Benedict Option, Part Three: It Takes a Hyattsvillage

Benedict Option, Part Three: It Takes a Hyattsvillage May 27, 2015

One of the neat things about Libresco’s “Benedict Option” gathering (for what this actually was, see here and here) was that we had a few people from the growing Catholic neighborhood in Hyattsville, MD. This is a little place on the Green Line (yay), an attempt to build a community where Catholic life is visible, normal, and beautiful. You can get a taste of it from a profile at Fare Forward which included this description:

The community’s power for such corporal works of mercy became tragically clear last August, when Peggy and Alan Burgoyne’s six-year-old son, Patrick, suffered a terrible accident at home. Parishioners kept vigil with the Burgoynes at Patrick’s hospital bedside and gathered at church to pray the rosary for the family. “The grace from those prayers has sustained us through many difficult days,” Peggy says. Patrick died five days after the accident. Neighbors pitched in to cover the staggering hospital bills from his care. A family friend took time off work to arrange flights for Alan’s family in Ireland to come for the funeral. Other parishioners hosted those seven relatives in their homes for two weeks and cooked meals for the entire family. They cleaned the Burgoynes’ house and did yard work so that they could hold Patrick’s wake at home. After requiem prayers outside the house the morning of the funeral, a crucifer and thurifers from the parish altar guild led the procession on foot three blocks to the church. Police stopped traffic as the procession made its way down Hyattsville’s streets. The pallbearers paused every so often to let other men carry Patrick’s casket for a while.

“My husband and I are private people,” Peggy says, “so it was difficult for us to feel as if we were on display. But walking as a congregation was both more intimate and more communal than strictly isolating the celebration of Patrick’s life inside the walls of our parish church. And yet, our destination was the church.”


There’s a lot to love about the Hyattsville approach. It’s parish-centered. It’s interwoven with the preexisting non-Catholic community, and considers itself a part of that community rather than a bunch of people come in to fix, replace, or save it. Its institutions, as one of the “Hyattsvillains” noted at Libresco’s thing, will serve everybody, not just Catholics. It’s a bit artsy (there’s a Hyattsville Movie Club, where I’ve watched The Secret World of Arrietty, and the FF article hints at a “Hyattsville Arts District” but doesn’t actually list any arts stuff there, so that may be more aspirational than real at the moment–but even having the aspiration says some good things about the worldview of the people involved).

And it’s strange what a litmus test this has become–what a stark dividing line–but when I spend time with people from the community I don’t get the feeling that gay people are unwelcome. I think they see us as part of the ordinary diversity of the world: people who are in the Church, or who are “seeking the Lord in good faith,” as the Pope said–some from a posture of obedience to Catholic teachings, most obviously not, but all potential neighbors, not people to be viewed with intense and especial suspicion. That’s the impression I’ve gotten so far and I hope it’s true.

Right now making the choice to move to Hyattsville–and especially the choice to stay there–isn’t necessarily easy. My friend who lives there hopes that as the community grows it will become more economically attractive; the economics of rootedness is very much on the minds of the people trying to craft a community there.

There are plenty of obvious caveats, right? Intentionally trying to “craft a community” is probably harder to do well than just living in a Catholic community that arises naturally. Self-consciousness becomes duty becomes judgment; ideals become expectations become resentments. People who genuinely want to nurture beauty end up promoting kitsch. This is the way of the world.

But one of the most striking things about this Michael Brendan Dougherty column on “free-range parenting” is this bit:

I live in a much safer neighborhood now than the one of my youth, and in an era that is almost incomparably safer according to crime statistics. And yet I never see children playing outside unsupervised. Who would my children play with unless I organized a play date? I’ll probably never see another kid knock on my door and ask if my daughter can come out to play. Couldn’t she have texted instead?


At Libresco’s gathering I asked a Hyattsvillain whether kids just roam and play in their neighborhood, the way I remember from my own childhood. And the answer was partly, “It’s too soon to tell”–his kids are still quite young–but he said that there are signs that a childhood of rambling, friendship-filled outdoor play is still possible, and that his kids will have that kind of childhood. There are few better images for what the Hyattsvillains are trying to create, I think, than the image of a gang of Catholic children roaring merrily through their world.

Next up: I read too much into the possibly-coincidental number of people at Libresco’s thing who are in recovery. I hope to post on that tomorrow but we’ll see.

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