Diocese responds to COVID-19

Laura Keener, Editor.

Last week, information and recommendations concerning COVID-19 (coronavirus) have been changing and spreading, it seems, as quickly as the pandemic itself. Governor Andy Beshear is taking a dynamic approach to stop the spread of the disease, which, as of this writing, has claimed the life of one Kentuckian who died, the governor said March 16, from complications of the illness due to several underlying medical conditions.

Here is a timeline (from latest to earliest) of instructions issued and actions taken by Bishop Roger Foys, and other diocesan leaders, in efforts to protect the faithful of the Diocese of Covington. It is important to note that diocesan staff is continually monitoring the changing conditions and updates are frequently made. For the latest diocesan communications, click here.

On Friday, March 13, Bishop Foys instructs that, effective immediately, any nonessential meetings, events or gatherings scheduled to be held from now through April 3 at any parishes, Catholic schools, diocesan offices, religious houses and other diocesan institutions are to be postponed or canceled.

This action, he said, is being made “In the interest of the health and safety of our faithful and to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

That instruction was part of a document that includes preventative measures and operational responses for parishes, schools and the Curia that were developed and recommended to Bishop Foys by the newly created Coronavirus Task Force.

The 16-member task force, operating under the direction of Father Ryan Maher, vicar general, includes three pastors, Curia directors and the directors of St. Anne Retreat Center and Catholic Charities, Diocese of Covington. The report was sent via e-mail to all members of the Curia and to all priests, deacons, principals and religious houses of the diocese and includes information on what parishes, schools and Curia personnel could expect in the event of closing as well as preventative measures to be taken.

“In light of the coronavirus situation in the Commonwealth and the Governor declaring a state of emergency, it is necessary for us to be prepared with a plan of action,” Bishop Foys instructed the task force via e-mail.

On Thursday, March 12, at 6:30 p.m., Michael Clines, superintendent of Catholic schools, sent a letter to principals announcing that Catholic schools will cease in-person instruction beginning Monday, March 16 through March 27. Additionally, all school extracurricular activities are suspended through March 27.

Earlier that day, Mr. Clines had sent a letter to parents urging them to prepare for extended school closures and encouraging them during this time of uncertainty.

“Our Catholic schools are such wonderful places to grow spiritually, educationally, emotionally, physically and socially,” Mr. Clines wrote. “It is at times like this that the foundation of our Catholic faith … will provide us with the wisdom and courage to meet any challenge.”

On Wednesday, March 11, Bishop Foys and the other three bishops of Kentucky, respond to Governor Beshear’s recommendation to cancel worship services. Noting the liturgical guidelines that were put in place earlier in the month, the four bishops, based on the information they had at the time, did not call for diocesan-wide cancellation of Masses.

“The Sunday celebration of the Eucharist is at the center of the life of the Church. Perhaps especially in difficult times, liturgical gatherings are a source of comfort and hope for the faithful, as well as an opportunity to offer our prayers to God for those who are suffering or who cannot be with us,” the response read.

The bishops reiterate — and implore pastors to remind the faithful — that anyone who is ill, has symptoms or has an underlying health condition are not obligated to attend Sunday Mass.

Bishop Foys’ first communication to priests, deacons, religious houses and diocesan institutions (including the NKU Catholic Newman Club and Thomas More University) detailed guidelines for celebrating the Mass and liturgies.

These guidelines include refraining from the use of holy water fonts, distribution of holy Communion from the chalice, reception of holy Communion on the tongue and physical contact at the sign of peace. It also instructs that priests, deacons, altar servers and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion must use an alcohol-based anti-bacterial solution before and after distributing holy Communion.

This first communication also reminds priests to encourage the faithful who are sick or who are experiencing symptoms to stay home; they are not obliged to attend Mass, that the Catechism of the Catholic Church #2181 allows for serious reasons such as illness.

Additionally, on March 12, President Joe Chillo, Thomas More University, sent a message to University and community members advising that he was extending spring break for most students through Sunday, March 22. After the break, the university would shift to remote learning using Canvass for all classes beginning Monday, March 23. Classes that are already online and for 8-week courses that began on Monday, March 16, will continue as scheduled and will be exclusively online. All University sponsored events are canceled through April 13. Mass will continue as scheduled but will be limited to no more than 75 guests.

“As we address how best to handle this situation, our main priority is to protect the well-being of our students, faculty, staff and the community,” President Chillo wrote. “Thomas More University is committed to finishing the spring semester and providing our students the academic instruction necessary to fulfill their degree requirements.”

And, on Sunday, March 15, in an e-mail to members, Donna Heim, campus minister, NKU Newman Club said that there are to be no meetings or gatherings (or hanging out) in the Newman Center for at least the next two weeks. This is in response to Bishop Foys’ and NKU’s instruction to cancel such meetings and gatherings.

“Blessings come from obedience,” wrote Mrs. Heim. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder and hopefully resolves the coronavirus quickly. Hope you make the best of this Lenten sacrifice.”

For all of these communications and any updates, which can happen quickly, visit the Public Health Concerns page.


Catholic schools to adopt non-traditional instruction

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

As concerns about COVID-19 continue to rise, Governor Andy Beshear mandated, March 13, that public and private schools in the state of Kentucky close for two weeks, effective March 16.

In cooperation with the directive, Michael Clines, superintendent of Catholic schools, issued a statement March 13: “Catholic schools will cease in-person instruction beginning Monday, March 16 through March 27.” All school extracurricular activities will also be suspended through March 27.

Education will continue during this time by at-home instruction, which is to be determined individually by schools according to resources and locale.

According to Mr. Clines, this Non-Traditional Instructional approach will employ both digital and printed materials, and students are expected to complete their tasks for academic credit in the same way as if they were physically present at school.

Students at most schools are receiving a daily e-mail with the day’s work, which includes lessons from paper packets they receive weekly from the school as well as online classes using Google Classroom, Schoology, ExploreMore! Gifted and other resources. These sites include a multitude of resources for students and their parents to foster continual learning while physical schools are closed.

Each school determines what its students need based on available resources. St. Joseph School, Cold Spring, for example, has e-mailed a recommended daily schedule from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., including how much time should be allotted for studying, breaks and exercise. This works in accordance with the number of subjects St. Joseph students are currently taking and how much time they should dedicate to each.

During normal school hours, teachers will be online to correspond with students and answer questions by means of e-mail. Most teachers are working from home rather than in school buildings.

Mr. Clines said that the School Lunch Program offered by the diocese will not be any serving lunches from March 16–20. Mr. Clines and his staff will reevaluate as the situation progresses and make a determination on a week-by-week basis.

“I hope you can respect our efforts and decisions as we strive to provide the best non-traditional learning experience for your child during this very trying time for our region, country and world,” said Mr. Clines to parents.