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Seattle University


Jesuit Living

Written by Nicole Vukonich ’11
July 18, 2011

Nestled among the quaint homes on Barclay Court just a few blocks away from the heart of Seattle University’s campus is the Peter-Hans Kolvenbach Community. Named for the former superior general of the Society of Jesus, the Kolvenbach Community is comprised of eight students, four men and four women, who live in two adjacent houses that share a garden. And yet how they live is really what defines this intentional community. 

Kolvenbach residents are encouraged to experience Jesuit living in a new way. They are guided by five pillars—service, community, simple living, spirituality and solidarity—and inspired by the words of the community’s namesake, who once said, “When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change.” 

The group explores and engages their faith lives through community reflections and retreats. And yet, there is nothing insular or passive about this community. Kolvenbach, as one resident put it, is a “C.I.A.,” that is, a community in action.  

As such, participants commit to doing at least five hours of service each week. Kolvenbachers have been known to teach civics and English to aspiring citizens, serve in local community kitchens for the homeless and work for Real Change News, to name just a few of their volunteer activities. Community members are also encouraged to see themselves as part of the Squire Park Neighborhood and actively participate in the life of the neighborhood. 

 The 2010-2011 Kolvenbachers brought different and complementary perspectives to the community.  
As for simple living, this Kolvenbach pillar can literally be found in the walls of the community. When the two Kolvenbach homes were remodeled in 2007, green building materials were used and energy-efficient and water-saving appliances as well as other environmentally friendly features were incorporated in the buildings. Residents are expected to follow suit by diligently recycling and composting, and buying food and other consumables locally. They also participate in electricity-free days, which are intended not only to conserve energy but, even more important, to turn off the noise and distractions of the world so they can be more present to each other and the wider community. 

“I love that the Kolvenbach community provides students a unique opportunity to live into a professed set of values,” says Seán Bray of Campus Ministry, who advises the community along with staff from Housing and Residence Life and the Center for Service and Community Engagement.  “I often meet with students who value these same ideals but struggle to find expression in their lives. Kolvenbach provides students with a home and community to nurture and support the growth of shared values which are then gifted to the broader community.” 

The community, which is open to incoming sophomores, juniors and seniors, has quickly emerged as a highly sought-after experience. Since the program began four years ago, applications have been steadily rising. The Kolvenbach Community draws a special type of student. “Everyone (who’s here), wants to be here,” said 2011 resident Dale Knudsen. “We are not just assigned. Everyone has a commitment to the community.”  

In talking with Knudsen and other members of the 2010-2011 Kolvenbachers, it was apparent that the real value of the experience is not necessarily in learning something completely new and revolutionary; rather, it’s about learning who you are and putting your talents and passions to work for others. 

When asked to provide some words of wisdom for next year’s community, Knudsen advised, “Be prepared to learn about others, but more so about yourself.”  

“Take the lesson learned here, beyond,” Mary Pauline Diaz suggested.  

And as Kait McDougal, another 2010-2011 participant, put it, the Kolvenbach Community is about creating “community for community.”