Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How did this all get started?

In order to answer this question, I would have to define what "this" is. "This" is what this blog is all about. "This" is thinking differently, perhaps radically differently, about how to construct a new home. As a Catholic, one's goal should be to become a saint; that is, a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. If that's not the goal, then something's wrong, as Fr. John Corapi would say. Further, as a parent, the goal is to raise citizens of the kingdom of heaven, to raise children who will become saints. It's a simple worldview, but when taken seriously, it should transform just about everything in your life, both as an individual and as a parent. So then, why shouldn't this worldview transform the way one thinks about designing a home?

If I go all the way back to the point of first conception, it would probably be when I realized that my younger brother was going to become a professional architect. I remember having conversations with him about how he would design my home some day. My parents built their home, the home I grew up in, and so I was used to this idea of building one's own home. Though I had dreamed of building my own home, this was before I was even married, so it was more for purely selfish reasons. But once I did marry (my beautiful wife Molly), we did kind of make it our own dream to build a house one day. I wasn't sure if it would really work out that my brother would be the architect, but I kept that as the goal.

Then, of course, Molly and I began having children, and the equation changed quite dramatically. Not in terms of the dream to build a house, but in terms of everything. We as parents are responsible for the upbringing of our children, and directly responsible for passing on the faith to them. This is a responsibility that Molly and I have always taken very, very seriously. In this vein, when our eldest daughter, Clara, was just a baby, we made the formal decision to homeschool all of our children in the future. Public school simply wasn't an option for us due to many factors, not excluding basic quality of education (and this is in Minnesota, which has some of the best public schools in the nation). I'm sure you can imagine all the other reasons we did not feel comfortable sending our kids to public schools. Catholic schools were also certainly an option, though if the schools aren't solid enough to properly teach the faith, and if we were going to have to supplement with further Catholic education in the home, then what was the point of spending thousands of dollars on tuition? Beyond this, we fell in love with homeschooling; the flexibility, the superior performance of homeschoolers (see here, and here), the love of learning, the family unity, and the fact that we as parents are our children's teachers! The last is mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2223:
"Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery - the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the 'material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.'"
I can't think of a better mode of education that fits these goals, and most importantly, homeschooling fits THE goal, to raise citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Protecting innocence, fostering holiness, it can't be beat.

Now that we had made the decision to homeschool, conversations, when they came up, about someday building our own home changed a little. Molly and I started talking about integrating a homeschool area into a home, or even throughout the home. And the need for a "real" architect seemed more apparent, as we didn't just want a series of rooms with no thought. And what about a house that was designed for the way a family should live? Not the modern ideology of the family as a bunch of individuals, all needing their own separate areas, with limited interaction (hopefully), maximized technology and number of screens (computer, TV, etc.), and no family meals. We wanted to be a family that lives the Catholic faith to the fullest, that prays together, that eats together, that learns together. At some point, I remember thinking that it would be awesome to have a chapel, a real chapel, in our house. Not simply a "prayer room," but a well planned, beautiful space, a place that looked and felt like a chapel. Molly and I incorporated this into our vision, and it kind of spiraled from there.

We arrived at the idea of a radically Catholic home, a home that was fit for the family as the "Church in miniature (Ecclesia domestica)," as John Paul II referred to the family in his Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, on the role of the Christian family in the modern world. The term "Ecclesia domestica" was first used in Vatican II's Lumen Gentium to describe the family, and in turn repeated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1656:
"In our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant faith. For this reason the Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression, calls the family the Ecclesia domestica. It is in the bosom of the family that parents are 'by word and example . . . the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children. They should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each child, fostering with special care any religious vocation.'"
Such an awesome responsibility! If a well-designed home could contribute to these ends, what a blessing indeed. Still, in many ways this idea of ours was kind of a pipe dream, something we weren't sure could really come to fruition, whether due to monetary reasons, lack of available land, or other reasons. Future posts will go through how we DID eventually acquire the perfect plot of land, through the grace of God, and what has happened since then.

Until then, God bless!


Stuart said...

Great to read your blog and learn of your experiences. I'm also looking to establish a domestic chapel, but in quite different circumstances: I'm in the UK, not the US; Anglican, rather than Roman Catholic; the house already exists, as opposed to being a new build.

There is a barrel vaulted chamber, about 20ft long, 12ft wide, which happens to be orientated. It looks to date from about 1810-1820ish, though that's hard to say for sure. It's this space I'm planning to turn into the chapel for the house.

One question I had for you: have you explored whether you will have your chapel consecrated? My bishop has seen the space I'm intending to use and is enthusiastic for the project (he himself added a domestic chapel at his palace, the magnificent medieval chapel having been given over to other purposes following WW2) but I haven't yet asked him whether consecration, dedication, or some other approach would be suitable. Clearly, Roman Catholic approaches may be different to Anglican, but it would be interesting to know of anything you've gleaned on the subject.

One other thing to mention: I've just finished reading "The English Country House Chapel" by Annabel Ricketts. It's a scholarly study - a published PhD thesis - and as such has a narrow field (I would also disagree with its subtitle of "building a protestant tradition" - the Church of England does not regard itself as protestant) but it may have some interesting content. A lot of attention is given to the placement of a chapel within the overall layout of a house.

Brendan Koop said...

Hi Stuart, thanks for your comment. It's great to hear from others who are interested in home chapels! You aren't by chance part of the TAC are you? At any rate, you seem to have an ideal situation with your home and the space you described, it's perfect as a chapel space. As far as our chapel being "consecrated," I'm not sure of what you mean by the term in regard to a chapel, but we certainly plan on having our chapel blessed by our parish priest. If one wanted to actually have a tabernacle in a private chapel, that would take the permission of the ordinary of our archdiocese (Archbishop John Nienstedt) and it's not something I would seek. We have perpetual adoration at our parish and I wouldn't want to supplant the role of our parish in any way, and I definitely wouldn't want the responsibility of having the Blessed Sacrament permanently in our home. That said, my brother is in seminary and, God willing, will be ordained a priest in 4 years, and he would be able to say mass on occasion in our chapel (not to replace Sunday mass at our parish) and we could also have family adoration of the Blessed Sacrament when he visits.

Blessings, and I hope you continue to visit our blog!


Stuart said...

Thanks, Brendan. That makes sense - likewise I'd have no desire to supplant my parish church, though I have clergy staying in the house from time to time who might occasionally celebrate.

No, I'm not TAC; I'm Church of England.

Good luck for your project, I'll certainly be following your blog!