When Kevin Bachman ‘13 began his senior year in September, it would have been hard to imagine that by the end of the fall semester, he would be receiving text messages from the president of the University on a regular basis.
“He texts us all the time,” said Bachman, “Like, ‘Hey guys, hold down the fort while I’m away.’ He’s such a nice guy.”
For many Fairfield University seniors, Hurricane Sandy struck at a time when they were supposed to be enjoying the thrill of off-campus living for the first time in their four years. Instead, many have ended up in the very same dorms that housed them as freshmen and sophomores, retreating back to the lifestyle of common bathrooms and meals in Barone.
But for four particular seniors, the storm presented a very different opportunity.
Bachman, along with his roommates Tyler Haviland ‘13, Andrew Cunningham ‘13 and Paul Rosen ‘13, have been displaced by the storm, but have taken up residency at one location rarely seen by students: the home of Rev. Jeffery P. von Arx.
“This is the best scenario,” said Bachman. “We’re the only people with a kitchen. We didn’t get broken up into freshmen dorms. We’re off campus. My room here is three times the size of my one at the beach house.”
The four seniors are among the approximately 300 Fairfield students who needed a place to stay after the storm uprooted them from their beach houses. This group’s house in particular, called “The Lobster Trap,” sustained heavy damages to its downstairs rooms. Most of the appliances had to be replaced, and major work had to be done on the interior of the house.
“They keep stripping it more. I went down there yesterday, and we had stairs the other day, but now we don’t,” said Bachman.
But for now, the students do not mind their new living arrangements, and their relationship with Fr. Von Arx has been going well.
“He’s a real down-to-earth guy,” said Bachman. “People automatically assume because he’s the President and he’s so intelligent that he’ll be stand-offish. But honestly, he’s very good with us, very welcoming.”
“We’re a lot closer to him than everyone else,” said Rosen.
And according to von Arx himself, he likes having the boys there. “It’s been fine. They’re nice guys,” said von Arx.
In fact, von Arx has begun to see himself in a paternal role with the students. “It’s funny … somebody my age, you begin to think of them a little bit as your children,” said von Arx. “One of them didn’t come back [Sunday], and I guess you begin to worry a little, ‘You know, I hope he’s alright.’ … You get something of a paternal outlook to them when you’re living in closer proximity.”
But aside from the occasional community meetings where he meets with the guys to discuss things, there are times when von Arx and the group go a while without seeing or interacting with one another.
“We have to kind of work around his schedule because he has catered events here, like dinners and breakfasts. But beyond that, he’s rarely here,” said Cunningham.
This is consistent with what von Arx said about himself as well, as he said that he normally doesn’t come back to the house until well after dinner, around 10 p.m. “But when he is here, he is normally just hanging out, like us,” said Rosen.
Perhaps the biggest surprise may be about the number of parties and get-togethers thrown not by the guys, but by von Arx himself. “The house does get used for a lot of entertaining, that’s what it’s there for. The first week they were here, there were three separate dinners,” said von Arx.
The guys have done well so far with the parties. “We know not to do anything stupid,” Rosen said.
If anything, von Arx has been surprised at how quiet the house is, even with them living there. “I guess the house must be very well built, because I go to bed, and I just don’t hear any noise.”
Each of the students believes themselves to be lucky to be in such a situation, but it begs the question: How did they end up so lucky?
“Karen Donoghue called me up, and she asked if we wanted to do it. She was my FYM [First Year Mentor], so I’ve known her for the past four years,” said Bachman. The group also participated in the Build-a-House program, which they believe helped their status.
When asked if he has learned anything in this experience, von Arx replied, laughing: “How much laundry people do?”
He went on to say that it has been good getting familiarized once again with the routines and daily lives of students. Von Arx lived with students while at both Georgetown University and Fordham University, and said that the experience hasn’t changed much.
When asked how they are going to act on Commencement Day, when von Arx hands them their diplomas as they walk across the stage, housemate Paul Rosen smiled, saying, “I’m going to give him a nice big hug.”
Von Arx said that he may mention them in a speech that day—but will he get teary eyed with fatherly pride that day?
“I don’t know about that,” he said laughing, “But as I’ve said I’ve enjoyed their presence and am happy I’ve been able to help.”