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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Jesuit priests evacuated from infirmary due to COVID-19 cases

Manresa Hall, a hall in the Loyola Center, serves as an infirmary for the St. Joe’s Jesuit community and other local Jesuits. PHOTO: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

All Jesuit priests were evacuated from Manresa Hall, the Jesuit infirmary adjacent to St. Joe’s campus, last week due to the spread of COVID-19 within the residence. One of the priests has since died at a local hospital. 

More than half of the 17 Jesuits living there have since tested positive for COVID-19, according to an April 15 statement to The Hawk from Mike Gabriele, director of communications for the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus.

“Because of an inability to maintain appropriate staff levels at the center, the residents have been temporarily transferred to health facilities in Pennsylvania and Maryland,” Gabriele said in the statement.

The Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus operates the infirmary, a section of the Loyola Center, which serves as the primary residence for the St. Joe’s Jesuit community.  The infirmary is a mix of priests who worked, taught and preached at St. Joe’s and Jesuits from the area who need the assisted living care the facility provides.

Nine Jesuits in the infirmary were transported to various health facilities in Pennsylvania, and eight were transported to Maryland locations. Specifics about where all of the priests are now living and which individuals tested positive for COVID-19 were not immediately available.

Four of the priests transported to Maryland were taken to Stella Maris, a nonprofit, long-term care and nursing home facility in Timonium, Maryland. Stella Maris, which is sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, has a relationship with the Jesuits and manages the care for the Colombiere Jesuit Community Residence in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Regina Figueroa, chief administrative officer of Stella Maris, said when she got the call from the Manresa Hall administrators, it was her impression that these priests “had nowhere else to go.”

“We were not their first call,” Figueroa said. “I believe we were their last call. They had made several calls and no facilities in Pennsylvania were willing to help them including, I believe, the Pennsylvania Department of Health.”

Montgomery County has its own health department that would be the lead on these situations, according to Nate Wardle, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Wardle said that while he cannot comment on individual facilities, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has “also been in constant communication with facilities of concern.”

Mercury Winberg from the Montgomery County Commissioners Office, said the county is not aware that any individuals were denied access to any healthcare facilities in Montgomery County.

“We are aware that some individuals were transferred to a sister-facility in Maryland, but it is our understanding that this was a decision made by the Manresa Hall administrators,” Winberg said.

In an April 13 letter to family members of Stella Maris residents, obtained by The Hawk, Figueroa wrote, “Last week, we received a call for help from a Jesuit Community of Priests in Philadelphia that needed to be evacuated from their home. The decision to accept the priests was not made lightly and is in keeping with our Mission to care for the sick and elderly.”

Figueroa said Stella Maris coordinated with the Maryland Department of Health in the decision to bring the priests to their facility. She noted that the four priests the facility took in had not tested positive for COVID-19 at the time they were admitted, but received results back that have now confirmed they have COVID-19.

“We did let our department of health know that they were coming and that there was a possibility that they could be positive because the other priests that were there and went to the hospital had tested positive, but we did not have any results yet,” Figueroa said.

In preparation for having to isolate and care for patients with the virus, Stella Maris established two dedicated COVID-19 units separated from its main nursing home. They received a Certificate of Need last week, issued by the Maryland Health Care Commission, which authorized the nursing home to provide overflow capacity for overcrowded hospitals.

“We created two separate areas, enclosed, separate staff, separate everything, separate air exchange, separate entrance areas so that we could in the future care for any COVID patient based on the need and the surge of what was happening in our community, in our state, in the nation,” Figueroa said.

Stella Maris is authorized to have up to 39 additional beds in their COVID-19 units, according to the Certificate of Need. Currently the four priests are the only individuals in the unit.

Kevin Wildes, Ph.D., S.J., professor of philosophy at St. Joe’s, lives in the Loyola Center, the Jesuit residence connected to the infirmary. Wildes and the other active Jesuits are remaining in the Loyola Center. He said they’ve been taking precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among residents.

“We’ve changed the way we do eating,” Wildes said. “We don’t use our dining room the way we usually did. We eat individually. You pick up your food. You take it to your room. So we’ve done things to minimize possible infection and spread if somebody has it.”

Wildes said moving the priests from the infirmary to specialized care facilities makes sense because of their inherent vulnerability. 

“This way they’re also not exposed to people coming in from the outside or even other members of the community,” Wildes said. “Also it’s a way to make sure they get the right nursing staff and stuff like that. We have great nursing staff here, but they’re stretched to the max at this point.”

Figueroa would not provide information about the condition of the four priests at Stella Maris citing privacy, but stated, “They are safe as our other residents in the other parts of the building are as well.”

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    Michael WentzelApr 17, 2020 at 9:29 am

    Luke Malanga: As someone who was editor-in-chief of The Hawk more than 50 years ago and worked in newspapers more than 40 years, I congratulate you on a top-notch job of reporting and writing. And The Hawk looks great online. Never would have dreamed way back then that it could look like that. Keep up the good work.

    • L

      Luke MalangaApr 17, 2020 at 11:26 am

      Thank you very much for the kind words!