Learning a New Way To Minister During COVID-19

 

At the North American College, the seminarians had been quarantined for a little over two weeks before the difficult decision was made to have us return to the States. But in that period, the camaraderie in the seminary was joyful and prayerful despite the uncertainty of what each new day would bring. We had one another and the Lord in our midst. The care and support of our rector at the seminary Fr. Harman and that of Archbishop Lori and vocation director Fr. Roth here across the pond has been a great blessing.

Upon returning home from Rome, I was quarantined with fellow seminarian Thomas O’Donnell at my home parish, St. Alphonsus Rodriguez in Woodstock. The hospitality of the parish life director Dee Papania, Fr. Fran Gillespie SJ and the whole parish, ever a home to me since childhood, showed itself to be just that as they opened up the rectory to Tommy and me, providing food, beds, a chapel – a home where we would be able to continue with our studies and prayer.

The experience of continuing classes online, while not ideal, has been good overall. I was impressed with the transition the universities were able to make. It has worked out well, but I eagerly look forward to being back in the classroom environment come the Fall, please God. Until the semester ends, I will be continuing with classes online and taking final exams via video-chat and/or written submission.

I was welcomed Easter Monday at Our Lady of the Fields by Msgr. Jay O’Connor and associate pastor Fr. Matt Himes. I have been welcomed so warmly. It is strange to live in a parish without parishioners around, but I am so grateful for those I have met – a special shout-out to the middle schoolers and Young Apostles who I’ve met on Zoom for youth-nights led by Fr. Matt and the other adults. I anxiously look forward to meeting so many more of the good people I keep hearing about soon enough! Recently the parish received food donations for the Franciscan Center and Our Daily Bread. What a powerful, inspiring experience to see folks driving through all morning with so many donations! It was a joyful moment to be part of and to witness. In this past month, it has been humbling to see how, no matter the circumstances, the Church presses onward, but to do so requires exercising much prudence and patience and even bearing heartache as living out and nourishing our faith looks much different, physically separated from the sacraments and one another. So many have inspired me with their deep faith and perseverance. The depth of people’s love for God, the Church, and their brothers and sisters in the Lord is showing itself in ways perhaps we’ve never seen or felt before, and this is a beautiful, holy thing. Though difficult, I pray our faith, hope, and love are daily enkindled and that we can continue to build each other up in the Lord. One day at a time in God’s grace! He is very near.

-Seminarian John Bilenki

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