DePaul University's Vincent and Louise House: faith and simple living

collegeCollege is a time to discover yourself, to grow into yourself away from your family's influence and figure out what you want to do with your life. Frugal living is par for the course along with homework and a job, if you can squeeze it in. Ten students at DePaul University in Chicago took living simply a step further.

The Vincent and Louise House
at DePaul offers 10 students a chance to live a simpler, faith-based life and give back to the surrounding community. They live by five tenets -- faith, service, community, social justice and simple living -- for the 11-month stay in the house on DePaul's Lincoln Park campus.

"Not all the housemates are Catholic," says Judy Bafaro, 19, though most are. "I'm Roman Catholic and most of the house this year leans that way, but some are atheist. You just have to have a willingness to be open, since it is faith-based."

The students combine all the tenets into their year and live by the motto: "To live simply so that others may simply live." This is always expressed differently from year to year, but one common way is to give something up for the duration of their stay in the house, also called the Amate House. One year, the house didn't use the microwave. Another year, showers lasted only five minutes.

The Vincent and Louise House also hosts dinner Sunday through Wednesday nights with residents inviting both their friends and the surrounding community. Residents pay for the dinners, expecting to feed anywhere from 10 to 30 people, as well as the rest of the meals for that week with only $200. Sadly, not everyone jumps at the chance for free food.

"I have invited all my friends to dine with us but only a few have shown up since the beginning of the year," says Pamela Barrientos, a sophomore from Red Wing, Minn. "Honestly, some of the campus tour guides for prospective students don't even know what we are."

Community plays a large part in the lives of the undergraduates at Amate House. The students spend six to 10 hours a week volunteering to help out the community; two of those hours are spent at the St. Vincent DePaul Soup Kitchen. And this year all the occupants have become close. "Most of us are actually going to be living within a block of each other next year," says Bafaro. "It's rare that they happens, but we just bonded."

The students take a four-credit course at DePaul University that combines faith and religion during their year. The discussion-based course is offered during the other quarters but the winter quarter is specifically for the 10 living in the Vincent and Louise House.

Every year the students usually focus on a specific tenet and a project that brings them all together. Two of the housemates became involved with a living wage campaign after learning the university's contract with their food workers had expired. The duo wanted to restore the jobs and give them recognition as part of the university community.

Barrientos relates: "Two people in the house began the campaign, but they got the rest of the house involved. It's important that DePaul keeps to their values regarding everyone on campus. We spread the message out to the community then; it's been a rocky road but a successful one so far." Planning for an April 23 campus-wide vigil and benefit concert is underway.

Both women are glad for what they learned living in the Vincent and Louise House and know that it will impact them in the years to come. "I'm a digital cinema major," Bafaro says. "I want to be a producer for documentaries... this year will probably have an affect on what that message is and what stories I focus on. Once you learn this stuff, you can't go back to what you didn't know."

Barrientos echoes that sentiment. "I like to say we've been ruined for life. This is an experience that would be difficult to forget," she says. "Faith has drawn me closer to people. It's not something that's discussed everyday and I feel that maybe it should be. It gives people perspective as to where you're coming from. This year has been one of growth, for me to challenge my faith. I feel like, before I moved in, I was religious because I had been raised to be. I've spent this year exploring what it means to be Catholic and questioning it. I feel a better understanding and that I can justify my beliefs with what I've learned."

These 10 students at DePaul University are proving there is more to college life than parties and the occasional study session. They're growing in their faith and into the people they'll become through living a simpler lifestyle and giving back to the community.

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