For our seminarian community, the COVID-19 pandemic forced an instantaneous switch to distance learning in front of a computer instead of the lively camaraderie of classrooms. A socially distanced reconfiguration of living, learning and worship spaces on campus allowed everyone to return to in-person learning by the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year.
The normally bustling campus was closed to visitors and all in-person events were cancelled. The seminary calendar, normally filled with joyful gatherings, had to be cleared of the events that provide meaningful opportunities to connect with faculty and seminarians, gather for fellowship and offer prayers and financial support toward our mission of forming parish priests.
We had to think creatively about how to use technology and social media to reinvent existing events and create new ways to connect with our supporters.
Thanks to livestreaming, families of seminarians in dioceses across the country could virtually attend touchstone ceremonies such as the institution of lectors and acolytes. Pre-recorded presentations of the annual Christmas Concert, May Crowning and the Celebration of Mundelein allowed record numbers of viewers to join our community for these celebrations, pray with our seminarians and view the beautiful grounds where their parish priests are formed. Visit www.usml.edu/virtual-events-2020 to view these presentations.
We also raised a record amount of funds during these events, which arrived at a very uncertain time.
“With worries of staff furloughs and mounting bills, it was truly inspiring to see our donors increasing their support for the seminary in our time of greatest need,” said Holly Gibout, vice president of development. “The mission of forming parish priests cannot be accomplished without the generosity of our friends, and we are so grateful to everyone who helped keep us moving forward at such a critical time.”
Local regulations introduced challenges of social distancing, making the production of these pre-recorded events more complex. With singers needing to stand at least 10 feet apart from one another, the Christmas Concert performance moved from the Mundelein Auditorium stage to the entire reverberant sanctuary space of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, with multiple cameras and an intricate audio system capturing the beautiful voices and music.
“We’ve never had to do this before, and we had to adapt quickly to accomplish it under the given time constraints while maintaining a high level of quality,” said Linda Cerabona, Mundelein’s director of music. “I am incredibly proud of how well everything came together and that the online format allowed us to share the fabulous musical talents of our seminarians with a wider audience than ever before.”
The challenges continued six months later, as a smaller choir ensemble abided by the same regulations in the private seminarian chapel to record music for the 2021 virtual May Crowning.
“We all experienced the joy of performing together, even though our chapel was empty,” Cerabona said.
In a normal year, hundreds of conferences and gatherings are hosted in the historic conference center on campus, but the pandemic forced a prolonged closure and loss of more than $1 million in much-needed revenue. Such a large loss would have been devastating if not for the renewed support of seminary donors, who offset a large portion of the lost income through their generosity. Several of the reinvented virtual events raised much more money online than previous in-person years, thanks to the cost savings of hosting the event online and through matching gift challenges from anonymous donors that doubled the impact of each gift. As the world slowly reopens from the pandemic, Mundelein Seminary will continue to offer online options for a wider audience to join in these community celebrations.
The seminary hosted a small in-person Celebration of Mundelein on Friday, July 9 to honor Bishop Ronald A. Hicks ’94 of the Diocese of Joliet with the “As Those Who Serve Award,” but that was only a small part of the celebration. An online presentation featured highlights from the gathering and additional content on Thursday, July 22. You can watch the video at www.usml.edu/celebrate-2021.