The Holy Innocents and Tragedy’s Role in Redemption

By David Cooley.

The liturgical Christmas season is really a beautiful and interesting time of year. While the secular world has the tendency to let go of the joy of the season on Dec. 26 and move on to the next “big” thing, Catholics stay focused on the birth of Christ and the idea of light conquering darkness in our world. We don’t mark the end of Christmas until the celebration of the feast of the Baptism of the Lord — which falls on the Sunday after the feast of the Epiphany (usually the second Sunday of January).

In addition to the Epiphany — a feast we easily connect to Christmas (wise men discover Christ on the path to true knowledge) — there are several other Catholic feast days that fall within the Christmas season. Some of these feasts, such as the feasts of St. Stephen (Dec. 26), St. John the Apostle (Dec. 27), St. Thomas Becket (Dec. 29), and St. Sylvester I (Dec. 31), don’t have much of a connection to Christmas and are often, unfortunately, overlooked. But then there are also the feasts that have a profound connection with the Nativity of Christ — the feast of the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28), the feast of the Holy Family (first Sunday after Christmas) and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1).

The feast of the Holy Innocents, in particular, can seem like a strange if not horrific break from the overall theme of joy that comes with the Christmas season. However, a close reading and further reflection can prove that this story from the Gospel of Matthew, although disturbing, can also be a message of hope.

Herod (the not so great) was king of Judea when Christ was born and he was a cruel dictator. He was absolutely obsessed with power. When he believed his sons became a threat to his reign, he executed them. He also killed his wife, his brother and his sister’s two husbands, just to name a few of his victims. He was an insecure tyrant capable of extreme brutality.

When Herod heard about the magi in his midst looking for “the newborn king of the Jews” he sent for them right away, hoping to learn all he could to protect his throne. He attempted to trick them into telling him exactly where he could find the child but his plan failed and he became furious. He had already proven that he will stop at nothing to keep his power and so he ordered the execution of all male children in the region two years of age and under.

The details of the massacre are for the most part left to our imagination but the devastation of the mothers and fathers led St. Matthew to quote Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children …” (Mt 2:18).

What are we to make of this horrific story of an evil king killing the young boys of Bethlehem in order to preserve and wield his power over the people?

Of course our hearts and minds go first to the innocent little ones and their families. It is natural for us to ask: why couldn’t God just prevent this slaughter? Truthfully, there is no explanation that could satisfy our human craving to understand why the terrors of this life are allowed. Suffering is indeed a mystery and cannot be endured without faith and trust in God.

And what are we to make of Herod? These small passages are perhaps among the most poignant in the New Testament on demonstrating what antichrists and the fruits of their labor look like. This story has repeated itself again and again throughout all history. It is man’s attempt to silence God and eradicate him from the earth. It’s man’s attempt to become God; to decide for himself what is good and what is evil; to believe that he can rule over everything with no consequences. Herod is someone who has walled off his heart to Christ and therefore offers the world the opposite of what Christ offers. To build himself up he must tear others down. What he desires is power and possessions; what he offers is misery and destruction.

Choosing darkness over light will always lead to death, if not for us, than for someone else, perhaps at another place, another time. The feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that the coming of Christ into the world is a lifeline from the darkness of evil that lies in the hearts of those who selfishly choose power and ultimately death over the good, the true and the beautiful. Christ is our hope.

Suffering, persecution and martyrdom come with the territory of following Jesus Christ. From the moment of his birth the Lord shook up the world. He is a king, but not in the way the world expected it. Kingship is not about control and comfort. It is through Jesus’ suffering, humiliation and death on a cross that salvation was won. His death won life – eternal life for us. And his blood which was shed for our sake obtained pardon and reconciliation with our heavenly Father. There is no crown without the cross. The only true consolation we can find for the tragedies of life is the resurrection. We believe that, in the end, God will right every wrong.

 

 

Year of St. Joseph

It is interesting to note that the infancy narrative in the Gospel of Matthew is told from the perspective of St. Joseph, as opposed to the perspective of Mary, as it is in the Gospel of Luke. Joseph is a quiet, meek and humble principal actor — he never says anything and he is never acting on his own accord.

