‘One Foot Raised for the Journey’

Members of the University community take stock of their losses and prepare for a springtime “rebirth.”

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“[T.S. Eliot] insisted rebirth is harder than we imagine, and many of us are experiencing that same strange frustration as we contemplate not just the new life that April always brings but also the prospect of new life as the COVID-19 pandemic finally subsides,” wrote Joseph Kraus, Ph.D., associate professor of English at Scranton, in a  recent op-ed in   The Chicago Tribune

In his op-ed, Kraus expressed well what many have been feeling as the country begins to transition out of the pandemic. At the University, too, there is a sense of cautious optimism.

Athletes have  returned to competition The fitness center opened to a larger capacity. In mid-April, the Center for Health Education and Wellness began to hold in-person fitness classes outdoors again. And plans were announced for in-person Commencement, Orientation and a selection of summer programs, plus fully in-person classes will resume this fall. All in-person activities are being meticulously planned according to guidelines in the Royals Safe Together Plan. But as CDC guidelines change there must be a willingness to adapt to them.

Prepared for Change

"The University has been working assiduously to plan important in-person events and activities this spring and beyond,” said Jeff Gingerich, Ph.D., acting president, provost and sr. vice president at the University. “Our commitment to maintaining a strong sense of community for students and their families has been a big part of our decision-making this past year. Having students on campus since the fall has taught us all how to be together safely and this experience certainly makes this next step just a little easier."

“We must be prepared to change. It’s what St. Ignatius would expect of us: to always have one foot raised for the journey.”
- Scott R. Pilarz, S.J.

In August 2020, the late Scott R. Pilarz. S.J., then-University president, spoke to students via video message as they returned to campus. Although he was encouraging them to adapt to the many changes due to COVID-19 restrictions, his words resonate now, as the world begins to open up again.

“We must be prepared to change,” he said. “It’s what St. Ignatius would expect of us: to always have one foot raised for the journey.”

The difficult decision to bring students back to campus this past fall was just the beginning of many hard choices made by Father Pilarz, Dr. Gingerich and other University leadership. However, it was those decisions – and the many adaptations that occurred as a result thanks to an enormous team of behind-the-scenes players – that enabled a path forward, one that has allowed for increasingly more togetherness and more of what Scranton prides itself on: community.

Yet Another ‘New Normal’

Now that vaccines are becoming more readily available (with many University student nurses helping to administer vaccines locally, including at Scranton), the University community is beginning to break free of the “hybrid” life, relying on the strong foundation that has been built over the past year to keep them safe and cushioning the entrance into yet another “new normal.”

“I'm excited to get back to a sense of normalcy,” said Rebeca Chiefallo ’21, a journalism and electronic media major who will be attending law school in the fall. “I know that what we think of as ‘normal’ isn’t going to come back completely for some time, but this past school year has taught me that it is possible to be safe and enjoy some in-person activities and classes.”

She said she is looking forward to an in-person Commencement, of which there will be three socially distanced ceremonies for the undergraduate Class of 2021 and their families and one at a larger than usual venue for the graduate class.

A Welcome Challenge

Every step – every foot raise – to reentry takes painstaking work.

Commencement planning is a welcome challenge, said Caitlyn Hollingshead ’06, G’09, G’19, director of graduate, transfer and international admissions and member of the Commencement Committee.

“Hosting all of these ceremonies is amazing from an attendance and participation perspective but quadruples the planning needed to ensure the event is spectacular,” she said. “Commencement at Scranton is an amazing celebration and 2021 will be no different -- and yet very different at the same time. I’m thrilled to be a part of the committee and to be able to bring these ceremonies to our students and families who have lost so many things over the past year of the pandemic.”

Hollingshead said it was helpful to draw from others’ experiences from this past year.

“Knowing how events were held on-campus this spring gave us a clearer picture of our capacities,” she said, also noting the importance of the Royals Safe Together and CDC guidelines.

One group that navigated the challenges of larger in-person events was Campus Ministries. Masses have gone on throughout the pandemic and became increasingly popular this past spring, with more than 200 people attending regularly in the Byron Complex.

“We were only able to conduct Masses because of this space being made available to us,” said the Rev. Herbert Keller, S.J., vice president for Mission and Ministry, who credited Father Pilarz for making in-person Mass a priority in the fall. “Having the Byron reserved for Masses on Sunday was a great commitment on behalf of the school in terms of its mission. And it’s a testament to Father Pilarz’s commitment as well.”

Students who attended these Masses said that they were grateful for the sense of community instilled in what might have been an otherwise lonely year.

Taking Stock, Looking Ahead

Meghan McGonigle ’22 is an occupational therapy student and track and field athlete. She and others are looking back on what they lost this past year. But she said she is grateful not only for what remains but for what lies ahead.

“I am looking forward to our outdoor Landmark Conference Championships coming up in a few weeks and spending time with my team that I so dearly missed last year,” said McGonigle. “Because of the pandemic, there was a lot of uncertainty and challenges regarding fieldwork placements for occupational therapy students. I am very blessed to have been placed for two fieldwork sites this summer, which both will be in-person.”

She said she’s ready for change.

“Staying involved has made the transition much smoother because I can remain connected to my friends, other students and faculty members while we are all adjusting to this ‘new normal’ in hopes for brighter days ahead,” she said.

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