All-schools Mass and community Christmas tree to connect students spiritually

Laura Keener, Editor.

The safety protocols necessitated to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 are challenging families, schools and churches to find new and safe ways to carry on not just daily activities but also celebrate holidays this year. This Christmas will be no different. While abandoning established traditions can be disappointing, sometimes the challenge begins what is hoped will become a new tradition. Such is the case this Advent as Bishop Roger Foys contemplated how to connect with students in preparation for the celebration of Christmas.

This year, every student in the diocese will be invited to participate virtually as Bishop Foys celebrates Mass Monday, Dec. 14 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption. This will be the first time during his episcopacy where every student will have the opportunity to participate at a single Mass. There is no facility in the Northern Kentucky that could accommodate the diocese’s 8,500 students along with the sacred space necessary for Mass. And while there is no replacing in-person celebration of the Mass and receiving the Eucharist, a virtual Mass with spiritual Communion does offer its own graces.

Additionally, passersby of St. Mary’s Park, Covington, may have noticed the most recent addition of 20-foot Christmas tree. The tree was erected and lighted Saturday, Dec. 5 and now stands waiting for decorations. Bishop Foys is inviting every student in the diocese to create an ornament suitable for the outdoors to be placed on the St. Mary’s Park Christmas tree.

Bishop Foys will bless and dedicate the Christmas tree during a live-streamed event Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 11 a.m. Covington Mayor Joseph Meyer and Kendra McGuire, superintendent of Schools, will join in the virtual community event.

“These are ways of bringing our Catholic School community together during these challenging times when our students are not able to be together in their respective schools,” said Bishop Foys.

Through virtual Seminary Ball, Bishop Foys and seminarians express gratitude for support

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

The virtual Seminary Ball, this year’s slightly different approach to the annual gala, premiered Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. Participants and sponsors streamed it online from their homes through the Diocese of Covington website, accompanied by gift boxes containing keepsakes such as wine glasses, T-shirts, icons, coasters and medals of St. Charles Borromeo.

The annual event, last year drawing over 560 people, usually takes place at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center. This year, due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it was held virtually with access granted to those who purchased advance tickets. Though the total number of registrants was lower than in past years, the total gross amount raised was $81,585 — significantly more than in the past. All funds go to the Seminarian Education Fund, which provides the support necessary for the formation of the Diocese of Covington’s eleven seminarians.

The video featured a message from Bishop Roger Foys, accompanied by footage of the Rite of Ordination. Bishop Foys said, “I am here to thank all of you for your support … The priesthood, as you know, is essential. It is the life of the Church, the life of our diocese. … I ask you to continue your prayers for them as they discern God’s will in their life. Now, more than ever, the Church is need of good priests, holy priests, well-formed and well-educated priests. The generosity of the people in our diocese enables us to provide priests who are indeed good and holy, well-educated and well-formed.”

Viewers also saw personal messages from each of the seminarians about their experience receiving the call to and preparing for the priesthood, and a heartfelt thank you for the monetary and spiritual support.

Deacon Joseph Rielage, in his final year at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, expressed a special message as well. “Thank you so much to the people of the Diocese of Covington on behalf of myself and the seminarians,” he said. “This coming spring, I will be ordained a priest of the Diocese of Covington, and that brings so much joy and gladness to my heart, so that I can be a shepherd. I can help guard and protect you, the people of the Diocese of Covington, and to walk along your journeys with you, the good times and the bad, and to bring Christ to you and to let you know that Christ is with you at all times.”

In the week before the ball, members of the Office of Stewardship and Mission hand-delivered gift boxes to registrants. Mike Murray, director, said this was important so that guests could use their wine glasses to participate in a toast led by Father Daniel Schomaker, vicar general and assistant director of seminarians, ending the Ball.