There is quite a contrast between King Herod and Joseph (a descendant of a true king of Israel — David). Herod only cares about himself and his kingly power while Joseph only cares about doing God’s will. Joseph wishes to serve God and his family while Herod resorts to anything that will benefit his situation, including slaughter. St. Joseph is the model of someone who is decisive and acts wisely. He was the protector of his family and continues to be the great protector of the Church.

After the adoration of the magi, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream with a startling message: “Go to Egypt. Herod wants to destroy the child.” Joseph obeys immediately. He rises from sleep and, like Joseph in the Old Testament, finds refuge in Egypt. It’s striking that both the Old Testament Joseph (son of Israel) and the New Testament Joseph (son of David) had dreams from God that ultimately led them to Egypt. In fact, in the Old Testament it was in Egypt that the nation of Israel — the Israelites — finally came into being (see the beginning of the book of Exodus). Both Josephs were able to save their family in Egypt. However, that is not where they belonged. Egypt was a powerful empire; it represented the world and what it offers through slavery, politics and wealth. It was not the Promised Land, or the Kingdom of God.

Like Israel, Jesus too, will return from Egypt. Jesus’ return is the fulfillment of prophet Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Jesus relives Israel’s experiences. Jesus is Son of God in a deeper sense than Israel ever was. Through Jesus, God the Father will bring the old covenant to perfection.

 

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization.

Christmas Mass in the Diocese of Covington

The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus is celebrated Dec. 25, 2020. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Mass capacity will be limited this year, so the Diocese of Covington encourages the faithful to plan ahead accordingly to find a time that will fit for their families.

Please see below for a full list of Mass times throughout the diocese.

If you’ve switched up your Christmas Mass routine over the years, you may have noticed that the readings are different at each Mass. Just like the readings, which rotate on a three-year cycle, the readings for Christmas Mass are chosen intentionally. What is the significance of the timing of Christmas Masses and the readings?

Like it does in all things, the Church uses Christmas Masses to tell the story of salvation. Different Masses emphasize varying aspects of the Christmas story, and together they communicate the message of the Messiah coming to save the world.

The Vigil Mass, celebrated early Saturday evening, is distinct from the three Christmas liturgies. Many families enjoy going to this Mass to kick off Christmas festivities, but the Church in her liturgies is just getting started. The Gospel is the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, the genealogy of Jesus. It sets the scene because the focus of this Mass is the humble beginnings of Christ’s life on earth.

Next up, Midnight Mass usually begins somewhere between 9 p.m. and midnight on Christmas Eve. Since Midnight is traditionally celebrated as the hour Christ was born, the Gospel is Luke 2 — the traditional narrative of Jesus’ birth. This Mass carries a theme of deep night, and is officially considered the first Mass of Dec. 25 rather than a vigil. It’s sometimes called the “Angel’s Mass” because of the “good news” carried to the world, and the Responsorial Psalm bears the angels’ words: “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.”

On Christmas morning, the Mass at Dawn celebrates Christ as the Light of the world breaking over the darkness like the sun breaks over the sky. Mass at Dawn ought to be celebrated early, sometime around the dawn — otherwise, it can be classified as the third Christmas Mass, Mass During the Day. The Gospel for the Mass at Dawn is the narrative of the arrival of the shepherds at the birth of Christ, and thus it’s called the “Shepherd’s Mass.” The theme of light continues through the Responsorial Psalm: “A light will shine on us this day: the Lord is born for us.”

Finally, the Mass During the Day, usually celebrated some time after 9 or 10 a.m., communicates the message that the Son of God has now been revealed to the world in the full light of day. Sometimes called the “King’s Mass,” it rejoices in the coming of Christ for the whole world, just as the three kings, or Magi, received him as Gentiles rather than Jews. This begins the evangelization of the whole world rather than the singular focus of the Old Testament on the Jews alone. The Gospel for this Mass is the beginning of the Gospel of John, tying in the larger framework and implications of Jesus’ birth, known and planned by God from the beginning for the salvation of his people.

All-schools Mass unites schools across diocese in Advent prayer

Laura Keener, Editor.

