Would You Move Thousands of Miles to Live in a Catholic Community? These Families Are Doing Just That
“People are ready to make radical changes that might have seemed unthinkable before — but now they are thinkable.”
It’s sometimes tough to be a Catholic in America. In California, Governor Newsom’s rigorous and discriminatory limits on church attendance were only recently overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Oregon, rioters overtook part of downtown Portland, shattering glass doors at the entrance to Saint André Bessette Catholic Church in the city’s Old Town. In Minnesota, violent protests following the shooting of Daunte Wright have been marked by looting and violence, making cities unsafe for their inhabitants.
And more than that, in many areas today, it is difficult for Catholic mothers and fathers to raise their children without government interference, in a community where people share their faith and values.
In response to the challenges posed by the secular culture, some parents have doubled down, choosing to enroll their children in religious schools or to homeschool. Increasingly, however, Catholic parents are reconsidering their options — even moving their families across the country in search of a community where faith is respected and nurtured. Those families may come together in an intentional community, such as the Catholic community in Ave Maria, Florida, or the recently announced Veritatis Splendor community in the Diocese of Tyler, Texas. Others find a parish in their hometown that is determined to preserve and strengthen faith in their parish and school.
One parish, Our Lady of the Rosary (OLR) in Greenville, South Carolina, has drawn Catholic families from around the area and across the country, and has even coined a word to describe what’s been happening there: “Relocatiō.” Relocatiōis a neologism that is supposed to sound like Latin. The created term describes the phenomenon of Catholic families relocating for reasons of faith and culture.
As of April 2021, 14 new families have moved to Greenville to attend OLR from 11 states — California, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Nevada — and more are on their way. It is easy for them to assimilate because they tend to share fundamental core values. This makes it very different from receiving a potpourri of new families coming for, say, work-related reasons.
Some of the Catholic transplants became aware of OLR because its pastor, Father Dwight Longenecker, is a prominent author, blogger and speaker. Others were impressed when, in 2019, the parish dedicated a beautiful new church built in the Romanesque style. Many of OLR’s new families have chosen to enroll their children in OLR’s K-12 classical academy which seeks to support parents in their role as the primary educators of their children. According to the mission statement:
“Our rigorous classical training draws out of students their natural desire for wisdom and virtue. By fostering a love for truth, beauty, and goodness, we seek to form disciples of Jesus Christ, set free to realize their full potential by living joyfully in accordance with the truth revealed by God through nature and the Catholic Church.”
Thomas Curtin, the school’s headmaster, said the pandemic restrictions have given extra momentum to the “Relocatiō” initiative.
“This started a couple of years ago,” he said, “but it accelerated once the lockdown kicked in. People began to see the culture for what it was. … People are ready to make radical changes that might have seemed unthinkable before — but now they are thinkable.”
Curtin reported that many of the newcomers have fled places that have been inhospitable or openly hostile to religion. “What’s happened,” he said, “is that people’s sense of the stakes has changed. We’re no longer comparing ‘good’ with ‘better.’ We’re comparing ‘completely unacceptable’ with ‘good.’ If we lack the ability to renew the Church because we’re overwhelmed by the culture, then we are called to be a pilgrim people, a pilgrim Church — to find the place where we can make our gift.”
Our Lady of the Rosary, Curtin believes, is a haven, opening its doors to welcome even refugees of sorts. He reported that some of the immigrant families have reached out to encourage others in their former communities to follow, to become part of the new movement of families who have taken up residence in the Upstate of South Carolina and registered at OLR.
“I thought it was important,” Curtin said, “for people to have a way of talking about this emergent behavior — to brand it, so to speak. Many Catholics feel deep responsibility to stick it out where they are, to be loyal to their parish and community. That’s a good thing. But there is no denying that changing circumstances are pushing people to take dramatic action. They are not moving across town but across the country. When people realize they’re participating in a movement, they see they are not just being weak. They are being responsive to the Holy Spirit. They feel confirmed in their instinct that what they are experiencing is not right for their family. God desires more for them.”
Following are the reports of three families who have taken that leap of faith, who have followed the Holy Spirit’s leading to make a major change.
