Catholic Events Canceled, Moved Online in Wake of Coronavirus Pandemic

Students and faculty at The Catholic University of America celebrate graduation May 12 in Washington. (Photo: CNS)

By Christopher White, National Correspodent

NEW YORK — The best-laid plans of Catholics across the country have been upended, as colleges and universities are now canceling commencement ceremonies and a range of high profile conference and gatherings have been nixed, postponed, or switched to new formats as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While priests across the country have had to switch to celebrating Mass through live stream video and teachers have had to adjust to online learning, plans for many regular in-person gatherings are now up in the air.

In mid-June, the U.S bishops are slated to meet in Detroit, however sources at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have told The Tablet that whether the bi-annual meeting will still take place, and if so, what format, is still being discussed.

Similarly, the 25th annual Eucharistic Congress in the Archdiocese of Atlanta – a major event which normally draws crowds of over 30,000 – was set to take place in June has been canceled, and a much anticipated Child and Youth Protection Catholic Leadership Conference, which was set to take place later this month in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, has been postponed to an undetermined date.

This week a range of Catholic higher education institutions announced that they would be adjusting their spring graduation exercises.

On March 30, the University of Notre Dame announced that they would host a virtual commencement ceremony this May instead of an in person gathering and that graduates would be invited back to campus in spring 2021 to take part in the usual festivities. This year’s commencement speaker, His All-Holiness Bartholomew, the Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, will record a video of his address for the students.

In their announcement, university president Father John Jenkins recalled the 1879 fire on campus that led to an early cancelation of the semester. “The University, and that class, arose from the ashes of 1879 even stronger,” he wrote to students. “You will as well.”

Similarly, across the country, a range of Jesuit institutions have announced that they have postponed their commencement, including Creighton University, Fairfield University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, John Carroll University, Le Moyne College, Loyola University Chicago, Loyola University Maryland, Marquette University, Regis University, Saint Peter’s University, Santa Clara University, University of Detroit Mercy, University of San Francisco, and Xavier University.

In May, the United Nations’ Secretary General António Guterres was set to receive the top prize from the Path to Peace Foundation, the major charitable organization established to support the work of the Holy See Mission to the U.N. Last week, however, they announced that the event had been rescheduled to October 28.

Similarly in June, the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP) announced that their annual gathering – which was scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C. from June 22-25 – has moved to a virtual meeting.

In making the announcement, Executive Director Father Bob Bonnot tried to strike an optimistic tone, saying that perhaps the new format could attract even more participants.

Since attendees will not have the added expenses of travel and accommodations, he wrote, “We hope even to engage many more of our members than the 300 we had hoped to gather.”

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  1. Fairfield University Responds to Community Needs Amid Health Crisis

    True to its Jesuit mission, Fairfield’s faculty, staff, and students continue to serve those in need and on the front lines during this unprecedented time.
    When the Connecticut Food Bank recently reached out to Fairfield University for a donation, they intended to collect a monetary one. Director of Alumni Relations Janet Canepa ’82 received the call and consulted with Assistant Vice President Jim Fitzpatrick ’70, M’72, P’08 and Fairfield’s General Manager of Dining Services, Duane Gornicki.

    Gornicki oversees the University’s emergency food supply, which has to be rotated continuously, and consists of three days-worth of food — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — for 3,000 students who typically live on campus.

    “When the semester came to an abrupt halt, I had no place to utilize it. We have a lot of expirations that were coming up in May, June, July and we were going to lose the food. This was an opportunity to help.”

    At a time when the global pandemic has hit Connecticut hard, food insecurity for those in need has significantly escalated. Statewide, many food banks have been trying to keep up with an increase in demand for supplies, to provide food not only for individuals and families who were receiving items prior to the COVID-19 health crisis, but for new clients as well.

    Gornicki suggested that Fairfield donate its emergency food supply, and was immediately directed by the Connecticut Food Bank to contact a volunteer coordinator at Columbus House in New Haven. “It’s a significant amount of food,” Gornicki said. “She was so moved, she just broke down and cried.”

    Nine Columbus House facilities located throughout New Haven County will benefit from approximately $60,000 worth of food items. Fairfield has also continued its long-standing tradition of preparing and delivering meals to Prospect House in Bridgeport every Friday and Sunday.

    The Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies’ alumni, students, and faculty are serving on the front lines in a variety of health care settings in many communities. The Egan School has donated personal protective equipment and supplies to area health care facilities. Dean Meredith Kazer, PhD, APRN, FAAN said, “We’ve received numerous requests from our clinical partners and are responding to this pandemic with all available school resources.”

    As health care workers and hospitals are overwhelmed by the lack of critical personal protective equipment needed to safely tend to ill patients, faculty and staff from the Biology and Chemistry departments, including Molecular Lab Supervisor Lenka Biardi, Associate Professor Jim Biardi, PhD, and Chemistry Lab Manager Dorothy Sobczynski, PhD have collected many lab supplies: exam gloves, N95 respirators and masks, biohazard disposable bags, hand sanitizer, syringes, and needles.

    “These supplies come from departmental lab stocks, as well as on-going donations from many individual faculty research labs,” said Professor Shelley Phelan, PhD, chair of Biology, “and are being donated to local hospitals and organizations in conjunction with coordinated efforts by the College of Art and Sciences dean’s office.” Biology Lab Coordinator Chris Hetherington and Associate Professor Shannon Gerry, PhD collected supplies that were donated to N.Y. Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

    “Fairfield will continue to reach out and respond to community needs as they arise during this global pandemic,” said Vice President, Marketing and Communications Jennifer Anderson ’97, MBA’02. “Fairfield has been contacted by Enterprise Rental to allow their high volume of rental returns to be parked in University lots, and by the State of Connecticut for use of our Field House and Alumni Hall as hospital overflow spaces. We will work with the State if it is deemed those spaces are needed.”

    In addition to feeding our neighbors, helping to equip health care workers, and responding to state and community needs as they arise, the University community has also united in support of one another with a full roster of virtual events to cultivate the Jesuit value of cura personalis or care of the whole person — mind, body, and spirit — including Daily Mass, which is being celebrated and shared virtually on weekdays at 12:10 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m.