Nearly 3,000 families were logged in, Dec. 14, to participate in the live stream of the diocese’s first all-schools Advent Mass. Bishop Roger Foys decided to celebrate the Mass as a way to unite the students, who have been learning remotely since Nov. 23, in prayer during these final days of Advent as they prepare their hearts for Christmas. While the students attended virtually, the deans, principals and superintendent of Schools were present in the Cathedral. Their presence made the students present in a more tangible way as they represented their school communities.

In his homily Bishop Foys focused on waiting and, in a special way, Advent waiting.

“I’ve never met in my life anyone who likes to wait,” said Bishop Foys. “Yet the season of Advent is all about waiting — preparing and waiting. The important thing about waiting is how we wait,” noting that some people wait more patiently than others.

The waiting of Advent serves three purposes, Bishop Foys said.

“First we wait for Christmas, the anniversary of the birth of our Savior, the Lord, Jesus Christ. We also wait and prepare for Jesus to come into our own lives. And, of course, part of that is waiting and preparing for the time when Jesus will come again. He will come at the end of the world to judge us. These three things are what we wait for during this season of Advent.”

In Scripture, John the Baptist says, “‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’ We are to be that voice in our time, preparing ourselves but also helping others to prepare. How do we do this?’” Bishop Foys asked.

Bishop Foys said that how a person waits will make all the difference. “if we wait properly and profitably, if we prepare ourselves while we are waiting, then that for what we are waiting will bring us great joy. If we get tired of waiting, and we lose sight of what it is we are waiting, we can lose interest,” he said. “It takes faith, it takes stamina, it takes patience and it takes hope and it all comes down to how do we wait, how do we prepare ourselves, how important is God’s coming into our lives?”

In acknowledging the difficulties and sacrifices that teachers, students and parents have had to endure during this unique year, Bishop Foys said that this waiting and sacrificing can teach us to identify and to appreciate what is most important in life.

“One of the things we were forced to do during these months was to spend more time with family, time to read, time to pray, time do projects we had been putting off, time to see what really matters,” he said. “To you students watching, my guess would be that a day off of school is not going to be so great as it once was. Being in school, in person with your classmates and teachers, hopefully, will look a whole lot better. Waiting tells us something about who we really are and what really matters.”

After Mass, Kendra McGuire, superintendent of Schools, addressed the students, encouraging them during these last days of Advent and looking forward with hope to returning to the classroom in January.

“We are truly blessed to gather as one school community. Today we are not 37 different schools or nearly 10,000 individual students and staff; today we are united together as a community of believers joined as one in prayer and thanks to God,” Mrs. McGuire said.

“We have one week of school remaining in this year of 2020 and though this year was full of new challenges for us as teachers and students we need to finish strong. Let’s give this last week our best effort so that when this week comes to a close we can spend time with our families and focus on the reason for being off school — to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. During this third week of Advent, the three lit candles on our Advent wreath reminds us that Jesus is near. It is a reminder for us to take a look into our own hearts to see if we are truly prepared for Jesus this Christmas … It is time to stop doing hurtful things and instead look for ways to be like Christ to one another.”

Church musicians reflect on different year, amid pandemic

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

“We pull out all the stops at Christmas,” said LeeAnn Kordenbrock, the cathedral soloist. Pun intended or not, she will be standing next to the organ during Midnight Mass. “If we don’t have as many personnel, that doesn’t mean we won’t make it as beautiful as we possibly can.”

Ms. Kordenbrock and Dr. Gregory Schaffer, basilica principal organist and choirmaster, have been providing nearly all of the music at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Covington, since the public celebration of Mass resumed May 21 in the Diocese of Covington after the COVID-19 shutdown. As Christmas approaches, they reflected on the challenges of the year as church musicians.

“I think it was the weekend of March 15 when Father had to pull the plug on music,” said Dr. Schaffer. “We had (Cathedral Bishop’s Choir) rehearsal that Wednesday, and by Friday evening, all the music was cancelled. … It was totally unexpected, but by the weekend, I think none of us were that surprised because things were developing on a daily basis around the entire country.”

LeeAnn Kordenbrock, Cathedral soloist.

