Our Seminarians’ Coronavirus Stories

This article was posted on: May 21, 2020

Father Victor Feltes, Pastor of St. Paul Parish in Bloomer and St. John the Baptist Parish in Cooks Valley.

God has blessed our parishes with priestly vocations. Of the 16 seminarians currently enrolled in major seminary for the Diocese of La Crosse, three belong to St. Paul or St. John the Baptist parishes. These young men have now returned safely home to us. What was it like for them to be at seminary as this pandemic arose and what has life been like since? These are their stories.

Isaac Pecha of St. Paul Parish in Bloomer had been studying Theology I at the North American College in Rome. He writes:

My experience of the coronavirus outbreak has occurred in three stages: the initial outbreak in Italy, the two-week quarantine upon returning to the United States and then the statewide stay-at-home order starting immediately after I left quarantine. Each has come with its own graces, which I share below.

In late February, a few towns in northern Italy were put on lockdown, but Rome continued as normal. I even remember telling a classmate on March 4, “I don’t think classes will be cancelled unless someone in the university gets sick.” The next day, the government announced that they were suspending all school activities. Then on March 9, the lockdown was extended to the whole country. We were called back to the United States, with a flight out in 11 hours. I said my goodbyes, packed a single suitcase and we left Rome. An hour after we landed on March 11, the United States suspended travel from Europe. During this stage, my biggest graces were the clear reminder of how little we are in control of things, and having a bishop who acted so wise as to call us home when he did.

When we got back to the United States, the four seminarians from the Diocese of La Crosse had to quarantine together for two weeks before we could go to our families. In the unused rectory where we stayed, we established an horarium and continued to pray, study and enjoy fraternal time as usual. On Sundays, a nearby priest would celebrate Mass outside on the porch of the rectory. We participated, safely contained in the house, by watching through the sliding glass door. This was the greatest grace of the personal quarantine—the concrete reminder of how lucky we are to have the sacraments, and the lengths to which priests will go to bring them to us.

The day before our release from personal quarantine, Gov. Evers issued the statewide stay-at-home order. As soon as the health department cleared us to leave, we all went back to our families. Since then, I have been at home, still taking classes online and spending time with my family. Having little to do besides pray, study and hang out with my family members has been a great grace.

I am reminded of the words of one of my favorite holy women, Servant of God Chiara Corbella Petrillo. She said, “God does not want to take good things away from you, and if he takes, it is only to give you so much more.” Obviously, I cannot wait to go back to Rome, or receive a parish assignment here in our diocese, but it would be wrong to only long for those things without also thanking God for the good things He has given me in the meantime.

Eric Mashak of St. John the Baptist Parish in Cooks Valley had been studying Theology III at the North American College in Rome. He writes:

For us seminarians who were studying in Rome, it was very unexpected to be called back to the United States by our bishop. We found out that we were coming home around dinner time and were at the airport about 12 hours later. This, for me, was a simple lesson in obedience. There is a necessity for fast acting obedience in the priesthood. Like the Apostle Andrew, who dropped his nets and instantly followed Christ, so, too, the priest needs to be ready to take a new parish assignment at a call from the bishop. Formation never stops! Even when we can’t be in a seminary.

Matthew Bowe of St. Paul Parish in Bloomer was studying Theology II at St. Francis de Sales Seminary just outside of Milwaukee. He writes:

Greetings, brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray that everyone is doing well and is staying healthy. If you, your family or friends have been deeply affected by the coronavirus, please know that they are being prayed for in a special way.

Like other places, St. Francis de Sales Seminary had to adjust to the coronavirus situation. After finishing our spring break, we had classes the week of March 9. On Friday, March 13, around 11 a.m., we received an email stating that the plan was to continue with classes on the following Monday. Later that day, around supper time, everything changed when another email notified us that classes would continue online until Easter and formation would be suspended for a couple of weeks. Seminarians would be allowed to stay at St. Francis Seminary under quarantine if they so wished. For the seminarians of the Diocese of La Crosse, we received an email after supper stating that we were to go home as soon as possible. I have been home since March 14.

Classes will be conducted online through the end of the semester. Seminarians are to remain in place until St. Francis de Sales Seminary tells us otherwise. At home, I have found balance in completing my schoolwork while maintaining prayer times and other healthy habits (e.g., eating well, exercise and leisure activities). I have been catching up on some good movies and enjoying home-cooked meals with my parents. Further, I help out around the house. Otherwise, my life is somewhat uneventful; I’m at peace with my routine. The stress and pressure of a normal seminary schedule, which does give me life, has been removed. I now have a more comfortable position to reflect on the good that God has given me during my time as a seminarian. God has given me good gifts during this time of trial and tribulation.

