The Coronavirus pandemic “arrived” at Xaverian and Ryken houses in the middle of March 2020, when signs indicating “Please, no visitors; all deliveries to the door at the porch” appeared on exterior doors. “Brothers, please stay in the house,” read new signs on interior exits, and Brother Robert Green’s ‘Barnsider’ newsletter reminded Xaverian House residents in Danvers, MA, to “Please don’t forget to wash hands.” Change came swiftly as Brothers adjusted to a new way of life. Nurses encouraged Brothers to follow guidelines and stay home except for emergencies.
“Our lives became quite different,” said Brother Cornelius Hubbuch of Ryken House in Louisville, KY.
Most residents were able to have normal days with Mass six days a week and three meals a day, but when normalcy diminished, changes were noted. Brothers wishing to exercise had to wear masks and restrict themselves to certain areas. Simple purchases such as toothpaste, shaving cream and greeting cards was assigned to the Director once a week only.
At Xaverian House, what were once weekly visits from St. John’s Prep campus ministers and students were replaced by online Zoom sessions. Additionally, Brothers, Associates, donors, benefactors, and Partners in Mission were able to enjoy being participants in several Zoom prayer services arranged by the Generalate and the Xaverian Brothers Sponsored Schools (XBSS) offices.
Several Brothers in residence at local nursing homes had necessary restrictions on visits: always masked, socially distanced, outside if possible, one or two visitors only, and on specific days unless quarantined. Xaverian House nurse Robin Rowell and Director Brother Robert Green were able to get to Maristhill in Waltham, MA, and Mary Immaculate in Lawrence, only once or twice a month. On New Year’s Eve day, FaceTime allowed Brothers at Xaverian and Ryken Houses and in nursing homes to see and greet one another.
“During the lockdown I have managed to keep sane by prayer, meditation, life in community, Scripture and Theology courses online, and daily walks on the campus,” said Brother Jim Connolly at Xaverian House.
Prior to the pandemic, Brother Jim ministered three days a week at the Essex County Jail. The prison went into lockdown in late March with many cases of COVID-19 among inmates and staff. The jail began distributing tablets to inmates as a substitute for in-person visitations. Each tablet came with Scriptures of various faiths, books, and magazines. Brother Jim attempted to do online services and classes for inmates, but security interruptions and unit lockdowns frustrated his efforts. Nevertheless, he persevered in his ministry of building loving relationships.
“Each week I write a three-paragraph commentary in the Sunday Gospel which is posted on the tablets, and I compose a pamphlet for those interested in the Scripture courses,” he said.
The Chaplaincy Department and Programs Department are planning for the post-pandemic era and are in the process of developing courses and new units at the jail for men serious about religion, vocational and other courses. Brother Jim takes part in a weekly planning call and assists the Head Chaplain and Faith Coordinator in planning faith, pastoral counseling and Chaplaincy issues at the facility.
“I am looking forward to getting back to ministering in-person once it is safe,” said Brother Jim. He continued, “I ask that the least of our brothers and sisters who are out of sight and out of mind be kept in our thoughts and prayers, especially in this time.”
Seeing the silver lining in the crisis, Brother Cornelius Hubbuch at Ryken House decided to make the most of the difficult circumstances. “I decided to give myself a kind of retreat schedule, which included more time for prayer, lots of reading, and reflection,” he said. “It has been a time to engage in more contemplation and at the same time, I have been impressed by how all of us living with one another have been kind and considerate and patient with the restrictions we need to follow.”
The spiritual life of the communities continued to be nourished by Masses. At Xaverian House, the loyalty of Fathers Robert O’Grady and James Morris were particularly appreciated. Brother Jim Connolly arranged for shared prayer, Advent-Christmas CDs, and regional Zoom gatherings with assistance from Brother Richard Lunny.
Holy Cross Father Richard Gribble provided the Brothers with an Advent Day of Recollection. The annual Christmas party with gifts and entertainment provided by St. John’s Prep faculty and staff members could not be held, but the “SPJ Angels” managed to provide generous gifts to the Brothers which were placed under the gorgeous Christmas tree that was only one part of many spirit-lifting decorations provided by Brother Tom Klar. At Ryken House, Brothers Brian Vetter, Richard Angarola, and Associate Mary O’Toole gathered with the Brothers to celebrate Christmas Eve Mass in the St. Xavier High School chapel.
Passionist Father Chris Gibson presided with a masked and socially distanced assembly. A celebratory meal was held afterwards at Ryken House.
The Brothers have been kept safe and well due to the extraordinary dedication of both Xaverian and Ryken house staff members.
“I do miss my outside volunteer activities,” noted Brother Cornelius, “but I am continuously thankful for living with such thoughtful and kind Brothers.”
Brothers Jim Connolly, Robert Green, and Cornelius Hubbuch contributed to this story