Music resumed when public celebration of Mass did, but everything had to look different. Since many of the choir members were at higher risk of catching COVID-10, Dr. Schaffer didn’t feel comfortable approaching any of them to solicit help, due to the risk factor. He also knew that many had signed on because of the group experience. That’s when Ms. Kordenbrock volunteered to solo.

“Greg and I talked, and I offered to do whatever anybody needed,” she said. She has since become a staple, along with Dr. Schaffer, for weekly Cathedral Masses. A few other singers have helped out along the way as well.

When public Mass resumed with the provision that the congregation could not sing, due to the threat of droplets spreading the virus, Dr. Schaffer had to restructure his entire Mass plan. “You have to approach it with a completely different set of variables. Every detail of what we do for the liturgy had to be re-thought, re-processed, and to an extent tested out. With one voice singing, you can’t play full organ like you would with the congregation singing along with a hymn. It’s been quite a learning curve.”

As far as the music they choose, Ms. Kordenbrock said it takes a lot more effort and planning on a weekly basis, “but it’s not quite as paralyzing as it was when the first quarantine statement was made.” They have developed a much simpler repertoire for the soloist arrangement.

While they’ve always tried to include a variety of styles in the Cathedral due to the variety in Mass-goers — parishioners and visitors alike — Dr. Schaffer and Ms. Kordenbrock have tried out some new styles this year. They’ve adopted the Mass propers, antiphons which are a more traditional method of music in the liturgy, and are commonly replaced by hymns. They are sung at the procession, the offertory, communion and the recession. This was, in part, due to a concern that the congregation would feel left out.

“At first I was concerned about doing very familiar hymns with just a cantor and organ, that might be perceived as teasing the congregation,” said Dr. Schaffer. “Not that it would be intentional, but still the idea that ‘I know this hymn and I want to sing it and I can’t.’ It’s frustrating.”

Beside the propers, they also started using familiar texts with unfamiliar melodies so that there might be some meaning in the music, particular to that day or celebration, “without perhaps scratching at a scab of someone who wants to be singing,” said Dr. Schaffer.

“Sometimes when we sing tunes that we’ve sung forever and ever and we know the words… sometimes the meaning gets lost a little bit, so when you change it up,” added Ms. Kordenbrock. “It’s been a growth exercise in the best of ways.”

When asked how they persevere through it all, Ms. Kordenbrock said, “I’m not a scientist, but the whole deal that we’ve all believed from the time we’ve entered our faith life, is that we stay the course. So it will get better, we’ll get through it.”

“Certainly without the unwavering support of Bishop (Roger) Foys, Father (Ryan) Maher and the community, that would be much more of a question mark over my head,” said Dr. Schaffer. “So it’s been quite inspirational to me week to week that we’re doing something we should be doing, and we continue on the same path. There will be an answer at some point.”

For Midnight Christmas Mass, they will be joined by a violinist in the choir loft. The live broadcast from the Cathedral will feature a recording of the Cathedral Bishop’s Choir and instrumental ensemble from 2019 starting at 11 p.m., and the in-person celebration will feature the trio beginning around 11:40 p.m.

Both musicians advised people in choirs everywhere, who haven’t been able to sing with their group, to take care of their voices while at home. “There will be a learning curve coming back, whether you’re professional or amateur — if you don’t do it, you lose it,” said Ms. Kordenbrock.

“I want to acknowledge choirs everywhere that are pining to return to some form of sung liturgy — I share in that anticipation,” Dr. Schaffer said. He also hopes congregations will respond boisterously when they are once again allowed to sing in Mass.

“No matter what the circumstance, we can make something meaningful out of it,” he said.

For a complete listing of Christmas Mass times around the diocese, see page 7 in the Dec. 18 Messenger.

