By now, perhaps you have already heard that, on Tuesday morning, Sacred Heart Catholic School began two weeks of exclusively virtual learning. We were excited to begin the school year with the option of full-time in-person learning in our socially distanced classrooms, and our careful attention to our safety protocols allowed us to continue in-person learning for several months.
As the Thanksgiving weekend came to a conclusion, our principal, Kira Kania, learned that several of our students had tested positive for COVID-19. (It bears mentioning that their parents sought testing based on symptoms which were visible BEFORE the Thanksgiving holiday began.) Based on our circumstances, the Health Department suggested that at least one grade level quarantine completely for two weeks. Several of our teachers were either exposed or needed to take time out of school to be with their quarantined children, so we found ourselves with a very limited number of teachers who could be physically present to teach our students in person. In consultation with Kelly Lazzara, Superintendent of Schools for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Kira made the unpleasant but important decision to temporarily suspend in-person learning.
It was a dubious distinction to be the first Catholic school in the Diocese of Richmond to shift temporarily to exclusively virtual learning, but we're delighted that our arrangements were in place to make the shift relatively painless. By now, our students are used to accessing and submitting their assignments through their Google classrooms. We had already supplied our middle school students with Chromebooks, and not long ago, we received Chromebooks for our elementary students which we purchased through funds made available to us through the CARES Act. This could have been a painful transition, but the efforts by our administrators, teachers, parents, students and technology coordinator Sara Gauldin made it generally smooth.
This is a good reminder for all of us to carefully consider the choices we make about putting ourselves in close contact with others. As we approach our Christmas celebrations, I seriously hope that we won't need to shift to exclusively virtual worship, too. Trends in our region, state and country are not positive, however. There are many easy, nonthreatening sacrifices that each of us can offer to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.
A parishioner recently asked me to revisit the distinction between fear and prudence which I shared in a homily back in Lent. Fear describes an absence of peace, an anxiety that the Lord will not guide things according to His wisdom and love. Clearly, as Christians, we are called to avoid this—Jesus says “Be not afraid!” more than any other particular phrase in the Gospels. The cardinal virtue of prudence is defined by the Catechism as “the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.” (#1806) That same paragraph offers a more concise definition (“right reason in action,” per St. Thomas Aquinas) and a reminder that prudence shouldn't be confused with timidity or fear. As Christians, we recognize that one of our ultimate priorities is authentic love of neighbor, and certainly taking reasonable steps to keep them safe from a deadly infectious disease is a way to express that love. So, while we shouldn't live in fear of the coronavirus, each of us is called to make prudent decisions in our daily activities in response to its reality.