The former Phi Delta Theta house, the site of the alleged hazing that led to Max Gruver’s death, is now called the Saint John Paul II House. There’s a chapel in what used to be a fraternity member’s bedroom. The library is filled with scriptures, and leather-bound pocket bibles are all over the living room. The only thing remaining from the fraternity days are the striped blinds and the pool table.
Christ the King Catholic Church began subleasing the house from Phi Delta Theta in April, spending the summer restoring the house and turning it into a spiritual place for the young men of CTK.
One month into the 2018-19 school year, on the anniversary of Max Gruver’s death, CTK Rev. Andrew Merrick shared his thoughts on the church’s rental.
“It’s not in response to the Max Gruver situation, it just lined up that way,” Merrick said. “We are grateful for the fact that there’s an opportunity here for light, to come into a difficult situation, but it’s not in response to that.”
Merrick talked to the Gruvers, who are Catholic, around the same time of his death anniversary. While Merrick didn’t know Max personally, Max had attended mass at the church with his parents, Stephen and Rae Ann, a few times. Merrick said they approved of the church’s plan to turn the former frat house into a spiritual place, though they didn’t know about the church’s plans until more recently.
“We had breakfast on Saturday,” Merrick said. “They were grateful that [the Church is] in the house, and they were really grateful that there’s a positive thing that’s happening in the house. I will say the same for Phi Delta Theta, they are very grateful that we are in the house. They have been very gracious to us and they’re very supportive of us being in the house. So it’s a win-win there.”
The church is using the house as a place for spiritual contemplation and religious immersion for young men attending the University. It’s part of CTK ’s long-term plan to have houses for men and women where they could form faith-based communities. While they still hope to find women’s housing, they moved forward with subleasing the former Phi Delta house.
On Aug. 12, nine University students moved into the house, along with two supervisors. They were chosen carefully, all of them long-time CTK members and enthusiastic members of the fledgling program.
The students say they are really enjoying the experience, while also trying to be respectful of the place’s history. Kinesiology senior Emile Jeunesse said he isn’t pretending nothing happened in the house, and prays for the Gruvers regularly.
“I’ve still been interceding and praying for him a lot, and I think it brings together the fact that we’re all praying,” Jeunesse said. “We’re respectful of him — we want to show him as much reverence as possible by treating the house properly and leaving a good impact wherever we go.”
The students living in the house follow the University’s rules for fraternities, as well as church guidelines, like prayer, scripture study and service work. All the bedroom doors have plaques with saints’ names to inspire them. There’s a painting of Jesus on the cross in the stairwell.
They have already turned a former bedroom into a chapel, and plan to expand and improve the chapel when they have time. Women who aren’t family members aren’t allowed on the second floor, and they try not to have too many guests in general. They don’t interact much with the fraternity houses surrounding them, and the campus at large doesn’t really know about their presence in the former Phi Delt house.
Another student living in the house, accounting senior Daniel Ellender, said the community aspect of living in the house was important to him.
“I spent some time my first year on campus, and I really love that aspect of being around everybody,” Ellender said. “I was away for two semesters off-campus. I just really like being close and also having mentors like [campus minister] Adam Trufant living in the house. It’s a great group of guys. It’s very refreshing to come back and have a group of guys who are striving for something more.”
While CTK’s sublease is only for 18 months, they plan on renewing it if the first year goes well.
Trufant said that they were all really optimistic about it succeeding, and that while they did have to work out some issues, communication was strong and everyone has been having a great experience.
“It’s just been really, really fun to live in the house,” Trufant said.