Campus COVID-19 Preparedness and Reopening

Posted on October 13, 2020

Despite the multitude of challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the fall semester is underway at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake/ Mundelein Seminary. Our leadership has remained steadfastly focused on putting the health and safety of our seminarians, students, faculty, and staff first.

“Our guiding principles have been safety, flexibility and educational excellence.”

Fr. Thomas Baima, provost

Out of an abundance of caution, the careful and responsible decision was made back on March 13 to suspend all in-person classes, and the seminarians returned to their home dioceses. Classes resumed one week later using online tools, and the spring semester was completed. Though there was heartbreakingly little fanfare, God has blessed his Church with 35 graduates from Mundelein, now ordained priests.

While they were away, some seminarians continued their education by participating in a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program, which helped develop a new awareness of themselves as ministers while serving in a health care setting. Others were able to live in community with fellow seminarians and priests, serve in parishes, and observe what ministering to the faithful during a pandemic looks like.

“As I embarked on my summer of ministry, I had some of the most beautiful and impactful ministerial encounters of my life. I was afforded the occasion to bring the light of Jesus in my own frail humanity to other poor souls suffering often without much hope.”

3rd Year Seminarian, Reflection upon completion of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) experience

Over the summer months, Rector/President Fr. John Kartje made the careful decision that the students would return to campus in the fall. Staff and faculty poured countless hours into preparation. A committee devised methods to bring the students back safely, taking special care to comply with all federal, state, and Archdiocese of Chicago guidelines. Extra cleaning supplies and protective equipment had to be purchased and processes put in place to keep everyone safe. Students returned to campus in August, complying with an initial two-week quarantine period. During this time, new seminarians participated in an orientation program, and returning students prepared for the journey ahead, spending prayerful time in silent retreat.

In the interest of safety, some modifications have been made to the routines on campus. When a seminarian enters First Theology, he is assigned a room on a specific wing and floor, called a cam. Those in the cam come from different years of study, different dioceses, ethnicities, and ages. Seminarians remain in the same cam until graduation. This year, the fraternal brotherhood that grows within the cam has even greater importance, as for many daily activities, students will remain with their cam.

Many changes were required in setting up food services to accommodate safety, both in serving the food and while eating. In the refectory building, where cafeteria-style meals had been previously available, meals are now grab-and-go. The warm meals are boxed, and salads and cold items are also available. To accommodate social distancing while waiting in line and eating, the dining room has been rearranged so that only 56 people can sit at tables while properly spaced. Those who arrive later can take their meals outside to a picnic table or back to their cam to eat. With this model, more cost is incurred to provide disposable boxes, utensils, and nutritional, packaged foods.

With the spiritual needs of the seminarians guiding our innovations, we have changed certain worship procedures. Our auditorium can seat all the seminarians and full-time faculty. Three times each week, a full community Mass is celebrated there. Other days of the week, worship activities are divided by cam and held in the smaller chapels on campus. As always, there are times for the men to worship together with others from their diocese, with those who speak the same native language, and for individual, private prayer. Click here to pray the Rosary along with some of our seminarians.

In the academic classrooms, faculty focused early on creating a feeling of presence for the students. A common language was adopted such that the words onsite and online are being used instead of words like remote or distant. A new technology called Microsoft Teams Rooms has been set up in seven rooms, allowing the students and instructors to see and speak with each other no matter where they are located physically. Small microphones are placed on various tables in the room, and the instructor uses two projected screens—one to display materials and the other to see the faces of online learners. To accommodate this new technology, our access improvements throughout campus. These improvements will serve the technology needs of the seminarians for years to come. Click here to learn more about how technology is enhancing academic formation and providing a safer learning environment for seminarians.

The IT department has worked to implement extensive networking infrastructure and wireless. Our campus is open for students and guests, which is a blessing from God. The early weeks of the fall semester have gone smoothly, and there have been no COVID-19 outbreaks. Please join us in prayer for the continued health of our community, for those who are suffering from the virus around the world, and for the repose of the souls of all COVID-19 victims. Saint Mary of the Lake, pray for us.

“We’re doing what we are asking the people in our parishes to do as well—asking our men to live that same ideal here. There is a solidarity that we’re with the people in this moment in a unique way. That is what you want in your priest. It is a good learning moment for them and for all of us.”

Fr. Bradley Zamora, director of worship