The pastor’s shared apartment in Höhenkirchen-Siegertsbrunn – district of Munich

It was actually a normal Christmas for pastors Manuel Kleinhans and Klaus Hofstetter, with many services and sermons. And yet they started it differently than before, because this time they deliberately stood in front of a decorated Christmas tree in the rectory of Höhenkirchen, celebrated their personal “family celebration” and enjoyed the little free time they had. The two live in a shared apartment, as Catholic clergy do in many parts of the world under the term “vita communis” (Latin for “living together”). In Germany, however, this is rather unusual.

“As a Catholic priest, you are not doomed to be lonely, but you have to constantly work on your social life and cultivate it,” says Manuel Kleinhans, 38. He and Hofstetter, who is 16 years his senior, have been living together for a good year and have it not regretted until today. They eat at a table, shop for each other, sometimes emphatically close the door of their living quarters so that a little later they can talk intensively about personal matters in the shared living room. They can also see their living together as a kind of vocation and refer to the Bible. In addition, the diocese of Munich-Freising supports priests living in a vita communis. Last but not least, the decree “Presbyterorum ordinis – on the ministry and life of priests” of the Second Vatican Council expressly recommends in point eight to promote various forms of common life for diocesan priests.

It just worked out well for Kleinhans and Hofstetter: Kleinhans has been in charge of the Höhenkirchen and Aying-Helfendorf parish associations since autumn 2020 and initially lived alone on the first floor of the rectory. He found the space too big for him and life alone too boring. When Hofstetter took over the management of the Vocations Pastoral Office of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising in autumn 2021 and moved to Munich, he was looking for an apartment. During this time, the Gospel of the Day, which he meditates on every day, said: “Seek and you will find.” A short time later he spoke to Kleinhans, whom he has known for 14 years from a joint pilgrimage to Rome. It fit.

Everyone has a room and a bathroom, kitchen and living room share both

Each of them has their own living area consisting of a room and bathroom, and they share the living room and kitchen. “It’s important that everyone has their own thing,” says Kleinhans, “that has worked out very well, as has the division of chores at home.” Hofstetter, who cooked for 80 priests at a seminar for six months, loves Italian cuisine and likes to serve it big. Kleinhans, on the other hand, says with a laugh: “I’m exhausting myself setting the coffee table for three people.” Both like to have overnight guests and spontaneously create space for them.

It is crucial for pastors that they are active in different areas. Kleinhans heads the two parish associations in the south-east of the district of Munich. Hofstetter does services there, but otherwise works in the ordinariate. He stays out of Kleinhans’ administrative work. But for him, who comes from Vaterstetten and was a pastor in Chiemgau for seven years, preaching has got a “new face”: He finds it easier to prepare the sermon without the responsibility for a pastorate and now keeps it free. And he’s happy to receive feedback on the sermon from churchgoers in Helfendorf: “I never got that in Chiemgau.”

Kleinhans, who studied music and conducted orchestras before turning to theology, enjoys the support of his older colleague, who shares his experiences. And so they not only feast on Italian delicacies during the “long snacks on Friday evening” that they have come to love, but also exchange ideas for the next sermon and their work.

Living together not only has practical benefits, it also educates them. “If Hofstetter isn’t there, I’ll stay in bed much longer in the morning,” says Kleinhans and laughs. They pray together and know from each other who is there when. For real? “It wasn’t until Manuel missed prayer twice in a row that I realized he was away,” says Hofstetter with a smile. “We’re glad it turned out that way. We can also imagine taking another person into our flat share,” he sums up. And Kleinhans adds: “While the vita communis is a matter of course in many parts of the world, we see a tendency towards isolation that could also have negative aspects over time.” During the Corona period and with a high frequency of appointments, living together brought him stability; inner stability and also an even rhythm. Ergo: “We live in a pastor’s shared apartment, which we explicitly chose.”

But living together also holds surprises. Before their first Christmas together a year ago, the two had not discussed gifts. “I quickly bought another houseplant so as not to be left empty-handed. When Klaus really didn’t have anything – which I wasn’t angry about at all – I quickly rededicated the plant as a gift for our shared dining room,” says Kleinhans. And when you visit, you can feel how valuable this plant has become to both of them as a sign of their togetherness.

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