“Our goal was to continue some of the traditions, to continue some of our regular activity to give students a sense of normalcy … but also not wanting to overwhelm,” said Campus Minister Stephen Deves. “We figured, let’s limit (our activity), but make the things we do really good and meaningful.”
Forced to remove themselves from the soft couches and yellow walls of Campus Ministry, the team has had to embrace technology to carry out their day-to-day projects. Pastoral teams, for example, will meet on Zoom conferences in an effort to stay connected.
“I’ll be meeting with my Freshman Pastoral Team … and just kind of continuing the community,” said Deves. “It's really going to be just a space for people to come together to see their classmates that maybe they don't get to see to share how things are going.”
Morning prayer has also gone virtual, as teachers have been recording videos of prayer and morning announcements, then sending them out to students via Canvas. For Deves and other members of the SLUH community, morning prayer has been a positive way to start the day.
“It's really helpful for me in the morning time, after I eat my breakfast and get my coffee to sit down and pray with that faculty member … just to kind of put my mind in a mindset of ‘let’s begin the day,’” said Deves.
“The morning prayer has been great, because I think that as Catholics, our faith is best practiced in community and these videos allow us to connect with each other,” said sophomore Joey Inserra.
Examen videos are also sent out to students each school day. Continuing the Examen was really important for Campus Ministers, who knew that many students would have difficulty finding time to pray and reflect during e-learning.
“People are going to be in some aspects overwhelmed during this (e-learning). … There's going to be a lot of routine and monotony that's going to feel repetitive, and overtime it might feel boring,” said Deves. “We figured that students, faculty, everybody, just like any other day, need to make time for prayer.”
In order to keep this tradition alive, Director of Campus Ministry the Rev. Joseph Hill, S.J. created a video to guide students through the reflection. The videos are sent out to students at 1:30 every day.
“The Examen structures our day,” said Hill. “I think the idea was to try and provide as much normalcy for students as we can during this time along with providing them an opportunity to take a break and pray.”
“It's really helpful for me ... to try to take a break and process how the day has gone,” said Deves. “I think it's so important for us to do that because it is so easy for us to fall into a mindset of never reflecting since we're constantly at home. … We figured everyone would benefit from (the Examen).”
“We’re staring at our screens all the time now, just to carve out some time to pray, read scripture, pray a rosary, do some spiritual reading … it’s been a great part of my day,” said Campus Minister Brian Gilmore.
Along with these everyday programs, Campus Ministry has come up with some creative solutions to continue bigger projects as well.
One of Campus Ministry’s largest spring projects is hosting a retreat for the entire sophomore class, meant to provide students with a chance to reflect on their experiences at SLUH. This retreat was scheduled for April 1 and 2, but due to the switch to online learning the team had to find a way to transfer the retreat to an online format via Canvas, a process that proved difficult.
“The most difficult part was trying to take the person to person elements of the retreat and make them meaningful virtually. We didn't want it to feel like another Distance Learning day,” said Simonie Anzalone in an email to the Prep News. “While we felt it best to use the Canvas platform as our means for communication, we hope that there are elements of reflection, prayer, relaxation, and peace that feel different than an academic day.”
Sophomore conversations is an essential element to the retreat experience, one that Anzalone didn’t want the sophomores to miss.
“The sophomore conversation is so very Ignatian and often one of the most eye-opening and thought-provoking experiences in a student's time at SLUH,” said Anzalone. “This is an examen midway through the student's time at SLUH, to look back on the struggles and triumphs of the first two years and to set goals for the last two.”
The whole sophomore class will partake in this virtual retreat experience on April 27.
“I am excited to reflect on my first two years, to think about my mistakes and figure out how I can fix those mistakes,” said sophomore Jared Thornberry.
Another challenge that the Campus Ministers faced was how to help students reflect and grow closer to God during Holy Week and the Triduum, the holiest days in the Catholic Church’s calendar. One of their biggest initiatives was The Good Friday Project, a video collaboration between all 26 Catholic High Schools in the St. Louis Archdiocese. Gilmore’s wife, who works at St. Dominic High School, first came up with the idea.
“(My wife) thought (The Good Friday Project) might be something meaningful that we could both work on and kind of fill in a gap we saw in collaboration between Campus Ministers across the Archdiocese,” said Gilmore.
The inspiration for the video came from the theme of loss that weighs heavily on Good Friday.
“There’s been degrees of losses at this time,” said Gilmore. “We saw (the project) as an opportunity to kind of honor that and turn that into an opportunity for some prayer.”
The video featured short stations of the cross reflections accompanied with scripture readings and music. The Good Friday Project had reached over 600 students by Easter Sunday.
“(The Good Friday Project) was very moving. It was a lot of work, but it was a very moving thing to be a part of, not only with my wife but also in collaboration with all the schools. I was very happy with it,” said Gilmore.
“It was really cool to see the community and all of the campus ministers coming together and sharing the message of Good Friday and spreading the faith even through these difficult times,” said junior Dominic Fiordelisi.
One program that could not be adapted to e-learning was service projects that were organized by Campus Ministry. Instead, Campus Ministers hope that students are serving their families during this time.
“The one service thing we encouraged was just thinking about how you can be a man for others at home, how you can help your parents, how you can help your siblings,” said Deves. “Those are all very real forms of service and brotherhood, but it's different from what we’re used to.”
“Little, unexpected acts of service for your family or neighbors such as cooking a meal or mowing a lawn or taking out trash or doing the dishes are sure to be appreciated,” said Anzalone.
While most students will have to settle for this type of service opportunity, one senior, in particular, is embracing technology to serve his community. Senior Bob Lockwood, who was away playing hockey this January (see Volume 84, Issue 6) while his classmates were doing their senior project, was supposed to be making up his service project this month at a local grade school. Instead, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lockwood has had to completely change his service project. Now, he is calling retired religious sisters at Nazareth and The Village, two retirement communities.
“It actually took a bit to come up with an idea,” said Lockwood. “This is definitely a unique senior service project and not what I’d planned. A lot of people are feeling isolated right now and there is a strong need to reach out to older people who live alone.”
The Campus Ministers are diligently working to help students continue to grow and deepen their relationship with God through these trying times.
“Our relationship with God is not directly affected by the quarantine,” said Hill. “We can still pray, we can still practice virtues, and we can still grow closer to God.”