National Public Radio reported this week on an intentional community growing up in Hyattsville, Md., of orthodox Catholics. The community has gathered around St. Jerome Catholic Church and St. Jerome Academy, a school which has experienced a revitalization after shifting its curriculum to a more traditional, God-centered study and attracting young families to the area.
“The parish life was very important to us,” says Daniel Gibbons, 40, who teaches at Catholic University in nearby Washington, D.C., and moved to Hyattsville with his young family four years ago. “I know from my own childhood that it can be very hard to raise children as a Catholic if you don’t have a community of other Catholics who are trying to make the faith real in their everyday lives and raise the children in ways that are harmonious with their faith.”
The town also attracts residents for its old-fashioned, it-takes-a-village small size and “walkability”:
The town of Hyattsville itself, with a population of barely 17,000, is also an attraction to these young Catholic families. Though located just beyond the D.C. limits, the historic community was established before the automobile age and is highly walkable. A key gathering spot is the Vigilante Coffee Roastery & Cafe, situated around the corner from the church and the school. Young mothers, many with babies in tow, congregate there each morning. The cafe manager is a former teacher from Los Angeles who also serves as the youth minister at St. Jerome.
Most of the families live within a 2-mile radius.
“Our kids are continually at each other’s homes,” says Michelle Trudeau, 48, a mother of six who home-schooled her four oldest children before enrolling them at the parish school, where she is now the assistant principal. “As parents, we know we can trust what’s going on in that other house,” she says. “We know that if something goes on with our kids, other parents are looking out for them. We all become parents of each other’s children.”
NPR interviewed author Rod Dreher, who just released his book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Era and included the Maryland community in it:
Dreher urges conservative Christians in America to withdraw from culture wars and partisan politics and focus instead on deepening their own faith through a semi-monastic life. Dreher’s model is St. Benedict, the sixth century monk recognized as the founder of Western monasticism.
“We have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them,” Dreher writes. He describes the Hyattsville Catholic community in his book as “a strong model of being in the world but not of it.”
In an interview with NPR, Dreher lamented the replacement of “traditional” Christianity with “pseudo-Christianity,” which he described as “all about feeling good and happy about yourself.”
“For a lot of people in modernity,” Dreher said, “religion has become sort of a psychological help. It has become a way of rationalizing what we want to do anyway and putting a little Jesus sauce on top to make it go down easily.”