Mr. Murray said he’s already heard from many people about how much they enjoyed the event. “I would say the video was incredibly well-received,” he said. “People really enjoyed viewing the video on Sunday night, and I had a lot of strong compliments; it was a very well-drafted and well-received video about our seminarians.”

About the virtual event, Bishop Foys said, “I am so grateful to everyone who made the Virtual Seminary Ball such a positive experience. During these difficult days of COVID-19 we need uplifting events and experiences to remind us that all is not lost and that this pandemic will indeed pass. In the meantime, we do what is necessary on our part to stay healthy and safe and to ensure the same for all those around us. We’ve had to learn to do things differently but this does not dampen our enthusiasm for those things in life that are really important and that really matter.”

St. Vincent de Paul coat drive will continue, will be drop-off and pick up only

Messenger Staff Report

For the 20th year, St. Vincent de Paul will brighten the winter cold with its annual coat drive. With the help of WLWT, Warm98 and Gold Star Chili, St. Vincent de Paul began collecting coats in early October and will continue collecting coats through the end of January.

A family is all smiles after receiving coats, hats and gloves at the St. Vincent de Paul Store. Donated coats will be distributed through the Society’s network of stores through the end of February. To donate a coat, visit svdpnky.org for a list of drop-off points.

This year, coat collection sites are limited to drop-offs at St. Vincent de Paul stores throughout Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. In Northern Kentucky, select community fire departments and local businesses — Arlinghaus Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning and Payroll Partners — have also joined the effort. A list of drop-off points can be found at svdpnky.org. Monetary donations are also appreciated to supplement material donations and can be made on the Gold Star and St. Vincent de Paul websites.

Additionally, Scarf It Up For Those In Need has donated hats, gloves and scarves again this year. Thanks to the generosity of the local community, St. Vincent de Paul Northern Kentucky distributed 2,000 donated coats to children and adults during distribution days last winter. This year’s goal is to distribute 2,200 in Northern Kentucky communities.

Typically, St. Vincent de Paul would host several events to distribute the coats. This year, due to the pandemic, individuals in need of a coat can contact the St. Vincent de Paul helpline at (859) 341-3219 to request a voucher to redeem for a coat in the Erlanger, Florence or Falmouth locations. Coats will be distributed through the network of stores through the end of February.

St. Vincent de Paul NKY is being joined by the Northern Kentucky Safety Net Alliance to provide more places to donate and to distribute to those in need. The Safety Net Alliance is expanding collection efforts to also include blankets, Hot Hands, gloves, scarves and hats to ensure that those who cannot make it to a store, such as the homeless, will be able to get the warm gear they need to be safe and healthy this winter.

Eucharist books coming to parishioners’ mailboxes for Advent

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

Parishioners of the Diocese of Covington can expect an Advent gift from Bishop Foys — and it might look a little familiar. In conjunction with the Messenger and the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization, Bishop Roger Foys is sending families in the diocese each a bound copy of the previously run series, “The Eucharist: The Source and Summit.”

The series of 16 articles has recently been published during fall 2020 in a five-part series. Its origins, however, date back several more years.

According to Dave Cooley, co-director, Office of Catechesis and Evangelization, the Eucharist series began with a request from the Office of Worship around 2015 or 2016. “It was an initiative of the office to increase Eucharistic amazement in the Diocese,” he said, especially regarding Eucharistic adoration. What resulted was 13 articles, published in the Messenger once a month, spread out over a year.

This year, since the COVID-19 pandemic has limited Mass attendance and public gatherings since March, Bishop Foys became concerned that the people of the Diocese of Covington needed more support in their homes.

“The Eucharist is, as Vatican II makes clear, ‘the source and the summit of our lives as Christians,’” said Bishop Foys. “There is nothing that can replace the Eucharist. And there’s nothing that can genuinely replace God’s people coming together in community to celebrate the Eucharist. But during these days when so many people are still not able to come to Mass because of their age or existing health conditions, we wanted to provide them with something that they could use during this time, although this is something that can be used at any time, and will serve its purpose for decades to come.”

