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‘Strongholds’ fight isolation

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A poll conducted by the market research firm YouGov made headlines last month when it reported that one in five millennials said they have no friends. This study makes evident the cultural undercurrent of isolation.

When Christendom College in Front Royal was founded in 1977, creating a campus culture conducive to community and friendship was a priority. But now, in a time when people are increasingly disconnected, the college’s desire to foster a Christ-centered community has become an even more pressing and difficult call. One of the ways the college is fighting back against the culture of isolation is through the creation of student groups called “strongholds” begun last fall.

Strongholds are small-scale, peer-led, all male or all female groups that focus on growth in faith and in virtue. When students decide to establish a stronghold, they discern a “common call” to work toward, maybe a Marian devotion, acts of service or vocational discernment. With this common goal in mind, members regularly pray together and meet weekly to discuss their spiritual lives and select challenges that foster growth in virtue. During the spring, several of the men’s strongholds chose to participate in Exodus 90, an intense regimen of penance that begins 90 days before Easter. Strongholds often select a patron saint, or ask a faculty or staff member to serve as a mentor.

While Christendom students have many opportunities to grow spiritually through activities such as going to spiritual direction, going on a mission trip, attending peer-led discussions in the residence halls, or taking advantage of the extensive liturgical schedule, participation in a stronghold is a unique way to pursue holiness and find spiritual community.

Strongholds give students a setting to be vulnerable with one another and to build deep spiritual friendships. Members hold each other accountable to their spiritual resolutions, spurring each other on to greater maturity and a deeper relationship with Christ. 

“Being a part of a stronghold has been an amazing way for my friends and me to challenge one another in our relationships with Christ and with everyone with whom we interact,” said junior Elizabeth Eller. “We are really able to be accountable to each other, and striving for virtue together brings us closer to one another. It’s something really unique and fruitful for us.” 

During the 2018-19 academic year, eight women’s and five men’s strongholds started. This year, the number of strongholds is growing, and new students are eager to join.

“I think strongholds are a powerful initiative on campus,” said sophomore Henry Summers. “Their strength lies not simply in the weekly meetings, but in the inspiration members give each other through daily college life.”

Strongholds are providing students a place to be themselves, encourage each other in virtue, enjoy one another’s company and build community. Saving the culture begins one community at a time.

Burke is communications manager at Christendom College in Front Royal. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019