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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Students connect with their faith virtually amidst COVID-19 restrictions

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Attendees in the Chapel of Saint Joseph are stationed six feet apart in a modified Mass layout. PHOTOS: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

Christian Peeney ’22 stood by himself at the altar singing a hymn with his mask on, during the 6:30 p.m. Mass in the Chapel of Saint Joseph. About 40 other students were encouraged to “sing silently in your hearts.” 

Peeney’s voice was only slightly muffled as he sang the Gloria: Mass of a Joyful Heart, Psalm 63, the Eucharistic Acclamations: Misa Luna Santo, the Memorial Acclamation, the Communion Hymn: “Taste and See” and the Closing Hymn: “Awake, O Sleeper.” 

The Mass-goers sat in individual chairs six feet apart with masks on. The accompanying musicians behind the altar sat four feet from each other. During the sign of peace, students waved from their respective seats and put their hands up to the ceiling in the “Orans” position for the Lord’s Prayer. 

An iPhone propped up on a tripod just in front of the altar livestreamed the Mass on the Campus Ministry Instagram for those who elected to view from home. 

One of those on the other end of the Instagram feed, Erin Doherty ’22, said she used to attend Mass regularly, but stopped attending Mass and Wednesday Worship this semester because of new COVID-19 protocols.

“It’s definitely the safe thing to do, but the sense of community was definitely lacking for me,” Doherty said. “I’m used to singing along with my peers and giving people hugs and handshakes during the sign of peace.” 

Kristin Long ’22, Weekly Service community partner coordinator and peer minister, said although the services are different this semester, it is not what impacts her faith the most. 

Long said she is a regular in-person Mass attendee. 

“When I think of faith, I think of community, especially here at St. Joe’s,” Long said. “I will always miss what it feels like to have a conversation with someone, where you can reach your hand out and be with another person.”

Bill Rickle, S.J., campus minister of athletics and student life, said he has had very little close contact with students because he is in a vulnerable age category. 

“I’m a naturally gregarious person,” Rickle said. “Not being able to interact with students in a significant, close-up way has been really hard.”

Dan O’Connell ’23, peer minister for the recently canceled Winter Immersion Program (WIP), said connecting to his faith this semester has been a challenge. 

“I am not going to act like it is not harder,” O’Connell said. “My faith is based here at St. Joe’s through community. And community is one of the things that has been impacted the most.”

A Eucharistic Minister hands out communion.

Doherty said she is also finding it harder to connect to her faith this semester and reached out to Campus Ministry for extra support. 

“My faith isn’t something that is always at the same level,” Doherty said. “I recently reached out to a campus minister about potentially getting spiritual direction.” 

Spiritual direction is a one-on-one conversation with a peer minister to discuss a student’s personal faith and is still being offered with new social-distancing protocols. 

Tom Sheibley, director of Campus Ministry, said Campus Ministry is doing their best to continue programs, like spiritual direction, and to modify programs to support students on and off campus through virtual events on Zoom.

“It’s certainly by no means the same as being together with other people in the same place, growing in faith so closely, accompanied by growing in friendship and closeness with other people,” Sheibley said. 

As a leader within Campus Ministry, O’Connell said adapting to schedule changes and COVID-19 protocols pushed Campus Ministry to be more creative. 

“It’s challenged me in a good way to adapt to the environment, and still get across similar ends or goals of building community, an awareness of civic engagement, applying that faith and promoting a more just world,” O’Connell said. 

Specifically, O’Connell said after WIP was canceled, he refocused his efforts to support first-year students to “dive deeper into their faith,” as a leader in the Engage program. 

Shelby Wilson ’24 is a member of Engage, a new program for first-year students which serves as an introduction to Campus Ministry and growing in faith in college. Wilson said that the program helps her maintain her relationship with God amidst the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Campus Ministry has encouraged a lot of people to lean on their faith and spread kindness among these moments,” Wilson said. “It has changed my first-year experience as a college student.” 

O’Connell said that Campus Ministry always emphasizes social justice, but even more so this semester, with the election, coronavirus pandemic and movement for racial justice. 

“One thing I love about St. Joe’s is that we come out and we say we are a university with and for others of all people,” O’Connell said. “That starts with allyship. Our faith calls us to promote a better world for the common good of all people.”

Long said Campus Ministry makes it clear that they are always here to support the St. Joe’s community. 

“Even during this crazy time, which doesn’t always make it easy to connect, they’ve made it so open that they’re there for prayer, for conversation and to just be with you, even if it’s from six feet apart,” Long said. 

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