She is Facing the ‘Epidemic of Loneliness’ Head-on

It’s undeniable. Our culture is lonely, and one does not need to read the headlines to know it. Many in our society are at a loss for solutions, instead increasingly turning to technology to cope. But it is increasingly apparent that technology actually exacerbates the problem of loneliness. In a society lacking hope, how are Christians called to engage with this issue?

For one Benedictine College senior, Shea Nowicki, the solution is clear and elegantly simple.

Through her formation in the John Paul II Fellowship program with the Center for Family Life, Shea has been struck by the profound need for authentic connection in our time. Her work with students at Atchison’s public schools, her participation in a weekly “domestic liturgy,” and her intellectual curiosity for spiritual anthropology all coincide in one, cohesive way of living an interconnected life.

Originally from Scottsdale, Arizona, Shea is a senior Theology major with minors in Psychology and Education, a Presidential Scholar, a board member for Fiat (the all-women, on-campus Marian devotion group), a John Paul II Fellow, a Gregorian Leadership Fellow, and a student worker in the Theology department and Registrar’s office. A young woman with quite the résumé, Shea is utilizing all her unique talents and skillsets to transform the culture, one individual at a time.

Each week, Shea and her classmates in the JPII Fellowship program visit local public schools in Atchison to build positive relationships with students, many with behavioral concerns and complicated home lives.

“At first, we were simply going to their classes and being with them. Something like watching a movie and discussing it in the elective STEM class— it was quite ordinary, but the key was seeing the same students week after week.” Shea realized that authentic relationships are not fostered overnight, but by continued interaction, even if it was simply asking how a student’s day was, checking in on how previously discussed events played out, and cracking jokes with them. “There needs to be a foundation of genuine care and concern from the onset in order to see the growth.”

The Center for Family Life developed the fellowship to implement the Human Dignity Curriculum created by the World Youth Alliance in the public schools they ministered to. Shea says that the anthropological and philosophical concepts in the curriculum did not only challenge the students’ understanding of “self,” but unexpectedly challenged her own way of thinking.

“It has deepened my understanding of my own dignity and is helping me not only to teach it to [the students] and walk with them as they’re discovering it for themselves, but to live it out in other contexts. It is an all-encompassing awareness that is quite enriching to my own everyday life.”

Shea lives out this integrated life well. “In our own JPII Fellow community, we meet Sunday after Sunday for a ‘domestic liturgy’ in Tory and Elizabeth’s apartment.” Opening their home to the students, Center Director Tory Baucum and his wife Elizabeth host the students for intentional conversation and prayer each week.

“I have learned a great sense of hospitality though Elizabeth, the way she welcomes us each week, prepares a meal for us, and helps us facilitate the domestic liturgy,” adding with widened eyes “It’s a new soup every week! She has never repeated a recipe— it’s amazing.”

They open the liturgy in song, they invite the Fellows to share what they have done for Jesus and what Jesus has done for them that week, they move into a time of study, diving into texts such as St. Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Families and Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti, and they close in prayer, sharing specific intentions for those in their homelives, friendships, and communities.

“This is where we have cultivated a beautiful depth,” Shea shares. “I’m learning that you don’t necessarily pick your community, but you do pick to show up and love them each week. All of us in the Fellowship come from different hometowns, have different hobbies, and even have some different majors, but we’ve built something cohesive out of our shared desire to build up John Paul II’s vision of love in Atchison and the entire world.”

Even beyond the sense of community, the opportunities for scholarship inspire Shea to greatness. “I love the academic rigor and digging into theological texts, so the JPII Fellowship gets to stimulate that intellectual side,” Shea shares. “Tory has been a great advocate for me, encouraging me to develop and explore texts and to really ask the big perennial questions.”

Shea has been profoundly impacted by Pope St. John Paul II’s conceptualization of the human person, and its implications for marriage and family life. “It has honestly surprised me how applicable John Paul II’s anthropological vision is in very many contexts, and I’ve become more and more convinced that for the 21st century Catholic Church, this is the great issue of our time. We are being called to build up the human person, made for relationship.”

The intellectual rigor of the education at Benedictine College, enriched by the formation through the JPII Fellowship program, has inspired Shea to transform the culture in America through the lens of human dignity, pursuing greatness beyond Benedictine College.

Shea will be attending the University of Notre Dame this fall for graduate studies to pursue a Master of Divinity. She looks forward to utilizing her education to work with high school aged women in a teaching or ministerial counseling role.

“I’m very struck, and this is something I’ve become more aware of through being in the JPII Fellowship, by the epidemic of loneliness experienced by many young people. I desire so much to establish a ministry of presence, entering in and truly walking with individuals in their suffering… I do feel like this is the call of my life. This is the invitation that the Lord is offering me to really see the other, to love them, and to invite them to be their full self.”

The answer is simple. Shea, in her service and in her friendship, demonstrates that small acts of love— following up with a friend, opening your home for a soup dinner, asking intentional questions— truly combat the “epidemic of loneliness” in our nation and elevate each person to receive the dignity inherently due to them.

Sofia Leiva