- The Very Reverend Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv.
(Minister Provincial – Ellicott City, MD):
Of the 32 friaries of OLA in the US and Canada, six were infected with the Coronavirus. Only one friar needed to be hospitalized. After several days in ICU on a ventilator, he miraculously survived. All Definitory meetings since March 2020 have been conducted via “zoom” teleconference – without difficulty. With international borders closed, the scheduled Extraordinary Chapters in the Province and its two Custodies were all postponed until 2021 or cancelled, as was the Canadian Delegation Assembly. While “cocooning in the cloister,” the friars of OLA have striven to reclaim simple values of fraternal life in communion, mindful that authentic Franciscan life begins in the local friary. Socially distanced, we feel more fraternally united than ever before.
- Bro. Vincent Vivian, OFM Conv.
(Senior Friar Residence – Chicopee, MA):
I am truly convinced that this pandemic has been a blessing. In the spirit of Franciscan “comfort and joy,” we are given the opportunity by God to prove to ourselves that we trust in Him unconditionally, never doubting His love for us, for He knows our needs and He will never disappoint us… It has been an opportunity, as a community, to enter the caves of our hearts, to unite ourselves to our suffering Lord as Francis did.
- Fr. Richard-Jacob Forcier, OFM Conv.
(Province Secretary & Shrine Director/Rector – Ellicott City, MD):
Ministerially: Having taken on the Directorship of the Shrine of St. Anthony [Ellicott City, MD] on November 1, 2020, I think that we at the Shrine have weathered the storm of tensions and changes quite well. Using the experience of outdoor masses during the summer, we have rented a large tent which we use for Sunday liturgy during these winter months. These masses continue to bring together – 300 or more people outside for the celebration of the Eucharist. Those gathered feel both safe and comforted that the sacrifice of the mass and Eucharist are available to them.
Our experience at an outdoor Mass for the masses for the Immaculate Conception were well-received. We even had 32 individuals make their Consecration to Mary after the mass! We also plan to celebrate our Christmas Eve (with outside lighting around the sides of the tent) and Christmas Day Mass under the tent.
- Fr. Edward Ondrako, OFM Conv.
(Visiting Scholar at the University of Notre Dame – South Bend, IN):
Ministry-wise, since March 14, 2020, I have been unable to minister at St. Joseph’s Rehabilitation and Long-Term Care facility where I used to offer Mass every Sunday. Only twice, on the feast of the Sacred Heart did I offer Mass for 10 persons at The Life Center and on July 15 a funeral Mass at Little Flower. However, I offer Mass alone every day, inclusive of everyone and their intentions, but been unable to offer the sacrament of reconciliation.
Community-wise, I remain at the McGrath-Cavadini Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame where the director and I work together to help with my writing. Happily, I completed a manuscript, Rebuild My Church, which will be published soon; an article for Miscellanea Francescana on our new “St. John Henry Newman and the Post-Christian Culture”; and am preparing a paper that has been accepted for a conference at Oxford in September 2021,” Augustine and Newman: Original Sin and Panhagia”; and am engaged in a project for MICL to explain in contemporary English key concepts of Duns Scotus and how they might impact our post-Christian culture.
Health-wise, living alone, temporarily, affords the safety needed for the above. Notre Dame’s campus is conducive to safe walks daily. Four times a week I visit a physical therapy center for exercise that has strict protocols.
- Fr. Brennan-Joseph Farleo, OFM Conv.
(Friary Guardian – Point Pleasant Beach, NJ):
We here at St. Peter’s Friary in Point Pleasant Beach, N. J. are doing fine. We are doing our best to stay safe and follow the directions of our Bishop and our Governor. I hope and pray that it continues to stay that way as we place all our hope and trust in God.
- Fr. Donald Grzymski, OFM Conv.
(High School President – Baltimore, MD):
At Archbishop Curley H.S. in Baltimore the friars have followed archdiocesan and local directives to open, including daily health screens and temperature checks, face masks, social distancing and a combination of in-person and virtual classes and events. Teachers have been creatively adaptable, students very cooperative with the protocols, and parents supportive. We’ re doing our best to keep everyone healthy while remaining open.
- Fr. Michael Martin, OFM Conv.
