Few times in our history as a country, and never in my lifetime, have the times been as interesting as they are today. I lost count of the number of times I have said, “Well, I can’t imagine that happening,” and then it did.
Colleges started sending students home, or told them not to return from spring breaks; private schools in New York which were about to start their two weeks of spring break closed early. But I knew it was serious when the City cancelled the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I certainly could not have imagined what happened next — at the close of business on the night before St. Patrick’s Day, all bars and restaurants closed until further notice. St. Patrick’s Day in NYC with no parade and no bars open. Historic times indeed.
In the weeks that followed, we moved to remote instruction, the governor put the state on “Pause,” and the president declared this a national emergency. No one’s life continued as normal. Every one of us has been challenged to adapt our lives to the new normal, often spending significantly more time at home with family.
Since I live just around the block from Regis, I continue to come into the office every day. I put out the mail (if it is delivered), open Development envelopes, scan the checks, and take them to the ATM. I have become the one people call or email if we need a scan out of a yearbook (e.g., the 1958 basketball team for a Wall Street Journal article) or something mailed out. I Zoom from the office instead of my bedroom. I say Mass every day in the Regis Chapel of the Sacred Heart.
I have never been so conscious of the privilege of being able to celebrate Mass than I have been during this lockdown when people are unable to go to Mass other than virtually, and it has become the central focus of my day, along with some time of prayer afterwards seated in the back of the Chapel. This time has helped me move from times of anger or disbelief or emptiness to a greater sense of consolation.
Consolation as I reflect on the good work of our students and faculty and administration as we moved to this new way of instruction. Consolation as I hear stories of Dr. Anthony Fauci ’58 leading all of us in this difficult moment, and many other stories of alumni and friends who are serving our community on the front lines of this pandemic. Consolation as I reflect on how people have been caring for me and the other Jesuits I live with as they call, write, send food or drink to us.
There also are so many stories of tremendous suffering. Parents or friends who have died, and families have not been able to gather with them at the end, and then funerals that cannot happen, and celebrations of life that have to be postponed. Faculty, parents, and even some of our students have suffered from COVID-19, and the challenges are difficult. We all know stories, some closer to us than others, but the stories are real, and they hurt.
During this time, life does not go on as normal. It is not clear what the new normal will be. Will we be able to resume school in the fall the way we have done 106 other years before? No one knows yet. That alone is unsettling. Will we be able to celebrate graduation in November as we now plan, or will the virus make a resurgence? We do not know.
Such uncertainty brings me back to my evening Mass and prayer in the Chapel. I don’t think that anyone who knows me well would classify me as particularly pious, yet I am drawn more to the Regis Chapel each day. I think of how it has been a place of peace and inspiration to young men for more than 100 years. I would love to know what happened in there during the pandemic of 1918. For me, at this time, it is a place of refuge from an unknown future, bringing me closer to a God who strives to make himself better known to others and me. That itself brings me great consolation in this time of uncertainty.
Be assured of my prayers for you, especially during my Mass in the Regis Chapel.
Daniel K. Lahart, SJ President