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A Bold Experiment

Basilian fathers inside Keon House.

Pictured (l to r): Scholastic Eduardo Rivera, CSB; Deacon Steven Huber, CSB; Fr. Kevin Storey, CSB; Fr. Dave Bittner, CSB; Fr. Chris Valka, CSB; Fr. Richard Wahl, CSB; Fr. Ron Schwenzer, CSB.

Basilian Fathers Join Forces to Make New Residence a Home

Fr. Jimmy Keon, CSB, is remembered for many reasons, but perhaps most fondly because of his love of his students. He knew most students by name because he also knew their stories. Especially in the latter years, Fr. Keon made a ministry out of simply being present and available.

So when the Basilians at 4019 Yoakum decided to name their new residence after Fr. Keon, it communicates something to those who live on, and commute to, campus, as well as to the Basilians who live in the house. “This is not meant to be a private residence. Our hope is that students and faculty on campus feel this place is part of their campus as much as it is our home,” said UST’s Chaplain Fr. David Bittner, CSB.

The Basilians have already hosted a number of gatherings in their home this past year, beginning with new freshmen during their orientation, student minister and staff retreats, dinners for donors and board members, and a campus fish fry on the first Friday of Lent.

Yet, Keon House is also more than a renewed presence of Basilians at UST. For the 15 men that live inside its walls, it is the first attempt in what might be a new era of community living for the Congregation. Keon House brings together Basilians who are associated with the University and St. Thomas High School, as well as those in formation, one working with the Archdiocese, and some who are retired. At the moment, there are three fully employed by UST, three who are employed at St. Thomas High School, five in formation, one at the Archdiocese and three active retired.

Though there have been other Basilian communities who share a common life, but not a common work, never has this been attempted at such a large scale. “The idea is to break down some of the barriers that keep our local communities from knowing and working together,” said St. Thomas High School President Fr. Kevin Storey, CSB. “We want there to be greater connectivity between St. Thomas High School and the University of St. Thomas. Our hope is that our students at the high school continue their education in the Basilian tradition at the University of St. Thomas, and so we realized we needed to lead by example.”

Fr. Jim Murphy, CSB, St. Thomas High School’s dean of students and local superior of Keon House, wants to create a sense of pride for students who have belonged to both institutions. “Since the mascots are the Eagle and Lion, then those who attend both will be admitted into a special ‘Order of the Griffin.’ The idea has already created a bit of a buzz on both campuses.”

Keon House also gives a new dimension to the young men in formation, allowing them to see ministry in the Congregation with greater diversity. Conversations span a variety of topics, and because the identity of the local community is not clearly determined by the work, it allows everyone to be more intentional about life of the community as separate from the work of the community. “It wasn’t easy at first because my other experiences of community revolved around our work, but now the house has its own identity,” said Steven Huber, now perpetually vowed, and the next in line for ordination sometime next year. “It feels like home and gives me a chance to enjoy the company of my brothers even if I don’t always share in the exact work. Living here makes it easier for me to see myself working in a variety of ways, instead of one or another.”

The timing of this renewed Basilian community has seemed rather providential. The newness at Keon House has been reflected by the newness in the University’s senior administration. Not long after UST President Dr. Ludwick arrived, he began asking the Basilians if they would help him better articulate the Basilian Charism and how that charism has informed the traditions and education of the University of St. Thomas. The articulation of that charism was influenced by Basilians with a variety of perspectives, allowing for it to be more universal and helpful to the Congregation as a whole.

To this end Fr. Kevin Storey added “For those of us living at Keon House, we feel that what we are doing here—the way we are living and integrating with each other and our apostolic communities—is important not just to the University or the High School, but for the Congregation as a whole.”

About the Author — Fr. Chris Valka C.S.B.

AvatarOrdained in 2009, Fr. Chris Valka is a member of the Congregation of St. Basil (the Basilian Fathers). Currently, he is the Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry at UST as well as the Superior of the Basilian Residence on campus (Keon House). In addition, Fr. Chris serves on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of the UST Board; as the President of the Archdiocesan School Council; a member of the Pastor’s Advisory Board at Interfaith Ministries; and a Fellow of Leadership Houston.

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