When Ian Gill and his wife, Eleni, returned to St. Junipero Serra Hall after the birth of their first child, they were amazed at the support awaiting them.
“Father Gregory Plow came right out of his office and said, ‘I have to give your daughter her first blessing,’” said Ian. “And he did – right there in the middle of the entryway.”
Gill is one of three residence directors at Franciscan University of Steubenville raising a child while simultaneously being responsible for the residence life experience of some of the university’s estimated 1,600 on-campus students. While being a residence director can be an adventure in its own right, the residence directors are the first to admit adding a baby to the mix is a whole other ballgame.
In St. Junipero Serra, the Gills welcomed Sofia Marie on Sept. 5 and are the newest couple to the “RD and baby” game. Andrew and Mary Ouellette, in their second year at Sts. Kolbe and Clare halls, added Rosemary Faustina to their family on April 12, while Mary Kate and Daniel Waldow brought 21-month-old Peter Karol with them as they began their first year in St. Thomas More Hall.
Raising a family while living in a university residence hall is a unique situation that can come with unique challenges, said Waldow, who is in her first year working at Franciscan University.
“It’s sometimes challenging when I’m trying to have a conversation with someone and Peter darts away, so I never end up being able to finish the conversation because I have to chase after him,” she said.
The hardest challenge, however, is deciding whether to address family or residence life first when both conflict, said Gill.
“It’s a give and take of when I put a resident first and when I put home life first,” he said. “If that happens, I’ll generally ask Eleni, ‘Are you good? Can I go help this resident right now?’”
One way they try to avoid these conflicts is setting boundaries.
“Boundaries are important in any relationship,” said Andrew Ouellette. “While there are certain times each day that my family has as family time, I try and make myself as available as I can be to the residents.”
Gill concurred, saying, “I don’t work in my apartment. I have to remind myself and others that it’s not just me living here.”
He makes up for it by intentionally spending time outside his apartment so residents “don’t feel like they have to knock on my home door to find me.”
Despite the need for establishing boundaries, the resident directors find it very easy to bring their family and hall lives together. The Ouellettes often go on walks around campus in the afternoon and Gill will usually have Sofia in a baby wrap on his chest during his office hours. Waldow said her son loves it when people greet and engage with him.
“I believe there’s something special for our residents to have a baby in the hall,” Ouellette said. “Rosemary tends to brighten the hall up.”
Waldow said her son often steals the show in the hall.
“The girls usually want to talk to Peter instead of me, which I can’t blame them for because there is never a dull moment with him,” she said. “I also have a plethora of babysitters to tap into which is great.”
Gill pointed out that many of the residents come from large Catholic families, so seeing babies around campus is like being home with their families in a way that Skype or texting won’t allow. They are also ready to support the new parents in any way they can.
“We have a great support group of other resident directors and local families,” he said. “When they say it takes a village to raise a child, a college campus is practically a village … We have a really nice Catholic village here and there’s a lot more support here than we would have anywhere else.”
Waldow said raising her family in the dorm is a special kind of witness for her residents.
“It’s my goal for my family to be an example to my residents of a Christian marriage with all its blessings and ups and downs that come with it,” she said.
Bob Siemens, now director of evangelization, and his wife, then a residence director, note that having their daughter Rebecca while directing dorm life was a “ministry tool of sorts.”
“Everyone loved to be around her,” Siemens said. “Her first birthday was celebrated in Trinity, and the whole dorm was invited. She learned to walk in the halls of Trinity. We even named Rebecca for one of the RAs, who was one of the sweetest and holiest you could ever meet.”
“To see her learn to walk in these halls and then come back as a student, it’s a testament to how the university benefited our family and helped her grow into the woman she is,” Siemens said. “I love that.”
Hearing Siemens’ testimony made Gill excited at the prospect of having the same thing happen for his own child.
“It was such a great thought,” he said. “We could live here, and she’d learn to walk here. Eventually, maybe she would come back as a student. It’s one thing to know it’s doable, but now it’s realistic with all these other families doing the same thing around us.”