By Jack Viscuso ’21
Although we are all facing many challenges during this unprecedented time, Chaminade’s Community of Marianist Brothers has maintained a spirit of optimism and hope, following a deep-seated tradition of adapting to changing circumstances. Just as Blessed William Joseph Chaminade fled France during the Revolution and endured a series of changes in his new home in Saragossa, Spain, the Marianist Community today has responded to this pandemic with a heightened commitment to continuing their mission of educating youth and instilling an enriching faith experience.
“A lot of the little things that characterized a normal school day are gone. We don’t hear the sound of students and teachers arriving at the chapel entrance after morning Mass ends or the sound of a coach’s whistle on the field after school anymore. It’s all quiet,” remarked Fr. Peter Heiskell, S.M. ’86.
Since closure on Thursday, March 12, faculty and students have suddenly transitioned to a distance learning program. This transition has certainly kept the Brothers busy, as they have learned more about all the technologies being used. In many ways, the preparation involved in teaching a class over Zoom has been even more work.
“Some of us faced a steep learning curve to adapt to all the tools and technologies necessitated by distance learning,” admitted Bro. Stephen Balletta, S.M. ’74. “I think a lot of this was second nature to our younger Brothers, but not so much for those of us who are a bit older.”
Bro. Thomas Terrill, S.M. ’10, has been working with some of the older Brothers to maintain a rich academic experience for students, and he commended everyone’s dedication to the new program: “Many of the Brothers have put in a lot of effort to learn these new techniques. They have stepped up to these unique circumstances, and there’s been a lot of collaboration to make this distance learning possible.”
Nonetheless, a Marianist education is centered around interaction between students and teachers, an element of Chaminade that is irreplaceable through video communications. As Bro. John McGrory, S.M. ’84 explained, “It is about teaching the students, not the subject. Teaching the subject is the easier part, but that’s not what this education is entirely about. It’s about seeing that student, reaching out to that student, and bringing him to God.”
Bro. John quoted St. John Henry Newman’s motto – “Heart speaks to heart” – as a reminder of the importance of in-person presence in the classroom.
Outside of teaching, Bro. Steve reflected on how blessed and fortunate the brothers have remained during this trying and sorrowful time for many families.
“Our daily rhythm hasn’t changed all that much. A lot of the elements to our day we’ve been able to cling to. Our Community life hasn’t been disrupted; if anything, it’s been intensified. We still celebrate Mass, receive the Eucharist, and pray together within our Community,” he said.
However, minor changes have been made to the Brothers’ prayer life. Morning Mass has been pushed back (to 7 a.m., that is) to allow for some extra sleep; holy water has been taken out from the fonts in the chapel; the Precious Blood is not distributed, nor is the sign of peace given during Mass.
The Brothers have added the Rosary to their usual rhythm of meditation and Evening Prayer to pray for those suffering from the coronavirus. Everyone is cognizant of the increased need to wash their hands more frequently and minimize outside contact as well.
“Only one person has been going out mostly for grocery shopping. We have learned to make do with the foods in our pantry, and Bro. Ben [Knapp, S.M. ’93] and Bro. Richard [Hartz, S.M. ’59] have been baking delicious fresh breads for dinner every night,” explained Bro. Patrick Sarsfield, S.M. ’86.
Fortunately, every Marianist Brother in both Chaminade’s and Kellenberg’s Community has remained free of the coronavirus to date, a testament to the success of the precautions and care they have taken to safeguard against this outbreak.
Of course, the hardships of enduring this new reality have been met with a bit of stir-craziness. Bro. Steve reminded us, however, that our boredom and isolation at home isn’t in vain.
“Although we would rather be doing other things, we can find a sense of fulfillment in knowing that the things we are doing now to take care of ourselves and limit the spread are the right things to be doing,” he said.
Despite limits to outside interaction, many of the Brothers have made sincere efforts to assist those struggling in any way possible. Before school closed, juniors in the General Student Organization had organized the collection of canned foods for its annual Lenten food drive, and a group of Brothers donated about 35 cases of these items to the Corpus Christi Food Pantry in Mineola on April 16. Bro. Tom Terrill assisted with the delivery and heard of families arriving at the pantry that day to pick up the goods they had just dropped off.
In the Dolan Family Science, Technology, and Research Center, Bro. Thomas Cleary, S.M. ’81, Chaminade’s president, has been working with Mr. Thomas Liguori to produce respiratory masks using the lab’s 3D printers.
Overall, most Brothers noted the absence of Chaminade’s usual vibrance and energy.
Bro. Tom Cleary joked, “Even Buster (Bro. Tom’s dog) has noticed something isn’t right in the hallway and outdoors. There’s no activity. Occasionally, you might notice a colleague, but otherwise, there’s just nobody around.”
As we continue to navigate the new circumstances of this difficult period, the Brothers have assured us of the growth of our courage, preparedness, and faith in the aftermath of COVID-19.
“This situation has prompted us to ask the question: ‘Do we need that?’ We have all become more mindful of what’s essential, and the truly important aspects of our lives have gained more meaning and value,” said Bro. John, reflecting on our newfound appreciation for the activities we once took for granted.