For Collegeville Institute Resident Scholars, life is different these days. Like so many other organizations, the coronavirus pandemic brought us to a place we never imagined even just 30 days ago. For a program whose core is based on face-to-face conversations, we have had to adjust. We’ve cancelled all in-person gatherings, including Friday evening meals together. One international scholar returned home mid-semester to his native country. Tuesday seminars and community worship services are now held on Zoom.
We asked Anne and Jeffery Rowthorn, who penned a popular litany for the coronavirus that has been translated into at least one other language, to reflect on these unusual days in Collegeville.
In the evenings the dorms across the lake are dark; Flynntown is a ghost town. No longer do we hear the happy chatter of students. Our cottage has become a hermitage. Our only guests are squirrels and birds that come by the porch for snacks. Our daily routine remains mostly the same. I take a sunrise hike and then we settle into the morning routine of reading, researching and writing. After lunch we take another hike and a ride with a fresh mug of tea. Evenings we play a card game, watch a movie or read a recreational book.
Here’s what’s different: We don’t conclude an afternoon hike with a cup of coffee from a cafe; we order groceries on the Internet; we have had two Zoom prayer services; and we will also begin scholars’ seminars on Zoom next week. Devoted mass-goers, we now watch the 5:00 mass on live-stream. Just hours before the library closed we checked out bags of novels and light-reading non-fiction. We are in the habit of speaking with several of our children and grandchildren daily; now we also speak with at least one valued friend each day.
We wait, we watch, we hope, we wonder….
Social distancing, self-isolation, lockdown and one word above all others – COVID-19. When Anne and I arrived on January 20 for our fourth semester at the Institute, we had no experience of what those words meant. Now, just two months later, they describe what life has become almost overnight for us and for billions around the world.
From the windows of our Breuer cottage we look across the still frozen lake at the dormitories of St. John’s University. They are empty of students who have been sent home, taking all their belongings with them. At the Abbey only the monks, sitting several feet apart, are present for Daily Mass. The Alcuin Library is closed.
Here at the Institute there are just six of us left. We don’t meet or eat in the same space and we don’t visit each other’s cottages. Instead we worship and make our seminar presentations with the help of Zoom. Groceries are ordered on line and picked up outside the store. There is little similarity between our past winters here and our present stay.
That said, it amazes us how precious our time together has become. We are aware of each other and concerned for each other in a much more intimate way than before. Don and Carla and the other members of the Institute staff share in this strange mix of faith and hope, anxiety and bewilderment.
There are other words that are coming to have a deeper meaning as a result of our shared encounter with COVID-19: One day at a time; Can I shop for you; Is there anything you need; Stay healthy. When this time of testing is behind us, I trust that we shall remember our companions on this strange pilgrimage and thank God for them and for the Collegeville Institute.