(Campus Ministry Director – Durham, NC):
In our Friary, we have used the opportunity to spend more time with each other and have grown closer as a result. Personally, I suffered from the virus in March which has allowed me to be a bit less fearful since the chances of getting it again are minimal. In the university ministry where I serve as the Director of the Duke Catholic Center, we have pivoted to an online ministry, with the exception of Sunday Mass, which we hold in a parking garage.
- Fr. Timothy Kulbicki, OFM Conv.
(UNC Pastor & Campus Minister – Durham, NC):
Campus Ministry at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is served by the Friary of St. Anthony of Padua in Durham, NC (USA). Diocesan and civil closures occurred on March 14; by March 22 Sunday Mass was livestreamed, first from the Friary Chapel (the friars were quarantined because one of the friars was an early Covid infection), and later from the Church. Sunday Mass began to be celebrated outdoors with full musical participation (and livestreamed) beginning the Sunday civil restrictions were lifted (May 10), and continues to be celebrated outdoors weekly for safety reasons. Drive-through confessions were offered in the parking lot until the diocese forbade the practice. During the early weeks of complete shutdown, the friars offered daily YouTube reflections, which soon became periodic adult faith formation sessions via Zoom. All small faith groups (both parishioners and students) adapted to Zoom within a few weeks. Campus ministry activities (one-on-one discipleship development; large-group weekly activities; regular socials; leadership development) adapted to Zoom rapidly, as did youth ministry and children’s catechesis. Food was gathered regularly for the poor via a drive-up contactless system called “Trunk to Truck”.
- Fr. Briant Cullinane, OFM Conv.
(Senior Friar – Pittsboro, NC):
The virus has limited and for all practical purposes limited and excluded to a large extent physically visiting one another in even neighboring friaries. Communication continues via electronic means. Prayer continues to unite us to the brethren in a very meaningful way.
- Friar Ed DeBono, OFM Conv.
(Chaplain – Kingston, Ontario):
I am the chaplain at the Mother House of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. It is the residence of about 65 Sisters of three religious communities. Since the convent is a long-term care facility and a seniors’ residence, its health concerns come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health for the city of Kingston. The protocols are strict. Consequently, all the Sisters are healthy and none of the Sisters have had the virus during the past nine or ten months. Since I am an extern, I am tested for the virus every two weeks. On entering and leaving, the convent my temperature is taken. I say Mass there every Sunday and two days a week. The protocols during Mass are also strict.
- Fr. Daniel Quackenbush, OFM Conv.
(Tour Guide St. Francis Basilica – Assisi):
I’m sure the General Curia knows well the dynamic that has occurred here in Assisi at the Basilica and Sacro Convento regarding the virus. In fact, Carlos was here for over a week toward the end of our battle with this ‘seconda andata’ … this second wave of the beastly c-19, when some 14-15 friars were infected. Now, however, I’ll try to give you a succinct picture, from my own perspective, of what impact the virus has had on us here at the Sacro Convento and Basilica of St. Francis., although ‘succinct’ has never been a key word in my ‘existential lexicon.’ Beginning in early March, which would normally be when the number of pilgrims coming to Assisi and the Basilica would begin to surge, depending on the degree of the lockdown, we had practically NO pilgrims (e.g., from early April until June); even longer than that with NO international pilgrims (i.e., no pilgrims from outside of Italy). During one ‘capitolo conventuale’, it was announced that our income for May or June was at 30% of normal. Of course, the big issue was that so many would-be pilgrims were denied the opportunity to get to know St. Francis better. The friars’ Basilica duties were down to a minimum, and we were asked to use our time well in prayer and spiritual and human formation, as well as assuming manual labor. Thus, the harvesting of our approximately 1000 olive trees was done pretty much exclusively by the friars this year and without our great annual team of Slovenian volunteers. As far as the COVID disease itself directly striking the friary, we were spared initially; but when our new novice class arrived in early July, our French novices and/or their families apparently brought the virus with them. At one point over half of the double novitiate class (22, I believe) tested positive, along with some 8 to 10 other members of the SC community. All were either asymptomatic or with only minor symptoms. The second COVID wave, which we are now still experiencing, although it seems to be somewhat at bay, has been quite alarming, in the sense that every day it has seemed like another one to three friars were found with the virus. It has also struck harder, since two friars and ‘Don’ Francesco, an elderly diocesan priest who lives with us needed hospitalization; two of the three still remain in hospital, although apparently, they are improving. It has also seemed that the guys who tested positive were somewhat sicker, although most not seriously so. As Christmas approaches here in Assisi, a severe lockdown has been lifted momentarily. A new lockdown, allowing us only to move around within our local commune of Assisi, will once again take effect, however, from Dec 22 to Jan 6. Of course, that means that Assisi and the Basilica will experience the quietest, most pilgrim-sparse Feast of the Lord’s Nativity perhaps in the Basilica’s entire history! The same holds for Greccio. Very sad indeed!