I would like to conclude by asking everyone to continue to keep the Faith. Although this is a difficult time for everyone, let it bring forth good fruit that can only be achieved by uniting oneself to the will of God. Trust God and He will do good things for you in ways that you may not expect. While we brave this storm, let us pray for one another. I will continue to pray for the families of our parish, and I ask you to pray for my family and for my brother seminarians. May the merits of Jesus’ Passion enliven our Faith during this Holy Week.

Jared Clements of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Holmen. He writes:

Coming home was a crazy time. Going from the chaos of Rome to a two week Quarantine in a Rectory where I was incarcerated with 3 good friends to being at my home filled beyond capacity until further notice. It has been both a blessed and crazy time. My family has bonded in this once in a lifetime opportunity in incredible ways. While being at home, I have attempted to continue my full time school schedule with scattered success and have found time to pray each day. With the rest of my time, my family has played various board and card games. This time has definitely been one bringing my family closer together.

Brian Ward of Saints Peter and Paul Parish, Independence. He writes:

For me the quarantine has been a trying time in not having the Mass and not being able to do ministry. The very two things I enjoy the most. But also it has been a time of learning to trust and to grow deeper in Faith. Understanding that even with doing “nothing” I can still enjoy the fruits of what it means to be Catholic and a member of the Body of Christ. The fruits, being of course, striving for holiness and becoming a Saint.

Steven Weller of St. Florian, Hatley. He writes:

After the shutdown of everything, I went home, and now I am helping my parents with chores around the house. It is quite amazing how many projects one can find. Every day I try to call someone I have not talked to in a long time, and the Lord has given much fruit from it.

Philip Grygleski of St. Bronislava, Plover. He writes:

I have had good silent time for prayer, and the Lord is meeting me where I am. It saddens me not to be able to see people face-to-face very often, and it was difficult to leave people in La Crosse during Regency. I miss socializing more, but am developing a good routine here at home.

David Nowicki of St. Anthony de Padua, Athens. He writes:

The biggest impact for me has been the lack of access to the Sacraments for everyone. Though we cannot receive Christ Sacramentally, this has been a great opportunity to trust in the Lord’s grace outside the Sacraments. It has also given my family an opportunity to increase devotion in the domestic household with Rosaries, Chaplets of Divine Mercy, and the like. We have been blessed with these devotions to the Blessed Virgin and Christ’s Mercy that, although they don’t replace the Eucharist, can help sustain our faith in this tumultuous time.

Deacon Sam McCarty of St. Michael, Wausau. He writes:

Quarantine has made me realize how much I appreciate being able to spend time with people! This is something I took for granted before and am looking forward to once all of this is over.

Deacon Arturo Vigueras of St. Peter, Stevens Point.He writes:

Besides, not being currently in the seminary, being quarantined has allowed me to spend more time with my family. I have been especially enjoying playing with my niece (3yrs old) and nephew (2 yrs old). Besides continuing doing my school work online this time of isolation has been fruitful as it has allowed me to have a deeper appreciation for my vocation. I have been able to spend a lot more time in prayer and reaching out (via phone and online) to friends and relatives and provide spiritual support as they continue to endure the different difficulties they face in their lives during this time.

Joseph Glatczak of St. Paul, Mosinee. He writes:

The Covid-19 changes came about quickly for all of us, myself included. Being called out of seminary formation for an indefinite amount of time I have found to be both challenging and, at the same time, has opened new horizons not available information.

With daily Mass or a morning holy hour in front of the blessed sacrament no longer an option, the proverb, “Distance makes a heart grow fonder” takes on new meaning. Distance from the presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist has increased my desire to be in the presence of the Eucharist as well as my understanding of the great gift which we receive so complacently.

On the onset, this distance could easily be devastating, but I have also found by entering into the liturgy of the hours faithfully and frequently, spiritual reading, and devotional practices (such as the rosary), while not making up for the absence of Mass, have deepened my relationship with the Lord in a new dimension. The Liturgy of the Hours is a public work for the people by the people, and while said in homes “privately” across the world, the unifying nature of the prayer has become much more apparent.