Bishop Foys decided to re-publish the series in the Messenger, in a five-part series, in hopes of enkindling that Eucharistic love once again. Then, he decided to publish the book for every family in the diocese as an Advent gift at the end of a long year.

“It became clear to me that we already had a wealth of meditations on the Eucharist that had been written over the years, some in our Messenger, some in parishes, and it seemed to me, rather than writing one pastoral letter, to gather all of these meditations together and to present them to our people for their own reflection, especially during Advent.”

What’s wonderful about the book, said Bishop Foys, is that it touches on so many aspects of the Eucharist. “No pastoral letter that I could have written would have covered as much ground as these individual meditations. I also wanted to send it to God’s people, to every household in the diocese, to give them a broader view of the Eucharist and what it means to us. Different meditations will appeal to different people — some will find one or another more beneficial — that’s the beauty of having a compilation of meditations instead of just one pastoral letter from one person’s point of view.”

“I think this book we’ve put together is so cool because of all those different aspects of the Eucharist that it looks at, and it’s just scratching the surface of each of these focuses,” said Mr. Cooley. “This kind of whets your appetite, then you can go and look more into that — it’s a great introduction to all these ways of thinking about the Eucharist.”

Bishop Foys also hopes to combat a growing trend of many professed Catholics who don’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. “This is a way of helping them to come once again to embrace the Real Presence: that the Body and Blood of Christ is really and truly present in the Eucharist,” he said. “Christ is also present within the community because Christ lives within each of us, and when Jesus gave us the sacrament of the Eucharist, he gave us that in the context of a community of believers, with his disciples. And he said, when you do this, do this in memory of me, so every time the community gathers for the Eucharist, it is gathering as and with the body of Christ.”

The book features the 16 articles, illustrations from artist Matthew Alderman, study questions and thoughts from the faithful around the diocese about the significance of the Eucharist in their lives.

“It’s a gift from all of those who wrote these meditations and it’s a gift from me, to put this together so that people can have it readily available,” said Bishop Foys. “It’s something that is not meant to be read and then tossed aside — it serves as an ongoing meditation on every aspect of the Eucharist that these (articles) cover. … It’s something I can see parents using with their children; parents and children are spending a lot more time at home, with this pandemic, and so families can use it together.”

“The point of it is to realize what a blessing and a gift the Eucharist is,” said Mr. Cooley. “No matter what happens in the world and what’s taken from us. At the very least, we have our faith and we have the Eucharist.”

After reversed ruling, schools to continue remote learning due to executive order

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

Schools in the Diocese of Covington are continuing with Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) after a Thanksgiving weekend surrounded with changes in COVID-19 school policies. Despite an injunction giving private Christian schools an exception from Governor Andy Beshear’s executive order, the Sixth Circuit Court prevented the Diocese of Covington from returning students to in-person instruction any earlier than Dec. 7.

After the executive order from Governor Beshear, Nov. 18, ordering the cessation of in-person instruction beginning Nov. 23, diocesan schools spent the weekend preparing for a complete transition to NTI. According to the order, elementary schools may return to in-person instruction Dec. 7, provided their schools are not in Red Zone counties, while middle and high schools may resume in-person instruction Jan. 4, 2021. The only county not currently identified as red in the diocese is Owen County.

The schools received hope of returning to the classroom sooner when U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove filed a 22-page order granting a preliminary injunction to 17 private Christian schools that filed a lawsuit against the emergency restriction. Attorney General Daniel Cameron joined the plaintiffs in the suit, and on Nov. 25, the district court granted the motion for preliminary injunctive relief and prohibited the Governor from enforcing the order against any private, religious school in the Commonwealth.

Kendra McGuire, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Covington, sent a letter to parents Nov. 25, saying schools would resume in-person Dec. 2, with after-school extracurricular activities and winter sports suspended until the week of Dec. 14 in an exercise of caution. She clarified that as of Nov. 19, 24 out of 37 schools had zero COVID-19 cases.

