We have invited Dehonians, co-workers and other collaborators in SCJ ministry to share their personal reflections regarding the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in their lives and their communities. The following are excerpts from those shared by Fr. Vien Nguyen, Fr. John Czyzynski, Frater Henry Nguyen, David Schimmel, Br. Diego Diaz and Fr. Praveen Kumar Richard. There is a link to the writer’s full reflection at the end of each excerpt; the full reflections are also available by clicking on the names highlighted above.
Fr. Vien Nguyen, SCJ (assistant professor, SHSST)
In this unprecedented time, faculty at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology are thrust into the new world of remote teaching/distance learning on very short notice. For some of us, it is a massive undertaking to develop interactive online courses from scratch in a short time. Charged with the instruction to utilize available institutional resources to convert all in-person classes to virtual settings, we venture into this academic cyberspace with a spirit of adaptability and collaboration.
In my short two years at SHSST, I have never taught online courses or undergone formal training in online teaching. Since I am trained in and am more comfortable with the traditional, in-person classes, I am interested in learning from other professors and remote-learning educators for tips to help develop a creative and effective online pedagogy. This means coming up with instructional strategies that encourage active participation, develop fruitful academic habits, and foster theological reflections. Many suggest that we stay connected with students individually so that they may express their concerns and that we may learn how best to meet their learning needs. Several advocate flexibility. Some propose simplicity: do less. A few recommend that we create compassionate learning environments, giving attention to the uncertainty, stress, and anxiety that our seminarians and students may experience. This is the recommendation that will take to heart as we move forward. The hope is that compassion will lead to trust and understanding.
Fr. John Czyzynski, SCJ (retired, Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake)
I remember visiting Poland when it was still under Communist rule and my fellow SCJs told me that if I was living there with them I would have to learn new ways of living. Something like that is going on in my life as we deal with the COVID-19 virus… In person ministry is curtailed, so adjustments need to be made. I checked if we could hear confessions over the phone. I knew that ordinarily you can’t, but I thought exceptions might be made because of the social distancing we are keeping, but I was told the old rule still holds. I am offering spiritual direction over the phone. I much prefer person to person, but it’s okay…
I don’t know what is going to happen. None of us does. But whatever it is, God is and will be Emmanuel. God is with us and hanging onto us and we need to hang onto God and hang onto one another, continue being a support to one another, but in different ways so that we can observe the distancing that will keep us and the one’s we love safe.
Frater Henry Nguyen, SCJ (SHSST seminarian)
Little did I know that after spring break from Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, things would not go back to “normal”. Little by little, I saw changes to my life. First, my first half marathon, the Milwaukee Marathon (slated for April 11) was canceled, which was bittersweet as I was excited but at the same time my training hasn’t been progressing as much as I would have liked. [Frater Henry is pictured at the top of the page, taking a break during his training run around the SHSST campus] Second, classes, for the time being, have been moved online. Third, my trip to the Holy Land in May, the Holy Land Expedition with SHSST, was canceled.
About two weeks ago, we began to experience #anewnormal with a #quarantine and shortly after a #shelterinplace. During this period, SHSST and Cardinal Stritch University transitioned into completing the remainder of the semester online (how much can change in a matter of weeks!)… We are constantly distracted, wondering how many new cases of coronavirus have been identified globally, in the United States, in Wisconsin, and closer to home in Milwaukee. Are we making progress or are we far from it? How are my family and friends, young and old, near and far? Should I keep the focus on my studies and finish this virtual semester online?
One thing is constant: prayer. Prayer is especially important as we unite with everyone.
David Schimmel (Province Director of Dehonian Associates)
“Of all the emotions that your body is holding right now,” I asked, “which one is most prominent?” I could not see her, because this spiritual direction session was being conducted over the phone, but I could hear her heart flipping through a jumble of emotions as someone might look for a lost document in a pile of papers. She settled on fear… “I’m afraid that I’ll get sick and die, or that my husband will get sick and die, or my kids, or my grandkids, my sisters, my friends…”
I have learned that spiritual direction is the art of listening for the answer that a person doesn’t realize she has. So, I reflected back to her an earlier portion of our conversation when she tried to explain how much she was missing her grandkids. “You told me that you and your husband put together some things to send to your grandkids—3 and 9 years-old—and you wrote a letter to place in each envelope. You may not be able to show them your love with a hug, but you found another way. Don’t let fear dismiss this as an insignificant act”…
In this time of crisis, simple, loving gestures have infinitely more staying power than a stockpile of toilet paper.
Br. Diego Diaz, SCJ (Mississippi community)
The global pandemic has changed our daily routine. Schedules, classes, meetings, everything changes day by day. Human beings seem to have become more vulnerable. We thought we were invincible.
Personally, I am learning new ways to interact with people through video calls, online classes and I even had to do a Eucharistic Adoration transmitted from the St. Michael community prayer room for a group of people who had asked me to lead them in prayer on Sunday afternoon. The virus moves with a speed that makes people have to learn faster and faster. At the same time, it is very simple, clear and concrete how we can take care of each other. Wash your hands, keep your social distance and if you are sick, stay home and rest…
A few days ago I was reading about collective intelligence, that is, that intelligence that species possess and that allows them to make collective decisions to survive (some examples are found in bees and ants). This pandemic is leading us to learn together, to stop and to be in solidarity with each other. Without a doubt, when this ends we will have to be a new humanity, more fraternal, taking care of each other, being responsible for the care of the environment.
Fr. Praveen Kumar Richard, SCJ (South Dakota community)
The pandemic has placed the whole world in a situation of fear and panic; the normal life of every single person is upended, regardless of age. Those of us living in the small town of Chamberlan, SD, are no different. This pandemic has impacted us in many ways. Following the guidelines of the CDC and other agencies, we extended spring break at St. Joseph’s Indian School and asked the students to remain at home until further notice. At the same time, we are concerned about their nutrition, knowing that not all families are able to provide what is needed. Thus, staff from St. Joseph’s went to the reservations with food donations for the families.
Life on campus has been more quiet and almost lifeless. We work at our respective offices, yet we avoid personal interactions and meetings because others’ safety is our responsibility. Personally, I often feel helpless. However, the isolation is needed in the battle to prevent the wider spread of COVID-19.
Let the Priests of the Sacred Heart pray for your loved ones and intentions.