As students are settling in on the Queens campus, the University’s religious organizations have begun opening their doors for prayer and worship. While they were forced to turn to virtual events following the unexpected closing of the University on March 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizations have since transitioned to a combination of virtual and in-person events.
On Sunday, Aug. 23, the day before the start of classes, St. Thomas More Church reopened. In preparation, Campus Ministry was required to follow the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Health and Safety Protocols. Health and safety signs have been placed throughout the church and church offices. For sanitization measures church restrooms are cleaned three times per day, the church pews and other high-touch areas within the building are cleaned after each Mass and the church is completely sanitized at night.
“Although we cannot offer our usual hospitality events in the Fr. Daly Conference room in the church nor funerals, weddings or baptisms at this time, we know that people understand this is a time for all of us to look out for the safety of each other,” Dennis Gallagher, director of Liturgy and Faith Formation, said in an email interview with the Torch.
As is the case for many other places across campus, church hours have drastically changed. The church closes daily during the week at 4:30 p.m., with private prayer available from 2 p.m. to close. The pews will be cleaned after each person leaves from private prayer. Daily Mass still occurs during the week at 8 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. On Sundays, the church is open only for Student Mass, which occur at 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Those who attend Mass must stay six-feet apart as part of social distancing protocols and wear a mask. The church is only operating at 25% capacity, meaning it can only accommodate a maximum of 92 attendees at a time, with hand sanitizer available for those entering and exiting the church. The pews are marked with stickers to indicate where sitting is safe and the kneelers are covered with “No Kneeling” signs.
Inside the church, plexiglass has been installed around the piano and the lectern. Only a student cantor and musician Norm Gouin, the campus minister for Music Ministry & Faith Formation, can sing at Mass and there will be no entrance processional, recessional or physical sign of peace during Mass (shaking the hands of fellow church attendees).
Though campus ministers cannot all be in their offices at once, whether they be in St. Thomas More Church or the buildings across campus, each campus minister is in their office one day a week, so there is always someone present to assist students. Gallagher recommended that students request appointments virtually as a safe alternative.
The Muslim Students Assocation (MSA) and Jewish Students Association (JSA) are also following health and safety protocols for students. Much like Campus Ministry, they have been restricted on the types of events they can hold. Services and events for JSA and MSA are suspended until further notice. Their prayer rooms, the Muslim Prayer Room located at Marillac 312A and 312B, and the Jewish Prayer Room located at Tobin G07, are open for the use of prayer sessions only. According to Gallagher, cleaning during the day is the responsibility of the organizations, while facilities will support sanitizing in the evenings.
“Although things may be a bit different we look forward to working with you all to emphasize an entertaining, educational, and safe environment,” emphasizing the need for safety for the semester, MSA wrote on their Instagram.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented its fair share of challenges to student life at St. John’s, religious organizations on campus are attempting to keep spirituality as a pillar that students can depend on to cope with the times.