“Overall, our data over the last 14 weeks has shown that COVID cases are not originating in our schools and it is not spreading in the school setting when the protocols are followed,” she wrote. “We also found that the quarantine periods for cases and close contacts were effective at mitigating spread. Therefore, despite the rising cases in our counties, we had decided our Catholic schools would remain open and we would continue monitoring each case and school community individually.”

However, over the weekend, Governor Beshear appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court with a request to stay his executive order, making it applicable to all despite the injunction. The Sixth Circuit Court granted Governor Beshear’s request Nov. 29.

Mrs. McGuire followed up with a second letter to parents Nov. 30, explaining that NTI will continue as previously planned. Expressing her sorrow over what the students will miss during the Advent season, she encouraged families to lead their children in the Advent traditions that their schools would have used to help them prepare for Christmas.

“We have just started the Advent season,” Mrs. McGuire said. “During this time our children would have attended Mass, spent time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and had the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Penance. We would have prayed and taught the lessons of Advent as a faith community to help prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christmas. While I know firsthand that NTI adds stress to families, I do hope you will be able to help your child(ren) participate in these Advent traditions.”

Meanwhile, in-person “targeted services,” including school counseling and academic support, may continue.

December 7 remains the target date for reopening elementary schools, but only if counties are no longer in the Red Zone. Middle and high schools will continue using NTI until at least Jan. 4.

This Advent, wait with Mary for the coming of Christ

David Cooley, Messenger Contributor.

The Immaculate Conception is a beautiful solemnity that the Church celebrates each year on December 8. On this day we commemorate the fact that Mary was graced with sinless perfection from the first instant of her existence, in view of the merits of her son Jesus Christ, in light of her predestination to be his Mother. It’s rather fitting that this feast day takes place in the season of Advent, because during that season the mind and heart of the Church are drawing us in to ponder the Blessed Mother.

We first meet Mary not as the Queen of Heaven that she was destined to become, but as a young, meek virgin in the early chapters of the Gospel of Luke. While Scripture doesn’t say it explicitly, it’s fair to assume that she was a very young girl with hopes and dreams of her own. But, one thing we do know for sure is that she was completely devoted to God and her faith was her most prized possession. When it was made clear to her that God’s will was different from her own plans, she doesn’t hesitate. Mary has nothing to offer the Lord but herself; he asks for nothing else, and she holds nothing back.

This year we can all relate to having to let go of our plans. I remember at this time last year, and even earlier, I was making lots of grand plans for 2020. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do at the time. But, of course, looking back now, it’s hard not to laugh a very non-humorous laugh at that. Now, right before the big holiday season, things are getting grim again and even more plans will be falling through. Perhaps we are on the verge of a long, dark winter. In some ways the early sunsets and the frigid air seem more painful this year than ever before.

Yet, this can be a moment of grace for us, too. We must realize that we are not in control and that we are anxiously waiting. We are waiting for this pandemic to be over. We are waiting to hug our family and friends again. We are waiting for the spring of new life. We are waiting for things to just be better. But, most importantly, we are waiting for our Lord. You see, we are not much different than ancient Israel. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that there will be signs, and that God is with us.

Mary was waiting for the Messiah long before the annunciation. But after the angel visited her she actually carried Jesus in her womb for nine months. That’s hard to imagine. Ask any first-time mother what those nine months are like and they’ll tell you it’s nerve-racking. Yes there is excitement, but it’s hindered by anxieties and an almost unbearable anticipation of an uncertain future. You wait and you wait for someone you can’t see but you know is there. And yet this waiting is not idle; there is a lot to be done.

Those nine months for Mary were not idle either. On par with her character, she doesn’t focus on her own needs at all, but goes with haste to the hill country because her elderly cousin is pregnant and might be in need of help. In many ways this symbolizes the idea that while we are all waiting for something great — the kingdom of God — it is, at the same time, already here.