Ground broken and trails blazed for Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky

Messenger Staff Report

The Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky broke ground for its new building located at 436 West 13th Street in Covington, Dec. 15 at 11 a.m. (From left to right) Jude Hehman, CEO of Furlong Building; Mike Sutton, attorney; Kim Webb, executive director, ESNKY; Jon Draud, Kenton County Commissioner; Emily Toebbe, vice president, ESNKY Board of Directors; Kris Knochelmann, Kenton County judge executive; Divine Providence Sister Janet Bucher; Jamie Weaver, president, ESNKY Board of Directors; Brent Cooper, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce; Emma Adkisson, architect, PCA Architecture. Also present were Steve Hensley, director, Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Joe Shriver, county administrator and a representative from St. Elizabeth Healthcare.

Varsity Cheer Coach – Notre Dame Academy

Notre Dame Academy is looking for a Varsity Cheer Coach to begin now.  This position will oversee the program and report directly to the Athletic Director. Experience at the high school level is desired. All coaches must go through KHSAA and Diocese onboarding and training once hired. Please send a letter of interest and resume to [email protected]  Notre Dame Academy is a Catholic all girls high school sponsored by the Sisters of Notre Dame.

Varsity Soccer Coach – Notre Dame Academy

Notre Dame Academy is looking for a Varsity Soccer Coach for the 2021 Fall season.  This position will oversee the program and report directly to the Athletic Director. Experience at the high school level is desired. All coaches must go through KHSAA and Diocese onboarding and training once hired. Please send a letter of interest and resume to [email protected]  Notre Dame Academy is a Catholic all girls high school sponsored by the Sisters of Notre Dame.

Long-Term Substitute Teacher – Bishop Brossart

A long-term Health and Physical Education substitute teacher is needed from approximately March 1, 2021 through the end of school year in May. The compensation is negotiable, according to the candidate’s qualifications. There is the potential for the position to be either part-time or the whole day, if preferred. Interested candidates may contact principal Dan Ridder at [email protected], or call 859-635-2108.

Mayor approves name of ‘Cathedral Square’ surrounding the seat of the diocese

Laura Keener, Editor.

Covington Mayor Joe Meyer and city commissioners unanimously approved the naming of the area around the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption “Cathedral Square.” The order was read and approved Tuesday, Dec. 1 during the City Council meeting.

“It was unanimous and it’s a recognition that’s long overdue,” said Mayor Meyer.

Cathedral Square encompasses the two-block square from 11th Street on the north, 12th Street on the south, Scott Street on the east and the railroad tracks on the west. Within those two blocks is the historic Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption and its parish rectory and office, the Covington Latin School, the former St. Mary Lyceum, which was expanded and transformed into the diocesan Curia, and St. Mary Park. Mark Guilfoyle, partner, DBL Law and one of the lead organizers of the St. Mary Park project, had approached Mayor Meyer about the possibility of designating the area Cathedral Square. The order recognizes the history and significance these buildings and the people of the Diocese have made to the city of Covington.

“In this way we are recognizing the incredible contribution that the diocese and the Cathedral has made historically to the city, and its current contribution and its future contribution because of the density of the diocesan investment in the area,” said Mayor Meyer. “That’s a really remarkable part of Covington and having its own name will give it an identity that sets it apart.”

Bishop Camillus Maes, Covington’s third bishop, whose vision and vigor brought Covington’s Cathedral into reality, built the Cathedral as “a token of my love for the city by erecting in it a monument which will speak for centuries to come of the love of Christ for souls.” The naming of Cathedral Square is a fitting continuation of his “ambition,” which has been adopted and cultivated by his predecessors, including Bishop Roger Foys.

“I am grateful to His Honor Mayor Meyer and the City Commissioners for designating the two blocks around our Cathedral Basilica as Cathedral Square,” said Bishop Foys. “It is a tribute to the faithful of the Diocese of Covington as well as to my nine predecessors and especially to the third Bishop of Covington, Camillus Maes, who, along with the faithful of his time, took a leap of faith in building this beautiful house to the Lord. I am grateful also to Mark Guilfoyle for his invaluable assistance in this project. Bishop Maes loved the City of Covington and I join him in that sentiment. It is a wonderful place to live!”