- Very Reverend Fr. Jobe Abbass, OFM Conv.
(Provincial Delegate & Delegate to the M.I. – Ottawa, Ontario):
As for our Canadian delegation, the pandemic has closed the U.S./Canada border since March, but thanks to Zoom and other tech marvels, the friars have managed to keep in touch. After an initial lockdown, our ministries have continued, while observing social-distancing protocols. Lately, because of an uptick in cases, Toronto is again locked down and churches are effectively closed. Still, the Kingston and Ottawa friaries have managed a few fraternal gatherings, and, despite the pandemic, we also have a vocation candidate who has just finished the application process. Although the pandemic has caused a further delay to the Delegation’s first Assembly, we are determined to hold one in the spring and, God willing, we look forward to crossing that border to celebrate and strengthen our fraternity with the friars of the province face-to-face.
- Fr. Ross Syracuse, OFM Conv.
(Pastor – Hamburg, NY):
In the midst of it all, we three friars at Fr. Justin Senior Friars Residence are doing okay. Fr. Romulus who lives and ministers at the Basilica of Our Lady of Victory had to semi-quarantine because some of the staff at the Basilica tested positive. He is fine. Because of Covid, we were only able to visit with George Maslar and Michael Taylor at the Mercy skilled Nursing Facility once this summer and fall. That facility suspended in-person visits because of staff members, every once and a while, testing positive. Life here at the St. Francis Parish has been very different and very challenging. We are limited to the number of people who can attend our Masses in-person. For a while, no one was allowed to be present. A few years ago, we set up a WIFI system over in the church, never imaging that during the pandemic we would be using it every day to live stream our Masses. It has been a real blessing and is something we will continue even when all of this settles down. Along with that, I have been having a short evening “chat” and prayer time on Facebook, Monday to Friday at around 7:30 PM. It’s something a few of us look forward to and is another way for us to keep in touch. We also try to send out an email update at least once a week to all those for whom we have email addresses. Mass attendance, for the time being, will be by Ticket only. Who would have thought!
- Fr. Noel Danielewicz, OFM Conv.
(Pastor – Columbus, GA):
My humble thoughts about responding to the Coronavirus: As a COVID-19 survivor who was hospitalized, on a ventilator and near death, I have been given a tremendous appreciation for the value of human life and breath. Experiencing solidarity with all who are infected and affected by COVID brought me to a deeper awareness of the presence of GOD within me. It gave me the determination to struggle and turn the corner to embrace LIFE within our FRATERNITY and one day return to pastoral ministry as seared by the Tau of God’s transformative love.
- Fr. Gerald Waterman, OFM Conv.
(Campus Minister – Syracuse, NY):
In the St Thomas More Chapel where once-open arms and a broad smile welcomed Syracuse University and SUNY ESF folks to Sunday Masses on campus, now a masked friar-priest offers a bent elbow in welcome to the 58 or so students who can be seated safely, socially distanced, and in their own face-coverings, ready to be scintillated by the Word of God and nourished by the Body and Blood of Jesus. I long to gaze once again on the smiles of the many undergrads, grads, alumni and staff that weekly grace our doors. We are still able to count our blessings though, especially with most of our chairs filled on Thursday evenings for Mass and dinner, where dinner was boxed and had to be balanced on one’s lap while engaging in small-group conversation; and with our annual fall retreat on Blue Mountain Lake, NY in the scenic Adirondack Mountains, where 34 students, leaders and staff safely enjoyed prayer experiences and students’
faith testimonies, all in the wonder of the great outdoors. It was a true, mountaintop experience. And our heartfelt prayer is simply: that this Covid-normal will pass soon! Please, God.
- Fr. Christopher Dudek, OFM Conv.
(High School Campus Minister & Instructor – Baltimore, MD):
I mention a few ways that COVID has changed my ministry and helped me to grow as a friar/person:
Ministerially in the high school–
- a) Teaching– Teaching in the hybrid model has challenged the friars to both learn new technology and to find innovative ways to capture the student’s attention and imagination. While this can become quite challenging, I believe that it has made me into a better teacher because I now teach what is essential and have found new ways to engage students.