For us, Advent is a season of contemplation, humility, silence and growth. If we practice these virtues in the way that was shown to us by Our Lady, our experience will be like hers. If Christ is growing in us and we pray without ceasing, we will be at peace because we know that however insignificant our life seems to be, from it Jesus is forming himself. We must align our will with his and go “in haste” to wherever our circumstances compel us. Why? Because that’s where he wants us to be; more to the point, that’s where he wants to be.

The ancient Israelites were God’s people, called to be intimate with God and obedient to his law. Mary, the daughter of Zion — the Immaculate Conception — is the fullest expression of intimacy with the Lord. When we prepare ourselves properly and unite our will with God’s will, we, too, share an intimate union with the Lord — even as we await his coming. Advent is our graced time of preparation. This year, no matter how dark things get or how alone we feel, let us stand firm contemplating the coming of the Lord; let us remain meek and humble; let us search for answers in the silence of prayer; and let the love of Christ grow within us so much so that when we go out into the world others will be stirred by his presence.

Bishop Roger Foys will celebrate Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, at 10 a.m. The Mass will be live-streamed for those viewing at home, and can be found at covcathedral.com.

Grocery giveaways for Thanksgiving

Messenger Staff Report

As in years past, the people of the Diocese of Covington through its parishes, schools and organizations made Thanksgiving special for those who were unable to provide holiday meals for themselves. Mary Rose Mission, Florence; Parish Kitchen, Covington and Rose Garden Mission, Covington were among those who extended their generosity to provide their neighbors with all the trimmings for a Thanksgiving meal.

The Parish Kitchen in Covington, sponsored by Catholic Charities, distributed Thanksgiving groceries, Nov. 23, to those in need of supplies to furnish their Thanksgiving table. Father Michael Grady, parochial vicar, St. Augustine Parish, Covington, blessed the food and supplies at Parish Kitchen prior to distribution to families.

The Franciscan Daughters of Mary and supporters provided a Thanksgiving feast and more to approximately 550 families, Nov. 24. The distribution was held at the Rose Garden Mission, Covington.

DCCH Center celebrates 150 adoptions, reflects on 20 years

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

When the DCCH Center for Children and Families became officially licensed as an adoption agency in 2001, they knew very few of the 150 children who would find forever homes thanks to their help.

Ron Bertsch, director, therapeutic foster care, adoption and independent living, said he started as the only staff person for what was then a residential program in 1999, and finalized the first adoption in 2002. What drove him was the need for permanence for the children.

“We realized a lot of our foster families had children that now were not able to safely go back home, and the families were interested in adopting … that’s what spurred us to go and get our adoption license,” he said. “We want to help see these families and children all the way to the end, not turn the case back over to the state agency.”

The first 100 adoptions were from 2002 to 2018, but the last two years have seen 50 more. Mr. Bertsch said it’s because DCCH has grown and improved.

The DCCH is unique in that the children are older and usually have histories of severe neglect and abuse. The prospect of fostering and eventually adopting through the therapeutic foster care program can be daunting. “It’s not a calling that probably everyone can do, so I think it takes somebody special to answer this ministry call and foster and adopt an older child,” said Mr. Bertsch.

However, said Mr. Bertsch, many families have shared that while it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done, it’s also the most rewarding. “A lot of people have this fear that it’s going to be harder than they can manage and I’m not saying it’s not going to challenge you — it requires sacrifice and extra time and work on your part as a parent, but to know that you helped a child who has had a rough start in life to turn that around.”

He connects foster care and adoption work to the pro-life movement. “To me, it’s not just helping stop an unplanned pregnancy from termination — yes, we want to work to support the birth mother and father in those situations — but also, being pro-life means to help children who have not been aborted who are in our world, who are being abused and neglected and abandoned … just because they’re 10 years old or 15 years old doesn’t mean they don’t need help from our Catholic and pro-life community.”

