April 8, 2020 - The Bellarmine House community is a house of formation for Jesuits in First Studies at Saint Louis University. For these men, college coursework is their full-time assignment. With Saint Louis University (SLU) restricted to online classes only, the rhythm of life has changed for these scholastics and brothers, as it has for the rest of the country. Melvin Rayappa, SJ, offers this glimpse of life at Bellarmine House in the days of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Like the rest of the world and our global Society, the recent pandemic has altered the everyday lives of the men in formation at Bellarmine House in St. Louis. Our academic, ministerial, community, and even our prayer lives, have been impacted.
Not just by the recommendations of health experts, but under holy obedience to our superior, we are practicing social distancing, frequent hand washing and thorough cleaning in our house. Even before it was state mandated, we had been following a stay-at-home order.
While we are more cautious to keep our distance, we are not socially isolated, because so many of us live together. Common areas are now more frequently populated so guys can get out of their rooms and interact. Movie nights and communal TV watching have increased, all with appropriate distancing in place.
School has moved to online learning. Scholastics who are in the same class will often "Zoom" into the video conference together. Jesuits are also more likely to be paired with each other for discussion sessions.
We are no longer able to attend our apostolate sites. In the absence of ministry, we are more conscious of practicing fraternal charity. We are also trying to find creative ways to accompany from afar those affected by the crisis. Just last week, several of us joined with other SLU students in a virtual praying of the Rosary, hosted by SLU campus ministry. Others are remotely guiding students through weekly examens. During these times of diaspora, we are finding innovative ways to fosters SLU's strong spirit of community.
In many ways, our current lives have begun to resemble our lives as novices. We physically see each other more often and spend more time in-house with our Jesuit brothers. We cook for each other and are more attentive to cleaning. While we are still busy with schoolwork, our revised academic schedule allows for a more fluid restructuring of our time.
Several opportunities for optional communal prayer have emerged. In our house chapel, the Liturgy of the Hours is prayed five times daily. There is a holy hour every weekday. With the cancellation of public Masses, every single day, all of us at Bellarmine House celebrate the Eucharist together. Almost everyone attends the daily community dinner as well.
Staying in, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, more frequent cooking for the community, more detailed cleaning and care for the house, and greater attendance at the house liturgy has increased the "monastic feeling" of the house. While these are challenging times, we are growing closer as a community and we are especially thankful for the gift of daily Mass.
~ Melvin Rayappa, SJ