- b) Liturgy and prayer– We have found new ways to pray with students in both the virtual world and creative ways in-person. We will be having our first school mass for the Immaculate Conception which will be live streamed to all homerooms. We have found creative ways for students to come together in small groups to continue to grow in their faith and build communal relations.
- c) Retreats- We have been challenged to find creative ways to encourage the ‘brotherhood’ during a time of social distancing. This is especially true for the freshmen who still have not met all of their classmates.
- d) Service- We are so appreciative of the “Little Portion Farm” in nearby Ellicott City, for providing opportunities for our students to come and engage in community service in a COVID-friendly manner. It has been amazing to see how the students have been creative in their abilities to continue to serve the poor and vulnerable in society.
Personally in my life as a friar-
- a) Flexibility- In a world of scheduling and programming, this pandemic has really helped me to become flexible. By reflecting upon what really matters in my life and ministry, this time has helped with my own mental health to better deal with the stresses and changes that come to us in life.
- b) Gratefulness– Being ordained for less than a year when the pandemic struck, I really looked forward to celebrating my first Holy Week and Easter as a priest. This first Easter was certainly one to remember. This whole time has challenged me to not take anything for granted and become more dependent on God for his grace to sustain my vocation.
- c) Sacrifice– While I am very healthy and do not really fear the virus, I have been taught about the need for self-sacrifice. This is true to protect my brothers in community, my family and all of the other people I may come in contact in my life and ministry. As a young friar, I think that this has been a learning experience for me and I am appreciative for that.
- Fr. Jude Michael Krill, OFM Conv.
(Pastor – Atlanta, GA):
Here at Holy Cross in Tucker (Atlanta), we tried to keep our church open for private prayer as long as we could. Surrounding pastors got a tad annoyed. We also implemented “drive thru” outdoor confessions. There were 3 stations and people loved it. The KofC were in charge of traffic control, and we were busy for hours. Lastly, the entire staff, 19 of us, tried to call and connect with every parishioner or person. Some we had to leave a message, but everyone was so happy to hear from us. This is ongoing….
- Friar Mark Steed, OFM Conv.
(Senior Friary – Toronto, Ontario):
My experience of the friars coping with unknowns, lockdowns and all the other staging impressed me with one major concern. We must respond to the safety and health of our people and one another. I think this outside intervention has unconsciously strengthened us and encouraged us to a deeper spirituality of care and concern…sounding more Gospel than not. I certainly would not invite it as a means of tempering our holiness, but maybe our Christ would also not see crucifixion as the only way to salvation.
- Fr. Michael Lorentsen, OFM Conv.
(Pastor – Seaside Park & Seaside Heights, NJ):
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Saint Junipero Serra Parish has had to increase our social outreach efforts in the areas of food insecurity, economic insecurity, and increasing levels of alcohol abuse, substance abuse and people feeling depressed. Before the pandemic, our weekly Saint Francis Food Pantry would provide groceries to about 35 families on a Wednesday in a given week. During the pandemic, we have been serving as many as 75 families on a given Wednesday. Local Food Banks have had to redirect their resources to other areas of food distribution; so, we have had to purchase our own fresh meat, fresh poultry, and fresh vegetables. Our parish’s Simon’s Soup Kitchen serves freshly cooked dinners every Tuesday and Friday. Before the pandemic, the kitchen served about 70 freshly cooked dinners. In recent months, we have served between 140 and 170 meals on a given evening. We have had no inside dining since the pandemic began. Meals are packed and distributed at the door. On Thanksgiving Day, we distributed 168 freshly cooked turkey dinners. Since October, the kitchen now provides each person with TWO cooked meals. One meal is for dinner that evening, and the other meal is to heat up the next day. Families with children receive a brown-bag breakfast for each child for the next morning. Our bishop closed the parish churches of the Diocese of Trenton from March 18 – June 8. Since we have re-opened the two parish churches, we celebrate Mass together with all the pandemic safety protocols in place: wearing masks, social distancing, and frequent use of hand-sanitizer. We have continued to host 12-Step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. With the economic downturn, our parish income has decreased substantially with decreased Mass attendance due to health concerns. We anticipate our parish income for this year to be only 37% of what it was in the previous year.