To celebrate National Adoption Month, the DCCH reaches out and recognizes all of its past adopted children and families. This year, they created a logo with the numbers “150” surrounded by a heart, formed from the first names of all 150 children who have been adopted.

“It’s an emotional moment because to me it marks 150 lives that we’ve had a small part in helping them find permanency, in finding them forever homes,” said Mr. Bertsch. “It’s humbling and yet very inspirational to be able to see that and look back on my career to know that I was part of every one of those kids’ lives during that time. I helped train a lot of the parents, held their hand during the rough journey through that, through the triumphs and stepping stones during the healing process.”

One of the greatest moments from this year, he shared, was getting back in touch with Corey, the very first child that DCCH placed for adoption. “I had lost contact with him in his young adult life, but someone else ran into him and I was able to reach out to him and meet for lunch … To sit down and hear his life story, from 12 years old when I first met him, to now he’s 31. It pulled it all together for me. I was so proud of him and it was so fun to talk to him.”

Most of the children, if they were old enough to remember the DCCH, have kept in touch. They like to reach out and every once in a while Mr. Bertsch gets an update from the family.

Julia and Dakota Geiman, for example, are fostering a 15- and 11-year-old girl and boy. Julia and her siblings were fostered through DCCH and adopted in 2004. Julia knew DCCH was a big part of their life for more than 9 years, and her older sister kept in contact with staff from DCCH into her adult life.

“I knew DCCH, trusted them and had a history with them. It was natural for me to call DCCH to explore becoming a foster/adoptive family,” she said.

Julia and Dakota have found fostering to be very rewarding for them. Julia’s biological siblings are and have always been very close to her. They love that she and Dakota have opened up their home to other children, who like themselves once upon a time needed this kind, generous and loving home life. Even Dakota’s family have embraced the idea and all are very supportive of the new members of their family.

Retired Mike Fury and his wife Peggy Fury adopted Destine, who just turned 18 this year. “We married late in life but wanted to have a child to love. We’re a long, long ways from perfect, but we knew we could offer a child a safe environment, and that might be enough to save a life,” they said. “We would say to approach it not from the perspective of ‘What might happen to us if we adopt,’ but rather from the perspective of ‘What might happen to this child if we don’t?’ It’s not always sunny skies, but it is very rewarding, and we believe it is Kingdom work.”

Mr. Bertsch and the DCCH are always looking to find more foster or adoptive families, mentors and donors.

“Some people think they’re too old, but we love empty nesters in their 40s or 50s — before they get too accustomed to empty nesters, when they still are fresh on raising teenagers, I want those folks to call me,” he said. “They certainly can help by saying a prayer for healing of the children and for more families to step up and answer that call. This is a different type of vocation, but I know there are people who can do it.”

Anyone who is interested in fostering, adopting, mentoring, donating or spreading the word can call the DCCH at 331-2040.

Heartfelt gratitude for support as virtual Seminary Ball premieres

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

The 11th annual Seminary Ball is making history as the first time the event, which funds a significant part of the diocesan seminarians’ education, is taking place virtually. Though making a ball go virtual sounds like a daunting task, the Office of Stewardship has taken it on with enthusiasm.

This year’s event will be a virtual premiere of an exciting video about the Diocese of Covington’s seminarians on Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. Registration is online at covdio.org/seminaryball, and donors have a plethora of options from which to choose. All money goes to Seminarian Education Fund to support education of future priests.

The deadline for the event was initially Nov. 18 but has been extended to Dec. 6 before the release of the video. As a thank you, donors will receive gift boxes full of commemorative keepsake items, hand delivered the week before the event. They can sit back and enjoy the video with some help from the gift box.