Order designating “Cathedral Square”

WHEREAS, Pope Pius IX established the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington (“Diocese”) on July 29, 1853;

WHEREAS, the seat of the Diocese, the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, is an art and architectural gem that will be treasured for centuries;

WHEREAS, construction of the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, located at 1130 Madison Avenue, began in 1894;

WHEREAS, the interior of the Cathedral Basilica was designed by Leon Coquard under the direction of Bishop Camillus Maes and was modeled after the Abbey Church of St. Denis in Paris. The façade of the Cathedral was designed by David Davis and was modeled after the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris;

WHEREAS, the interior of the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption boasts world class artwork, including the following: (i) murals by internationally renowned artist and Covington native Frank Duvenek; (ii) the world’s largest handmade church stained glass window measuring 67 feet x 24 feet, depicting the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., and manufactured by Mayer Studios in Munich, Germany; (iii) mosaic stations of the cross depicting Christ’s passion and death, created in tiny porcelain ceramic tiles and mother of pearl and based on the original oil paintings of Bavarian Redemptorist Brother Max Schmalzl; and (iv) three significant organs, including the historic Matthias Schwab tracker organ built in 1859 and moved to the Cathedral in 1970 when the nearby St. Joseph Church was razed and the Wicks pipe organ in the south transept (circa 1930);

WHEREAS, the Madison Avenue façade of the Cathedral Basilica was added between 1908 and 1910 and construction terminated in 1915, with two 52’ towers remaining unbuilt;

WHEREAS, the façade features additional artwork, including the following: (i) a stunning bas relief over the central tympanum sculpted by Clement Barnhorn, depicting the Assumption of Mary; and (ii) statues of saints and additional bas reliefs added to the remaining two tympana in 2020;

WHEREAS, the Covington Latin High School is located immediately to the north of the Cathedral at 21 East 11th Street and offers an accelerated and challenging high school experience resulting in exceptional academic success for its graduates;

WHEREAS, the Covington Latin School building was dedicated on December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor Day), and its expansion was dedicated on December 7, 2011;

WHEREAS, the Covington Latin School has prepared many of the professional, legal, medical, judicial and governmental leaders in Northern Kentucky;

WHEREAS, the former St. Mary’s Elementary School was housed in the “Cathedral Lyceum” building, which was dedicated in 1954 and located at 1125 Madison Avenue;

WHEREAS, the Most Reverend Roger J. Foys, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese, moved the pastoral and administrative offices of the Diocese (the “Curia”) from Erlanger to the former St. Elizabeth North building, located on 21st Street, in 2005;

WHEREAS, in 2012 the Diocese undertook to preserve the Cathedral Lyceum building as it constructed modern offices attached to the Cathedral Lyceum building in the same way that the original Covington Latin School building was preserved in concert with a modern addition to the facility;

WHEREAS, the renovated Cathedral Lyceum building was dedicated on November 15, 2014, and the Curia was relocated from the St. Elizabeth North building to the new Curia headquarters of the Diocese, ensuring that the Curia will be located in the See City of Covington for many decades to come;

WHEREAS, the Diocese renovated the former bank building at the corner of 11th Street and Madison Avenue in order to provide massing on that street corner in an architectural style that complements the addition to the Cathedral Lyceum building;

WHEREAS, the Cathedral parish offices moved into the renovated bank building in November 2014;

WHEREAS, Bishop Foys oversaw the construction of St. Mary’s Park at the corner of 12th Street and Madison Avenue. St. Mary’s Park features a striking bronze statue of Mary and Jesus, which was sculpted by David Frech of Beacon, New York;

WHEREAS, St. Mary’s Park was dedicated on October 29, 2016;

WHEREAS, St. Mary’s Park is open to the public during daytime hours and serves as Northern Kentucky’s “Fountain Square”;

WHEREAS, the foregoing structures form a natural district that is worthy of distinction.

NOW, THEREFORE, it is hereby ordered that the two-block area bounded by Scott Street on the east, 11th Street on the north, railroad tracks on the west, and 12th Street on the south is hereby designated as “Cathedral Square” as a means to celebrate the significance of the structures located within that area of Covington.

Travel bans and leaky walls: Retiring amid an unexpected crisis

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

If you’re like most people, you have post-retirement plans to travel, volunteer and finally accomplish some of the things for which you’ve never had time. Divine Providence Sister Fidelis Tracy was no different, only the timing and times changed some of those plans: she retired in 2020 amid a pandemic.

