Changes at Saint Vincent Archabbey

Title

Changes at Saint Vincent Archabbey

Subject

Religious organizations

Date

2020 - early 2021

Contributor

Fr. Matthias Martinez, O.S.B.

Text

The COVID pandemic brought many changes to Saint Vincent Archabbey, the Benedictine monastery in Latrobe. Like everyone else our community began to practice social distancing within our liturgies and dining. While the college and seminary were closed we ate in the college dining room with only three to a table. When school resumed we returned to our own refectory but with six to a table rather than eight. For a time we only used disposable plastic and paper wear, as well as single use packets/containers for condiments and beverages. Table clothes were done away with so that we could eat on a hard surface that could then be sanitized.

In the archabbey basilica we began to sit in every other choir stall for Office and Mass, as well as chairs in the apse and in front of the stalls. The Easter Triduum of 2020 was a closed series of liturgies, live streamed for the public. It was very strange gathering as a large community of monks all alone in the giant church for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. Usually these liturgies would be well attended by the faithful, with the Easter Vigil almost standing room only with many folding chairs brought in to supplement the pews. Instead we were alone in the choir stalls with Archabbot Douglas, O.S.B., presiding.

One of the greatest changes to our common life was the closing of the campus to guests. In his Holy Rule Saint Benedict devotes an entire chapter (ch. 53) to the reception of guests. The first verse reads: "All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (MT 25:35)." The Order of Saint Benedict was founded in the sixth century and the monasteries have long been known for hospitality. How very painful, then, for us at Saint Vincent to have to shut our doors due to the COVID outbreak. We could no longer welcome guests as Christ to our liturgies, to our guest dining rooms, or to the guest rooms within and outside the monastery. Thankfully, like so many others out in the world, we had access to social media and could practice "digital hospitality" through our accounts and live streaming. By Spring of 2021 the nave of the church had been opened to guests during liturgies, socially distanced and masked, but the choir stalls remained closed except to monks.

Early on in 2020 monks were required to stay home and could only leave campus with the permission of the Prior; that would be relaxed by the end of 2020. The car keys were even removed from the key room to prevent any unsanctioned trips! For a time in 2020 the priests within our community began to stay home on the weekends. Usually they are assigned to help out diocesan priests in parishes from the surrounding dioceses. Due to the pandemic shutdown our priests were not needed for what we call "weekend mission," covering parish Masses and confessions. Gradually, however, this changed as the lockdown began to loosen up and parishes began to reopen their Masses for in person celebration. By Spring of 2021 our priests were going out again on the weekends, though there were not as many Masses as before the pandemic.

As far as our apostolates go, many of our monks had to learn how to teach online. At times this was a bit comical! Between Zoom and YouTube, and other platforms, our monks had a crash course in streaming and recording lectures. This included our men down in Savannah, Georgia, who teach at our high school (Benedictine Military School). The monks who are permanently assigned to parishes had to navigate parochial life in the midst of lockdown. This meant adjustments to liturgies and pastoral visitation; many of our priests serving in the parishes were temporarily unable to visit parishioners in hospitals and nursing homes due to the COVID situation.

During the early months of 2021, with the nation (and monks!) suffering from COVID fatigue, there was the happy announcement that vaccines were ready for distribution. It turned out to be a mess in Pennsylvania, with very many complications in getting an appointment and then being able to keep that appointment and get the shots. Our campus was well served by Mainline Pharmacy which repeatedly came to the Fred Rogers Center to administer doses. Thankfully they came to the monastery as well to begin inoculating the monks. By March of 2021 some of the monks had already received the full dosage of two Moderna shots. By May, life was beginning to return to normal.

Collection

Citation

“Changes at Saint Vincent Archabbey,” Pandemic 2020: An SVC Covid-19 Public History Project, accessed September 25, 2022, https://pandemic2020svc.omeka.net/items/show/160.

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