Hannah and Mandy

An Essential Companionship

Experiencing "long loneliness," Hannah finds companionship in the community of Communion and Liberation.

I encountered CL during a time of “long loneliness,” as Dorothy Day described in her autobiography. I started graduate school at Auburn University in 2020, and my entire first year was virtual. Despite maintaining long-distance friendships and visiting my parents regularly, I experienced an overwhelming loneliness. I desired a faith-based community.

This longing made me recall another time of loneliness nearly a decade earlier when I was in high school. At age 14, shy and anxious, I took a risk and signed up for a youth conference knowing no one. The need for companionship motivated me to step beyond myself in hopes of meeting others who shared my faith, a faith given while preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. At this conference, I encountered Christ in friendships that would sustain me for the rest of high school. Even stronger friendships developed during my undergraduate studies. But in Auburn, I fell into solitude.

In the Fall of 2021, I noticed a posting in the local parish’s bulletin advertising a weekly adult study group, and the book was The Risk of Education. So, I did something I had only ever done once before: show up somewhere where I knew absolutely no one. Looking back now, I see this was a false perception of unfamiliarity: Christ was there and welcoming me.

I was struck not only by the text (which I would later use in my final graduate school project), but also by the leader of the study group, Mandy. After knowing her only briefly, I recognized Christ’s presence in her through her gaze upon me and her full, beautiful life. Whatever she did, whatever her “reason for hope” was (1 Peter 3:15), I desired for myself. Her hospitality transformed my life. She invited me to see more of Christ through Giussani and CL. I attended the Advent retreat in South Carolina that year and was beautifully overwhelmed by the unique charisms of all those who attended. They cared to know me. (They still care to know me!)

Even after such an experience, it took me a couple of months to commit to weekly School of Community. An experience of heartbreak led me to beg for help from these people I had only just met. I was again met with a powerful experience of Christ’s gaze upon me, reaffirming that I am loved, there is more destined for me, and this suffering is expanding my capacity to love and be loved more. Three years later, I am now ready to officially join the Fraternity. I can no longer see my life without the education and companionship of CL, and I am eager to make a promise to this community I love so dearly.

I share all of this for two reasons. The first is that it answers my favorite question to ask members of the Fraternity: what brought you to CL? The second is that my experience verifies what my School of Community recently discussed in The Religious Sense: “[Y]es, religion is, in fact, what we do with our own solitariness; but it is also where we discover our essential companionship” (58). Just as I experienced at the ages of 14 and 24, my experiences of solitude led me to see my need for a companionship that helps me experience Christ more fully.

I am now a teacher in Pensacola, FL at the Catholic high school I graduated from. I never anticipated I would end up here, and I fought against it for years due to a false ideology that nothing more would be here for me. But it is through the gifts of CL that I answered the call to return. As it turns out, CL had been in Pensacola for many years prior to my encounter in Auburn! Seeing Christine, Jade, Nick, Jessica, and Candice at the vacation prior to moving back to Pensacola gave hope and reassurance. This companionship was essential for my next adventure in life.

I’d like to end this article by sharing a recent revelation. When I entered my first year of teaching this past August, I thought the intellectual component of teaching would provide the most joy, but I was wrong. It is through my relationships with students and coworkers that I experience joy. This is the same experience with CL. The encounter with Christ does not arrive only through studying books; rather, it is through the sacraments and companions who challenge me to gaze at my experiences, understand my destiny, and beg, “What is here for me? What promise is being fulfilled?”

Hannah, Pensacola, FL