PROVIDENCE — For the most part, the property description for Providence’s new St. Andrew House seems like everything one would expect for an apartment in the heart of the city. Rent varies depending on the size and location of the unit, with utilities billed separately. No smoking and no pets; tenant parking is nearby; onsite amenities include a kitchen and dining room (perfect for the community meals which tenants will share). The location — at the top of Smith Hill, about a block away from the State House — provides convenient access to I-95, to RIPTA, as well as to downtown, and to the East Side of Providence. Standard fare, really.
But something different is afoot here. The building/property is the home of St. Andrew House, an independent, lay-operated intentional community for Catholic men, living together for the purpose of spiritual, intellectual and moral formation, and for accountability and encouragement in Christian discipleship.
Founded as a modern day reinterpretation of a medieval Augustinian tradition, the common life at St. Andrew House involves liturgical worship and contemplative prayer, theological study and ministry and service.
But it also has an additional purpose, directly related to present challenges in the Catholic Church, namely, to create an environment in which individuals can discern the will of God for their lives and their vocation in the Church, whatever that might be — ministerial priesthood, religious life, marriage and family. In short, St. Andrew House exists to promote spiritual formation and vocational discernment.
In light of its twofold purpose, St. Andrew House seeks to work closely with the Diocese of Providence. At the same time, St. Andrew House has a close relationship with St. Patrick Church (located a block away), along with other local parishes, whom it seeks to serve and assist in whatever way possible.
St. Andrew House is the brainchild of Boyd Taylor Coolman, a theology professor at Boston College and his wife, Holly Taylor Coolman, a theology professor at Providence College.
“My wife and I first started talking about doing something like this a few years ago, around 2018,” Coolman explains.
“As we began to anticipate some of our older kids leaving the nest, we were discerning what the Lord was calling us to do in this next phase of our lives.”
As the idea of St. Andrew House started to take shape, however, it soon became clear that the project would benefit by forming a non-profit organization, with a Board of Directors.
Initially, that consisted of Coolman, his pastor Father James Ruggieri, of St. Patrick Church, and Coolman’s Boston College colleague, Jeremy Wilkins.
“Boyd called me in fairly early in the planning stages,” recalls Wilkins. “I’ve mostly taken on the role of a sounding-board in the planning process — the whole project was really Boyd’s vision, so I’ve mostly tried to help refine and execute ideas as he throws them at me.”
Later, Father Jordan Zajac, O.P., of Providence College, and Father Michael Magree, S.J., of Boston College were added. Joe Cornwall, a local architect who owns the property, rounds out the board.
Life together at St. Andrew House revolves around several core principles. The first of these, is the simple fact of being “called together” (convocatio) for a specific purpose. This sense of “being called” is reflected in the name of the community. “We chose St. Andrew as our patron because he was the first of the Apostles to respond to Christ’s call in the Gospels,” Wilkins explains.
The second principle, “living together” (convivium), proceeds quite naturally from the first and involves living together in an intentional way and for a specific purpose. St Andrew House has a total of nine single-occupancy apartments (four of which remain available as of printing); although the rent varies by unit, the average rate is about $900 a month, excluding utilities.
A third principle is “eating together” (commensalitas). Although each of the apartments is equipped with a kitchenette, the common kitchen and dining room in the basement of the property will be where residents will break bread together each day.
“How this works in practice will depend on the residents,” says Coolman. “They’ll need to work together as a community to outline a system for sharing the duties of preparing their shared meals and cleaning up after them.”
Over time, residents will be expected to begin practicing true Augustinian hospitality by inviting non-members to the St. Andrew table. In fact, with the right residents, that could even become a key feature of the property.
“The kitchen is totally fit for commercial purposes, so we’re open to the idea of a resident or a member of the local community getting a coffee shop or some other food service establishment set up here,” says Coolman.
Regular “common prayer” (contemplatio), “common study” (collatio), and “common service” (commissio) form a second triad of principles.
Father Ruggieri, the pastor of St. Patrick Parish and a member of the St. Andrew House Board of Directors, is very excited to welcome a full cohort of volunteers in the fall.
“There are going to be so many opportunities for them to help us help others and it will give them a great chance to listen and respond to the ways they are being called in their own lives, helping them develop a clearer picture of their vocation — not necessarily a vocation to the priesthood, but a sense of how they can best serve God,” says Father Ruggieri.
All this comes together as a “common conversation” (conversation), a way of life that fosters spiritual formation and vocational discernment.
“Holly and I both wanted to make sure that our project would help address the decline in vocations,” says Coolman.
Over time, the purpose broadened to include lay vocational discernment as well.
“It’s designed for short-term residency, generally one or two years,” Wilkins explains. “The goal is to create an environment where residents can hone the skills needed to effectively serve the Church, whether that be as a priest or religious or as a layman.”
The organization’s website notes that it is especially well-suited to candidates seeking to serve Christ in an academic capacity (unsurprising, perhaps, given the background of its founders).
Applications for the St. Andrew House are open, and can be found at: https://sites.google.com/site/standrewhouseprovidence/home/apply.
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