Donors can register for simple registration for the event, or include a larger donation: The Ordination Society for $10,000, the Acolyte Society for $5,000, the Candidacy Society for $2,500, a Virtual Table Scholarship for $1,000 or the Friend of Seminary Education Scholarship for up to $1,000. More details about each opportunity can be found on the website.

Mike Murray, director, Office of Stewardship, said, “When it was decided we would go to a virtual event, I was a little hesitant at first that we would be able to pull this off, but everyone has worked together — the generous benefactors from the community, the event committee, the Curia staff — so I’m really excited right now to have this virtual event and get into our benefactors’ hands these wonderful gift boxes.”

The estimated diocesan cost for providing our seminarians with tuition, books, room and board, health insurance, living allowances and retreats for the coming year will amount to more than $56,000 per seminarian. All donations make a significant impact in the lives of the young men in formation.

The Seminary Ball began as the Seminary Guild Ball in 1955, instituted by Bishop William Mulloy as a fundraiser for the Seminary of St. Pius X, Erlanger. Eleven years ago under Bishop Roger Foys, it expanded to fund the education and formation of the seminarians, and the name was changed to the Seminary Ball. Last October, approximately 560 people attended the ball.

In previous years, during the week prior to the collection for the Seminarian Education Fund, the seminarians would speak at various parishes throughout the Diocese. Unfortunately, this year the seminarians will not be available to speak at the parishes to inform or thank the donors for their generosity in the past due to COVID-19. They will, however, be online watching the video at the same time as the guests.

Deacon Joseph Rielage, a fourth-year seminarian at St. Vincent Seminary, Latrobe, Penn., expressed his thanks for the sacrifices that the people of the diocese make on their behalf.

“The people who donate to the ball and the Seminarian Education Fund … it might be challenging for some people financially to do that, but I admire and respect the fact that they’re willing to give their hard-earned money out of love and trust of the people who are in formation,” he said. “I have so much gratitude for the people because without their support, I would not be able to follow the vocation I’ve been called to follow so that I can, in turn, be of service to them … be a shepherd to help guide them along their journey to live the life everyone is called to live. I hope to help them reach their ultimate goal of meeting the Lord someday.”

The seminarians currently studying for the Diocese of Covington at St. Vincent Seminary and the Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, are Michael Elmlinger, Bradley Whittle, John Tarvin, Henry “Hank” Bischoff, Michael Schulte, Joshua “Josh” Heskamp, John Baumann, Justin Schwarz, Deacon Joseph Rielage, Andrew Joseph “A.J.” Gedney and Zacharias Schoen.

Mr. Murray is pleased that the community can still show their support, even from the safety of their homes, and he knows that people will step up like they always do.

“It’s a unique way in these challenging times to support seminarian education, which is the future of our Church,” said Mr. Murray.

For registration or donation, visit covdio.org/seminaryball.

‘Seek God’s grace and wisdom’ as Catholic schools are mandated to transition to virtual learning

Laura Keener, Editor.

With the surge of COVID-19 cases in Kentucky, Governor Andy Beshear announced at his Nov. 18 daily briefing that he had signed an executive order that all Kentucky schools — public and private — transition to virtual learning. High schools and middle schools will need to continue with virtual learning until Jan. 4; elementary schools can return to classrooms after Dec. 7 in counties that are not in the “red zone.” The red zone is the fourth and most critical level of COVID activity in the community, meaning there are more than 25 cases per 100,000 population. On the day the executive order was signed, 112 of Kentucky’s 120 counties were in the red zone.

In the order, Gov. Beshear indicated that: “Kentucky is now experiencing a potentially catastrophic surge in COVID-19 cases, which threatens to overwhelm our healthcare system and cause thousands of preventable deaths.”

The unexpected order gave diocesan educators two school days for the diocese’s nine high schools and 28 elementary schools to transition 8,500 students to at-home instruction. While many local public schools began the school year with virtual learning and in many cases continued with some form of virtual learning, diocesan schools began the school year August 17 with in-person instruction and had sustained in-person learning up through the date of the mandate.