“A Huge Blessing in Our Lives”
Kyle and Molly Dardis moved from Oregon to Greenville with their five children a year ago. “We are so grateful we made the move,” Molly reports. “It has been a huge blessing in our lives.”
The town that the Dardis family had called home had changed, becoming the U.S. city with the highest population of homeless people per capita, and that distinction brought with it tent communities, used needles on the sidewalks, and conditions that made Molly feel less safe.
Molly also was disappointed by the Catholic school in their community, and so had spent six years homeschooling their children, aged 5 to 11. Now, the Dardis children benefit from the classical curriculum at Our Lady of the Rosary. “Last week,” Molly reported, “our son, a fifth-grader, came home wanting to talk about Lech Wałęsa, the Catholic president of Poland.” She added that the program of faith formation is solid, and that the curriculum helps her children to develop memory skills — memorizing a Bible verse each week, learning to name all of the countries in Europe, reciting historical poetry. Even more, Molly believed that her children benefited from attending school alongside other children from strong families, whose parents are firmly committed to the Catholic faith.
“A Homeschool Vibe”
Ma’May Grimm moved to Greenville with her husband Greg and their children, Thaddeus (8) and Eponine (4), on the Saturday before Easter in 2021. Ma’May talked about their decision to relocate. “During COVID, we did a lot of soul-searching,” she explained.
“We realized that we had been renting for more than ten years. ... I was working at school, and three other part-time jobs; and my husband was also working full-time. We said a couple of novenas, then sat down and looked at the pros and cons. We both had to quit our jobs, and we didn't know what was going to happen when we moved out here. But God has been so good!”
Ma’May hoped that she might be able to work at her children’s school in some capacity, so she sent in her resume. She had some teaching experience, but was not credentialed. The headmaster told her that credentials are great, but that they don't base their hiring decisions exclusively on that. She was accepted as a substitute teacher, and is also volunteering her time. “That’s a blessing,” she says, “because I would prefer to be there, helping the children.”
The Grimms were drawn to Our Lady of the Rosary school by the classic literature included in the curriculum, but they were also impressed to learn that the entire school attends Mass each week. “In California,” she told the Register, “the preschoolers and kindergarteners didn’t have to go to Mass.” She was concerned that some of the children might not be learning at home about the importance of the liturgy. A third point Ma’May made was that at OLR, the children say the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Grimm children are thriving in their new environment. Eponine, age 4, loves her new school and is adjusting well. Thaddeus, 8, was not yet writing in cursive, but he mastered it within his first week at OLR and Ma’May reported with a smile that his writing had become clearer than hers. With 27 children in his California classroom, Thaddeus had had difficulty concentrating. Now at OLR, he’s been able to complete his assignments.
Ma’May called the atmosphere at Our Lady of the Rosary “kind of a homeschool vibe.” She felt that the emphasis on family involvement was important. “I love that part of education,” she explained. “It’s a bit more strict in some ways, but in other ways it’s more laid back. The respect and the quiet in the classroom is just what my son needs in order to focus.”
The Grimms are temporarily sharing a home with Ma’May’s mother and stepfather, while her husband continues to seek fulltime employment.
Things Were Changing
Pat and Michelle Langowski recently traded their Minnesota address for one in South Carolina. The couple reported:
“We did not like the way the place we lived was changing, and we started to see these changes affect our children and their learning. The focus seemed to be less and less on quality education and good values, and more about pushing a specific agenda. We are grateful to have found OLR! We made the decision to move our family (grandparents, too) across the country to live in a place where people didn’t apologize for being Catholic. Furthermore, we have the confidence of knowing our children are receiving a quality, classical, and authentically Catholic education. We know they attend a school where our Catholic values are explained and celebrated. We have seen that the world is all too eager to impose its values on children. We are thrilled that the place where our children spend the majority of their day is a Catholic, classical, loving and caring place.”
Our Lady of the Rosary Classical School currently has 145 students, ranging from 4 years old to 11th grade. By next year, the school will offer full K-12 education. In April the parish initiated a Novena to Our Lady of Good Counsel for the intention that families across the country, who desire an authentic Catholic education and culture for their children, will discover Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church and School and decide in faith to relocate and join their community.
- fr. dwight longenecker