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Ben Hufford and Shelby Dorman’s life together promises to have an adven­turous start. 

After moving up their wedding from next summer to this fall, the current seniors applied to become care­takers of the Grotto, an off-campus home owned by St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.

The house serves as a place for Catholic min­istries on campus and even houses a Eucharistic ado­ration chapel. Dorman and Hufford now work as liaisons between the parish and Hillsdale College stu­dents, part­nering with Catholic Society to put on events and host stu­dents, and taking care of the house. 

Cur­rently, just Dorman lives there, and Hufford will move in after the wedding on Oct. 3. They’re the first people to hold the position and live in the Grotto who are still college students.

So how’d they get the job?

“The grace of God, hon­estly,” Hufford said, laughing. “We both thought it would be really cool to work at the Grotto someday. But it was always just kind of a ‘someday’ thing.”

Even after Tim and Perri Rose Force, who lived at the Grotto last year, announced they were leaving, Hufford and Dorman didn’t truly con­sider it. When they moved up their wedding to this fall, the role became a pos­si­bility. 

After Mass at the Grotto one day last semester, they asked Perri Rose Force how the search for a new couple was going.

“Just being nosy,” Hufford said. 

Force asked them if they’d ever con­sidered running the Grotto.

“I guess we’re getting married, so actually maybe we could,” Dorman said she told Force. “She was like, ‘If we can do it with two kids, you guys can do it as students.’”

A week before leaving campus for the summer and after talking with the Forces and Fr. David Ream­snyder, the parish priest at St. Anthony, the couple decided to apply. Twenty-four hours later, they found out they’d been accepted.

“We left grad­u­ation early,” Hufford said. They both laughed at the memory of rushing to the Grotto for training and missing most of Tim Allen’s com­mencement speech.

Their role now involves duties like coor­di­nating with Catholic Society, cooking for guests, fundraising, and hosting small groups. 

“The house is lit­erally a church, so the things you’re doing that would be normal housework, you’re now doing for our Lord,” Hufford said. “You’re mowing the lawn, and you’re like, ‘Alright, this is to make Jesus’s church look good.’ It’s not just this menial task. It makes things matter.” 

According to Hufford, they’d been working nonstop — unpacking and getting ready — before the first night of open hours at the Grotto.

“Then people started showing up,” Hufford said. “Wow, there’s lit­erally three people praying in front of our Lord right now. And we got to be a part of that, make that pos­sible, in a small way. That was really rewarding.”

Junior Noah Hoonhout, Catholic Society’s event coor­di­nator, said he thinks stu­dents, par­tic­u­larly freshmen and sopho­mores, will look up to them as seniors and role models. 

“They’re both very caring, very holy,” Hoonhout said. “They’re very much bought into the mission of the Grotto.”

The mission of Catholic Society, according to Hoonhout, is to provide a com­munity and oppor­tu­nities to the Catholic faithful at Hillsdale, to grow in their spir­i­tu­ality and prayer life, and to grow in fel­lowship with others trying to do the same.

“The Grotto, I think, is an essential part of that mission because one, it has the Blessed Sacrament,” Hoonhout said. “And it offers Mass, con­vivium, things like that where you have con­stant prayer oppor­tu­nities to grow closer to the Lord. But also, it’s a place that’s very welcoming.”

While pro­gramming will remain the same, Dorman said that since she and Hufford are stu­dents, and the Forces had children, she expects there will be dif­fer­ences in how the Grotto will operate com­pared to last semester.

“The Forces were really good at running the Grotto,” Hufford said. “I don’t think about it as what do I want to change, but that I want to get good at this. You get better by doing it and in a way that still feels authentic.”

Dorman said she finds living in a house with a Eucharistic ado­ration chapel beautiful.

“Every night Ben and I will pray for a little bit after hours in the chapel,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of grace that comes with being in the presence of God.” 

She’s noticed that she’s been calm in the face of nor­mally frus­trating, over­whelming expe­ri­ences. While having people in her home for hours every day was an adjustment, she said she thinks it’s very com­patible with the life of a student.

“From 7 – 11 p.m., I was already in the library most of those hours,” Dorman said. “Usually I study on the top floor of the library, so people are always talking to you anyway. It feels very similar to the life of a student, which is inher­ently a life of community.”

They plan to work together inter­changeably to cover their respon­si­bil­ities at the Grotto in case one of them is ever par­tic­u­larly busy with schoolwork. 

“The nicest thing about the Grotto is that it’s not about us,” Hufford said. “We just live here. It’s not our house. It’s all about Jesus. This is Jesus’ house.”

Due to the lack of privacy and demanding work and student schedules, the couple was orig­i­nally nervous about stepping into the role. 

“I think this min­istry is very similar to Jesus’s min­istry of just being with people, all the time,” Dorman said. “That was probably really tiring for him. But we get to be part of that rela­tional ministry.”

They’ll love people by talking to them, feeding them, and opening the door of the chapel to them. 

“We get to be a part of that, starting our mar­riage in service,” Dorman said. “That’s actually what life is for in a certain sense.”