Finally, the webcasts of Sunday Mass with Bishop Callahan have allowed myself and others to clearly see the unity of the church of LaCrosse. What a wonderful opportunity we have during this time to “attend” Mass each weekend with our bishop and hear a unifying homily from the pastor of church of La Crosse.

God’s blessings be with everyone during this difficult time. May you come to find a deepening of relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ in this time as I have so we are ready to be united more fully that before once our churches open once more!

Deacon Daniel Williams of All Saints, Stanley. He writes:

The on-going Coronavirus pandemic has affected many of our lives in ways we never expected it to. Early on in the midst of the lockdown that has taken over our state and nation, St. Francis de Sales Seminary, where I was completing my theology studies, shut down and required me to move back to the diocese. Since then I have been residing and assisting at Notre Dame Parish in Chippewa Falls with Fr. Jesse Burish. This has been a quicker transition from seminary into parish life than I was expecting, but the Lord uses these things for our greater good. I have enjoyed my time in the parish although it is very different with the restrictions on gathering for Mass. I have been completing my seminary classes online and have been finding creative ways to serve the people of the parish while I am here. Please pray for me and my classmates as we approach ordination. Know of my prayers for an end to this pandemic so that we may all again join together for Mass.

Deacon Joseph Richards of the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman, La Crosse. He writes:

This close to ordination, it’s been a peculiar few weeks. Halfway through March, Mundelein called the whole university in for a big meeting, where they told us the campus was closing down for the year. A week later I was moving into St. Pat’s in Onalaska, and this has been home-base ever since! I’ve been splitting my time since then pretty evenly between the parish and classwork online. What’s been most strange for me is hearing from young families how difficult they’re finding it to keep building themselves up as a domestic church while waiting to be able to come back to the sacraments again. The whole experience has been resonating with me as one extended Holy Saturday, an occasion for deeper prayer into the Lord’s passion and resurrection.

Timothy Reither of St. Charles Borromeo, Chippewa Falls He writes:

Currently, I am back on the farm chasing cows and doing seminary online. It was a big jump to have to return suddenly from Rome, but now I have settled into the new schedule here. Everyone was very helpful in the transition and in setting up the two week quarantine at the “bunker”. I am looking forward to continue preparing for my diaconate ordination.

John Duranso of Holy Name, Wausau. He writes:

The coronavirus has affected me just as it has a lot of other people, especially college students. I had to quit my job, move back home, and basically be at home all the time. It’s not too bad, and my parents’ work has continued so they weren’t hit too hard by this thing.

John Zweber of St. Joseph, Menomonie. He writes:

With the COVID-19 quarantine, homeschooling 2.0 has started! (I was homeschooled before entering seminary). I do miss being with my professors and classmates, but I have been able to connect with many of them online. The online school platform has allowed me to spend more time reading, fishing, and occasionally helping with my family’s business (Gilbert Creek Woodworks). It has also been great to spend time with the family, and the quarantine almost feels like an extended spring break.

Deacon Levi Schmitt of Sacred Heart, Elmwood. He writes:

COVID-19 threw seminary for a bit of a loop, like it has with most things. A few weeks back classes switched to an online platform, and I was assigned to St. Mary’s parish in Altoona, WI. The change had its challenges early on, but now that I’m established things have been going quite excellently. The lighter schedule has given me a greater opportunity for prayer and reflection leading up to ordination this summer.

Alex Kren of St. Mary, Neillsville. He writes:

Quarantine has brought some challenges but it also has brought with it some blessings. Some challenges that I have faced is adjusting to online classes, not being able to receive the Eucharist daily, and just the brotherhood environment the seminary provided. There were a lot of changes in our “normal” routine in such a short period of time. Although there has been challenges, it’s been a blessing to be able to spend some quality time with my parents and brothers. With the business of daily life it can be difficult to find time to spend that quality time with family. I’ve also been able to play some golf so I can’t complain to much about the current situation. But in all seriousness, please stay safe, stay strong, and God bless.

Prayer for Vocations

Heavenly Father, Bless your Church with an abundance of holy and zealous priests, deacons, brothers, and sisters. Give those you have called to the married state and those you have chosen to live as single persons in the world, the special graces that their lives require. Form us all in the likeness of Your Son, so that in Him, with Him, and through Him, we may love you more deeply and serve you more faithfully, always and everywhere. With Mary, we ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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