On Monday, Nov. 23, the Messenger interviewed Kendra McGuire, superintendent of Catholic Schools, to find out how schools managed during those 14 weeks of in-person instruction and what students and parents can expect during at-home learning.

How were schools doing during those weeks of in-person instruction?
I think our schools were doing very well with managing their cases. When the mandate came through, we reviewed where our schools were and we had 24 schools who did not have any active COVID cases among students and staff. The majority of our schools were not seeing an issue with COVID positives within their school building. We did see a number of students impacted, but it was mainly from family contacts. At that time we did have four schools that had transitioned to at-home learning due to cases; a larger number of cases either among teachers or because we had a large number of students out due to self-quarantine.

In the instances where the schools did seem to have a lot more COVID activity we took the steps to mitigate the spread, whether that was by class or team quarantines or all the way up to school closure when that was necessary.

How were principals managing the COVID cases at their school?
After 14 weeks, all of the principals had become really good at monitoring their cases and knowing what their school was able to handle. When they needed to take the next step —something beyond just putting a few students in quarantine — they were ready to make that transition when necessary. Their top priority is safety and I think that comes through in all of their decision making. They were onboard for doing what is best for the overall school community and in reviewing individual cases.

What can schools continue to provide?
The schools right now are looking at what they can still provide within the “targeted services” guidance from the Kentucky Department of Education. The targeted services guidance allows students to be brought in for evaluation, necessary hands on experiences, and mental or academic counseling. These may include academic assessments to determine needs, high school lab experiences, or opportunities for students to meet with the school counselors. These services can only be provided individually or in small groups and must be less than two hours daily.

We have a few schools that partner with public schools for speech therapy and if the public school staff is still willing to come in, that service can still be provided. Schools can also bring students in to work with them academically if a student needs extra assistance, whether that’s for remediation or ongoing tutoring.

Pre-schools were not included in the executive order. Since we were not planning to close schools and we were monitoring COVID activity on a school-by-school basis, we decided to keep pre-schools open since they were not impacted by the order and we did not have any ongoing concerns. The pre-schools will continue to be monitored, just like the our K-12 schools, so if we have cases, closures or short term quarantines will still occur when necessary.

Will parents still need to report to their school when their child or someone in the family tests positive for COVID?

The more we can stay on top of cases and what COVID activity is going on in our school communities the better equipped we’ll be when we return to class in January. Anything the parents can do to keep us informed is going to be helpful. According to the CDC there is a certain period of immunity (for someone who has recovered from COVID). For students who do test positive during this time away from school, it would be important to know that because they would be exempt from quarantine when we resume in-person classes. (Documentation showing the positive diagnosis would need to be provided to the principal.)

What does non-traditional instruction or NTI look like in our schools?
NTI will look different at each of the schools in the diocese. One of the challenges that our schools experienced with being fully prepared for NTI was in obtaining Cares Act Funding, which for our schools ended up being very limited or none at all. The schools have taken the steps they could, with the resources available, to prepare for NTI. Many schools at the elementary level were unable to purchase devices for students. For those schools, NTI may look more like a packet and paper-type work which needs to be done each day and teachers check-in with the student. Our high schools are equipped to provide virtual classes all day, just as if the students were in school; students will just tune in online.

What are your recommendations to parents during NTI?
As a parent myself of children first grade through high school, my advice is to be patient both with your child and with your child’s teachers. NTI puts a lot of pressure on families, especially at the younger levels because parents have to have a more involved role in their students education. This can put added stress on the parent/student relationship which in turn can lead to more stress between the school and home. We need to approach this situation with understanding and when there are challenges, that we communicate those in the most understanding and respectful way possible. As Catholics, we should also rely on our faith in these trying times. Starting with prayer and seeking God’s grace and wisdom in our daily activities will help all of us better manage these upcoming weeks.