perspective on households: “The reality is, there’s only so many ways you can slice the Gospel.”

There are currently 53 active households, and Lesnefsky said that if he thought a household was similar to one that already existed, he would ask the prospective founders if they had looked into the household in question. If they pressed by explaining how theirs was indeed different, then he would allow them to form.

“You are doing something very similar,” he said. “That’s just the truth. But I haven’t found one that I thought, ‘no, this is too similar.’ I’ve never stopped one because of similarity.”

As evidenced by the many new-forming households and the members of households who have left disillusioned, household life appears to be in a state of restlessness. All parties interviewed expressed how beneficial household life can be when carried out well, though everyone has a different opinion of what “well” means.

It is easy to turn a blind eye to the problems in households since household life is so ingrained in Franciscan life, but that is exactly why these problems are worth addressing. Household life has always faced problems, whether internal or external, and it can be assumed that it always will. As the authors of “No Longer Strangers” aptly noted, “keeping the surface clean requires constant scrubbing.”

So, why does the state of household life matter? In the words of Ann Dulany in “No Longer Strangers,” “As go households, so goes the culture of the University.”