Above: Rev. Jerry Hayes, S.J., director of Ignatian Programs, Rev. Mark Bosco, S.J., vice president for Mission & Ministry, and Julia Farr (C’88 and Parent’19, ’21, ’24), executive director of the alumni association, shared a socially distanced but still meaningful walk and conversation in September.
Since I became executive director of the Alumni Association two years ago, I’ve been committed to discovering and showcasing alumni stories in ways that are personal, creative, and bespoke. With more than 200,000 alumni across the globe, the stories are endless, but I want to shine a light on as many as possible, including through the new 1789 Seconds series.
I love sharing the core Georgetown story, so in September, I donned a face mask to talk with two campus ministry leaders about how faith has been guiding them in this unprecedented year.
As I walked down 36th Street socially distanced from my campus colleagues and friends Mark Bosco, S.J., and Jerry Hayes, S.J., the noon bells of Healy Hall rang. I remarked that listening to the daily extended bells at noon and 6 p.m. is my favorite part of living right outside Healy Gates. Father Bosco quickly responded, “the Angelus bells? In Medieval times it was the devotion prayed in memory of the Annunciation; and the bell tolled in the morning, at noon, and in the evening as a call to prayer.” The idea of a community call to prayer was the perfect start to our conversation about their faith experience during COVID-19, a conversation that took place on what happened to be the 480th birthday of the Society of Jesus.
Within 48 hours of our campus closing last March, Dahlgren Chapel opened its doors with just a Jesuit priest, lector, and videographer to celebrate its first virtual Mass. In the face of all the uncertainties, Hoyas around the world were invited to community, to prayer, and to a new way of attending a ritual that now is the way—eight months later—we do things. Every Sunday, the virtual Mass, available to watch on Facebook Live or later, draws several thousand views.
I asked Father Bosco and Father Hayes to speak with me about life on campus since we suddenly went remote and how this global crisis has changed their outlook, impacted their mission, and influenced their prayer life.
How did you view and experience life during the pandemic in its earliest months and how do you think about it and experience it now?
Hayes: When COVID-19 first started, I was living in a state of “what next?” We started to realize all that we had to let go of—the spring break service trips, students returning to classes to finish the semester, and graduation. Then I started asking, “What can we do?” The reality of what we were facing crept into my awareness slowly. I then realized the question I needed to be asking was, “Where we can find hope?” I have been trying to see a way to bring community to people who are hurting. Much of my role is focused on engaging our community of faculty and staff, and that has required me to be a little more creative in these times.
Bosco: When we discovered we were in the throes of a pandemic, we quickly pivoted to a focus on spiritual continuity for our Georgetown community. We had a sense of adventure in this experience—to extend the faith experience on campus into our student’s homes. We lived with the expectation that we would be back together in the fall, but we spent the summer developing Mission & Ministry in a way that could be adapted to whatever hybrid situation we might encounter. At the end of the summer, when most of our students didn’t return to campus, it hit me again—this is going on and on. I didn’t feel the same sense of adventure the second time around. I contemplated words like “endurance” and “hope,” and started asking questions like how do we support each other? How do we respect that we are fatigued by Zoom and our virtual liturgies and yet leverage our tools in the name of that spiritual continuity?
What I’m feeling now is a sense of waiting and expectation. I ground myself in our Ignatian Spirituality that this is where we are supposed to be. And as I feel the anxiety of everyone around me, I ask, “How can I be an anchor for others?”
While having such a small community still here on campus has been challenging for me, in some ways, the pandemic has made connections even easier and more prolific. In my one-on-one conversations with students, I am able to see them in their homes, zooming in from places like France, Mexico, and Colorado, meeting them literally where they are—a very Jesuit principle in practice.
Tell me about the role of prayer for you during the pandemic.
Hayes: The Ignatian examen prayer is all about finding the face of God in the people we encounter. And now we are called to look for the face of God on our Zoom calls and we look for the face of God above the mask.
Bosco: I pray the rosary in the morning. I dedicate a decade to our university administrators, especially President DeGioia, who has the responsibility of leading us during this crisis. And I dedicate a decade to our students. I pray for our community. I pray for hope, strength, and endurance for all of us.
Where are you finding God in these challenging times?
Hayes: The original name of the order of the Society of Jesus was the Compania de Jesus, translating to Friends in the Lord. I have found that one of the best things we can do as a Society is to come together in the breaking of the bread. I think I speak for Mark and myself when I say that we have found God in the discovery of deeper friendships—with both the Lord and within the brotherhood of the Jesuit community.
Bosco: It is key for Jesuits to find God in all things. We find God in the anxiety of this pandemic; we find God in the small acts of kindness toward one another. These are the moments when we sense the revelation of God. St. Ignatius says that God will be found in the light and in the dark places; in the places where we are broken.
As our conversation concludes, I am reminded of the call of the Angelus bells that will be tolling again in just a few hours: a community call to prayer and an unwavering reminder of our Jesuit values ringing out on the Hilltop. A call to find God in all things… even—and most especially—amid these challenging times. But the bells will also have new meaning to me after my conversation with Father Bosco and Father Hayes—their constancy calls us to endure and, perhaps above all, they call us to hope.
Mark Bosco, S.J., is vice president for Mission & Ministry, and joined Georgetown in 2017. He also is a lecturer in the English department and is co-director and producer of the award-winning documentary feature film, Flannery, about the life of Catholic author Flannery O’Connor.
A member of the Georgetown community since 2016, Jerry Hayes, S.J., is director of Ignatian Programs. He provides spiritual direction and leads retreats that engage participants in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.