A young couple sits on a couch in an old-fashioned house, the man, with blonde hair and a youthful smile, holds a laughing baby on his knee.They just came from washing dinner dishes, helped in the kitchen by students. The child is hardly a year old, the couple enjoys the stability of a home.
But in many ways, they share with the 40 college students who happen to be eating with them.
The students were gathered there for Convivium, a weekly event organized by Hillsdale’s Catholic Society. It centers on a talk about faith featuring a professor, drawing about that many students every week, according to Grotto residents and ’17 graduates Tim and Peri Rose Force.
The Grotto, a pretty blue house with white trim on Union Street, can only be described as welcoming. Long couches line the walls of two living rooms with old-fashioned arched entries. Religious icons and photos of smiling students hang on gray-blue walls.
The Forces, along with their new daughter Marina Elizabeth, live in the house as the directors of Catholic ministry at Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church. With excitement, they explained their mission, their faces warm and smiling.
“To allow people to know Jesus Christ, the person and our Beloved,” Peri Rose said. “And I think this house does that.”
That ministry includes an open door, allowing students to come for prayer or the Eucharist in the chapel, as well as the many events the Forces oversee to foster a rich faith community on campus. While there are official morning and evening hours — 7:30 till 10 a.m., and 7 to 11 p.m. — the Forces try to keep the house available.
“We exist as a college ministry in order to create something that is kind of based around the college student’s schedule,” Tim said. “We try to go out of our way to make sure those hours stay radically open and radically available to them.”
For the young family, a normal weekday means getting up early to get the house ready before students come for morning prayers, and staying up late so any students who came late have the time they need in the chapel. While the house’s open hours end at 11 p.m., often Tim and Peri Rose won’t close the door till midnight.
“It’s kind of excellent ‘cause every day here is so different,” Tim said.
The two embrace their spontaneous life with excitement, describing the days filled with young people. On Mondays, they hold Rosary at 10 pm. “It goes from nice and quiet in the evenings to crazy packed,” which Tim said is tons of fun.
“Everyone floods in and meets together to pray in the evening,” Peri described.
But if the Force’s didn’t embrace spontaneity, they might not be here now.
Their story together started back in kindergarten, when they were enrolled in the same school, where they stayed till high school graduation 12 years later. But they didn’t become friends till they both decided to attend Hillsdale. They started dating as college students.
“The rest is history,” Tim said, laughing.
They married the summer before their senior year at Hillsdale, and Peri Rose entered the Catholic church in 2016. She said she was worried about leaving the Saint Anthony’s community upon graduation “because it was so fundamental to my conversion.”
She noted the good community, having fostered relationships with local families. Professor of English Dwight Lindley, who was Tim’s academic advisor, and a teacher to both, said he was struck that both were mature beyond their years.
“I don’t know how all that happened to them, but they’re just capable of self-gift in a way that most college students, and then also early twenty-somethings, are not,” Lindley said.
Their senior year, they watched the Lindley children for a week and a half while the parents went on a trip to Italy.
“Just for that one act of kindness, which most college students would not be brave enough to undertake — and we have six children — we’re forever in their debt just because of that,” Lindley said.
But that act of kindness wasn’t the only one Lindley remembers. When Tim was a freshman, he helped Lindley rake the leaves in his front lawn, and it became a tradition for the rest of his college years.
“He would just call me up in the fall and say, ‘Dr. Lindley, is it time to rake leaves?’” Lindley said, and would spend up to five hours on the lawn.
“And you know, he’s this kind of strapping guy, and made quick work of my leaves, and I have a lot of leaves,” Lindley said. “So they were just both, I would say, great servants in very simple, humble ways in my life, and both in being helpful around the house voluntarily and especially in that one long trip they helped us take.”
On the same day that she prayed for peace about her future and leaving hillsdale, Peri Rose said Emma King, who ran the Grotto with her husband till last year, told her they had passed the Forces name onto Father David Reamsnyder, the priest at St. Anthony’s.
Peri Rose said she thought that it was way too much of a coincidence for something to keep them in Hillsdale.
“It doesn’t seem like that’s a perfectly practical reason, but it felt very much like we were being given this as a gift,” she said, as the Grotto had done so much for her and Tim when they were students.
“We couldn’t pass it up,” she said.
Tim said they liked the idea of “first-fruits.”
“We get out of college. Our greatest asset is our youth and sort of the time we’ve been given,” he said. “So giving that directly back to the church in thanksgiving, giving it directly back to St. Anthony’s and the Grotto in thanksgiving. One way that’s kind of flipped on us is now we feel like we receive so much from the Grotto and from the ministry. It’s almost like we’re not even being charitable in a sense because it’s like. ‘Wow, the more we pour into it, the more we get out of it. It’s sort of crazy.”
Since then, they’ve filled their lives with service. Tim said he loves Thursdays, when they spend all day cooking in preparation for guests. A love for hospitality and others shows in their enthusiasm as the young couple describe their routine.
“We’ve grown in a lot of weird ways,” Peri Rose said. “Who would think that graduating as English majors, we’d just start cooking for people and hanging out with people and just talking to people every night.”
Tim said, “And the way food brings people together and the fun of enjoying food its really actually become a passion for both of us.”
Though the Grotto was established in 2012, they just came into full ownership of the house. Peri Rose said that Father Dave’s vision and work brought everything together so quickly.
“I can’t imagine being in his place, and I just feel like he’s done it with such grace and like making this house a reality has been his dream and he has really fulfilled that mission with so much grace in the last couple years,” she said, explaining that he made it successful because of his love for the ministry.
“He’s peaceful, he’s so kind, he’s so generous and I feel like that really manifests itself through this house,” she said.