After 60 years of professed life as a sister and equally as long teaching, Sister Fidelis decided in May that it was time to say farewell to Thomas More University and her professional life. She currently lives in Covington with some fellow sisters from the Congregation of Divine Providence. One is still working, and the other two are also retired.

Sister Fidelis explained that for priests and religious who retire, “I think there’s an expectation that they continue to be involved in some kind of ministry, in some kind of service. Most everybody does that kind of thing.”

However, it’s been difficult to get involved in anything new because of the pandemic. “It’s a weird time to begin retirement in terms of involvement,” she laughed. Sister Fidelis had plans to travel and visit long-time friends from out of state, and also hoped to volunteer for some new social services.

“I’ve been involved in academia all my life, and I’ve never been involved in social service kinds of things, maybe helping out in some offices or … trying to prevent human trafficking, that would be an interest of mine,” she said. “There are a lot of social services here in Covington, like the Parish Kitchen, where I could probably get some kind of involvement, but I know we can’t go anywhere so I haven’t started yet.”

After her initial plans were thwarted due to travel restrictions, and many volunteering opportunities have remained shut down, she’s found ways to stay occupied. She started off with a project on her basement.

“Our basement is leaky, it has moisture coming in, so I decided I was going to put some sealant on the walls in one section. But I didn’t realize how big of a project that was — I took a long time re-sealing the basement. It needed to be done and I couldn’t do anything else, so I did that.”

Her day-to-day routines have changed since May, and she’s pleased with having leisurely mornings. “Not having to rush off to school (is new),” she said. “I’ve really been able to spend more time with prayer and reflection in the mornings and that’s been really good. I’ve read a few novels, which I really love to read, and I haven’t had much time to do much but professional reading.”

Sister Fidelis started out her professed life as a high school math and science teacher, then transitioned into teaching theology and serving as a campus minister at Thomas More University.

The unstructured nature of her time, she said, has been both excellent and a challenge in terms of pushing herself to make a list and do those things. “I think the lack of pressure has been really good for me. … One of the things about retirement is you’re used to having to do stuff. As a teacher, every day you know you have to do preparation, you have to correct papers, it’s all scheduled. But once you get unscheduled time, it’s kind of hard to make yourself do the things you need to do. Because you don’t have to! So it’s taken me a while to kind of adjust.”

She’s taken up writing, a long-time goal of hers, to work on some essays she wants to make into a collection. She also has collected materials in hopes of leading workshops in parishes on theology and Scripture, though all such events are currently cancelled. Weekend retreats and reflection days are on the bucket list as well, and she has hopes for such things post-pandemic.

One activity she has been able to pursue with active results is working on reflections and recordings for virtual meetings with her community. She and a fellow sister are working on a virtual “Come and See” retreat, so she enjoys being involved in the planning.

“A lot of it involves virtual meetings, and I’m not real keen on those, but at least it gives the opportunity to continue some of the ministries,” she said.

Sister Fidelis greatly misses the Thomas More community, where she taught for 16 years, and has come to appreciate it all the more, now that she’s not on campus. She imagined going to plays, gallery openings, poetry readings and athletic events to stay in touch with faculty and students. Unfortunately, none of that is happening in 2020.

“Now that I’m not teaching, I really am more aware of how much I craved the relationship with both faculty and students, the presence of the people, the interactions, the social aspect … they were very rewarding. I think an appreciation for what ministry involves in terms of relationship is something I’ve been aware of,” she said.

She’s savoring the community at home, however, like most people this year. “It’s wonderful to be in community. To share the things that are going on … It’s a big house so there’s a lot of upkeep … and trying to help each other with different things, cooking for each other.”

Overall, Sister Fidelis knows her experience “is rather untypical of what retirement means,” but is grateful for the changes this year has brought, while looking forward to a time when she can pursue more of her goals for service to the local community.

The Retirement for Religious Fund Collection supports retired priests and religious like Sister Fidelis Tracy, who have served the Church with their whole lives. The collection will take place Dec. 12-13 during Mass at parishes in the Diocese of Covington.