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.”