By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator 

Out of the darkness of unspeakable tragedy, a light is rising, spreading a pharos of resurgence, and, perhaps most importantly, one of faith.  

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Father Andrew Merrick visits with student residents. Pictured are Adam Trufant, far left, Dominic Suseri, Father Merrick and Daniel Ellender. Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator  

 

Christ the King Church and Catholic Center in Baton Rouge, through the efforts of pastor Father Andrew Merrick and many others, has turned the former Phi Delta Theta fraternity house, where LSU freshman student Max Gruver died a year ago during a fraternity hazing incident, into a community of nine Catholic male students living together, sharing their faith while also developing and deepening their own prayer lives.  

“I thank God for the opportunity for all of the things he has done in our lives and to be able to take what was a terrible tragedy and bring about a sort of victory to that,” said LSU senior Michael Vu, adding that “one of the biggest rules of the house is to continue a dedicated prayer life.”  

Establishing a house for young Catholic students to live in community and to be a place of growth in the discipleship of Christ has been Father Merrick’s vision since he came to Christ the King two years ago. He said he wanted to develop a community to be more configured to the mind and heart of Christ as disciples growing together, and to help students to be formed in the four pillars of formation _ spiritual, human, intellectual, pastoral and apostolic.  

He originally believed a house for men, and hopefully another for women, would take about five years to develop. But that changed a year ago when Gruver, who attended Mass at Christ the King during his 29 days at LSU, died when he was allegedly forced to drink what amounted to a lethal amount of alcohol during the hazing incident.  

Several weeks later, after the fraternity was expelled from the campus, Father Merrick contacted the fraternity about sub-leasing the vacant house, which is owned by LSU, but fraternity officials expressed no interest at the time.  

“So I told the Lord if you want us to have this house, you have to give it to us,” he said. “I don’t think it’s prudent for us to go chasing it down.”  

Several weeks later, fraternity officials contacted Father Merrick to gauge his interest, because a decision had been made to sublease the property.  

Father Merrick, who recently met with Gruver’s parents and said they supported the idea, looked at the house and said there “were a lot of good things” but was uncertain if financial, human and other resources were in place to make it viable.  

However, through a series of circumstances, including a chance meeting with some supporters after daily Mass, a plan was set in motion. During Holy Week, and an 18-month sublease was finalized. What Father Merrick termed “minor renovations” began in earnest and Aug. 12 the students moved in.  

“It definitely looks a lot better than it did,” said Father Merrick with a wry smile, but emphasized the house is not in response to the Gruver tragedy.  

“It just lined up that way,” he added. “We are grateful for the fact there is an opportunity for a right to come into a difficult situation. Certainly, the Lord’s providential hand is in all of this.”  

Once the house was secured, Father Merrick and house director Adam Trufant began to pray about who would be the initial residents. They spread the word and both agreed they were seeking guys who already had a relationship with Christ the King.  

“We approached a lot of different students during that time (and) a handful accepted, some wanted to but for other reasons were not able,” Trufant said. “Some refused for varying reasons, but everybody across the board was enthusiastic about the idea.”  

For Vu, a Catholic High graduate, the decision was easy, saying he “had a desire to live in brotherhood with guys who were pursuing the same thing I am.” 

The students are governed by a set of rules that include maining cleaniness in the house, cooking and meeting with Trufant every few weeks. Also required is attendance at a weekly dinner that includes Scripture study, as well as prayer.  

“We have seen growth and a steady enthusiasm from all of the guys,” Trufant said. “One of the guys said he felt he had taken concrete steps forward with some of the things he has struggled with.”  

“There is an emphasis of commitment and reliance on each other in order to grow in healthy ways,” he added. “I see growth in prayer life, joy in community and consideration of others. ” 

Vu said the weekly gatherings have opened him to a different perspective that he would not have otherwise been exposed to, “so it’s been really, really good.”  

“Having a brotherhood of men supporting me in the things I am struggling with; little things like waking up on time or big things like relationship issues; that’s been really, really awesome,” he said.  

Father Merrick, who said the house could accommodate up to 14 students, admitted the purpose is not necessarily for the young men to discern for the priesthood but said any Catholic man who is pursuing a growth in his faith will eventually discern whether the Lord is calling that person to the vocational life. He said it’s possible in the future that a number of priests could come from the house.  

“I’m definitely discerning but the married life right now,” said Vu, whose brother Joseph is pastor at the cluster parishes of St. Anne Church in Napoleonville, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Plattenville and St. Philomena Church in Labadieville, and brother John is scheduled to be ordained in May. “Witnessing my brothers go through (the discernment process), I’ve been made keenly aware of the fact that if Christ calls there is no saying no to that.”  

And perhaps that would be a blessed light to come from an unspeakable darkness.