- Fr. Jude DeAngelo, OFM Conv.
(Campus Ministry Director – Washington, DC):
The Friars of Ss. Francis and Clare Friary, Washington DC have found the pandemic challenging as well as a blessing. Like all those in ministry, we have missed celebrating Mass with God’s people and the gatherings of young people and events that are so much a part of Campus Ministry and Vocation Promotion here at the Catholic University of America (CUA). On the other hand, we find that we friars are spending more time together over dinner in the friary, and it has been a real grace to celebrate the Conventual Mass together on a regular basis. Thanksgiving was especially memorable as we celebrated Mass together and all pitched in to cook and clean, share stories, laugh, and enjoy one another’s company for over two hours at the friary dinner table.
- Fr. Carl Zdancewicz, OFM Conv.
(Pastor – Winston-Salem, NC):
Fr Joe Angelini and I went for the COVID test. We are both negative, thank God. We are in the
midst of a very busy season with Our Lady of Guadalupe on Saturday. We have scaled down our celebrations to only 2 indoor masses. Our Spanish deacon has COVID, and will be out for
most of the remainder of December. I am having a very difficult time having a Spanish mass without a deacon. I am compromising a lot of church rules, simply since I cannot read fluently Spanish or give a Spanish homily. Keep us in your prayers.
- Fr. Paul Schloemer, OFM Conv.
(Post Novitiate CoDirector – Silver Spring, MD):
You know, of course, about our COVID outbreak here at St. Bonaventure post-novitiate house of formation. So, the house has been on a pretty strict quarantine since the 20th of November, but gratefully it ends Friday the 11th of December. Prior to that, we had restricted all outside ministries, and instead had the students ministering solely with the Little Portion Farm at Ellicott City. Other than that, the only real change to our norm was the students doing solely online classes since the beginning of the semester. This has had us in pretty close quarters for quite a while now, but gratefully this has not created any increased tension in the community.
23 & 24. Fr. Matthew Foley, OFM Conv. and Fr. Francis Lombardo, OFM Conv.
(High School Campus Minister and Instructor & Soy Candles Asst. Dir. – Hamburg, NY):
On the morning of Sunday, March 15th, the friars who minister at St. Francis High School received notice that classes would be going online effective Tuesday March 17th until April 19th, and by the time I returned that same Sunday from celebrating an 8 pm youth Mass, we received notice from the Diocese of Buffalo that public masses would cease. However, there has been certainly one shared experience that not one of us could avoid: the impositions and serious threats to health as this recent Covid-19! While we have all done our best to observe the necessary protocols regarding the spread of this virus, it has also had an unanticipated effect:
It has brought us closer than any other sharing has been able to do in the past. This Covid-19 sharing has had an impact of bonding us together for the health and welfare of the other friars about us. Felix culpa!
It has been said that shared experiences often resulting in bonding among those who have participated in the sharing. There have been all sorts of experiences that the members of our friary have shared: prayer, meals, various celebrations of birthdays, names days, and accomplishments. The celebration of the liturgies of Holy Week and the Triduum in the community was simple and powerful. For all 7 of us, it was the first time since formation that these holy days were not celebrated with a parish community. Over the weeks and months, we became more familiar with Zoom, and dinner conversations showed we had all become amateur epidemiologists! Over and over, we were reminded of our blessings. We were privileged to be in community as opposed to many who were forced at this time to be alone. We celebrated conventual Mass 7 days a week when so many Catholics were hungering for the Eucharist. We look forward to a return to normal in our ability to visit with friends and family, teach without masks and desks spread apart, and adapt to the need for events to be drive-through! We hope that we do not forget how the Covid era strengthened our faith and deepened our vocations as friars in community and ministers of the gospel.
- Friar Edgar Varela, OFM Conv
(Novice – Arroyo Grande, CA):
We are all doing well, thanks be to God, enjoying our visits to the Camaldolese monks and to the nearby cultural center, Dana Adobe, for our ministries on Tuesdays. Other than that, we are learning more about the “Early Rule” from Fr. Michael Blastic, OFM, through “Zoom,” and the “Early Sources” here in the novitiate from our novice director Br. Joseph Wood. It seems like everything these days is through “Zoom,” or some other digital meeting application. How different our lives are now with this pandemic! But we must count these experiences as blessings through which we can interact with people close and far.