March 24, 2020
To: Holy Cross Community
Dear Members of the Campus Community,
Here on Mount St. James snow fell yesterday as winter returned momentarily to Worcester. At least, the weather didn’t inconvenience most of our constituencies as almost everyone is off campus. Those remaining include 59 of our students, mostly international, who have all moved into Figge apartments, our Public Safety officers, a small staff of Facilities and Food Service workers, a few Counselors and Health Services nurses, and the Jesuit community. The highways are quiet but not empty, and all elementary and secondary schools are closed in the city. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has issued a “stay at home” advisory and ordered all nonessential businesses to close. Our reality is by no means unusual.
I’m sure that all of us are amazed at how quickly the typical patterns of our lives have changed. Two weeks ago we were welcoming students, faculty and staff back from spring break and by the end of that week, we were sending everyone home. In those final days, as I walked through the residence halls or helped families load their cars, everything seemed unreal. If we were packing up, it should be in anticipation of summer, not the early days of spring. It was sad to see our students tearfully saying good-bye to each other, but also moving to see how much they mean to each other. We were all particularly concerned about our seniors who were so looking forward to their final two months on campus and all the ceremonies and events which lead up to Commencement.
Beyond the unreality of it all, I was impressed with almost everyone’s sense of purpose and rather quick acceptance of our new reality. A relatively small percentage of our students have studied online, and not many faculty have taught online, but as students were preparing to leave, they knew that we are all in this together and that together we would find our way forward. It wouldn’t be the same, of course, but we were all coming to grips with the fact that we are part of a global community under siege, and in order to survive this pandemic, we all have to think and act with our common good first and foremost.
Yesterday, just one week later, Holy Cross classes went online. I am grateful for our hardworking and creative faculty and our Educational Technology and Media Services and ITS professionals who have worked so hard over the past two weeks to facilitate this monumental move. And I am confident that our students will meet this new challenge. That said, please be patient with each other, and with yourselves, as we all work to put this method of teaching and learning into place. There will be glitches, but hopefully we will all learn from them as we get through this transition together.
I am sorry to have to share with the Holy Cross community that unfortunately we will not be able to hold Commencement as planned on May 22nd. However, we will have a graduation ceremony when the pandemic subsides. Obviously, at this time I don’t know when that will be or the specifics of it, but it is vitally important for all of us, students, families, faculty and staff, to celebrate the achievements of the wonderful class of 2020.
Meanwhile, while faculty and students were moving through this transition, our Admission Office sent out letters of acceptance for the class of 2024, and the rest of the College’s staff were shifting to working remotely where possible. I know that this has been difficult for many, and that there are many questions about what this means for those whose work cannot be done remotely to its full extent. One of our main concerns in modifying our operations has been to minimize the impact on the livelihoods of our employees. All of the divisions of the College have been working on creative strategies for providing remote work opportunities.
As a community, we are also committed to working together to assist one another in many other ways. In response to generous offers of support from alumni, parents and friends, we have established a new “Emergency Relief Fund” to support the College’s commitment to providing resources for our students as they transition to remote learning. If you would like to contribute to this fund, you may do so through this online form. In addition to setting up the fund, our Office of Advancement has encouraged our alumni to consider other ways they can help our students, especially seniors, with mentoring, informational interviews and job or internship opportunities. Students can access those resources through the Center for Career Development which is fully operational online. We have been moved by the generous response to date.
Many of you have also asked how you can support the Worcester community during this public health crisis. The United Way of Central Massachusetts has launched the “We Care” fund, a special emergency fund set up to provide immediate assistance to those in our local community hardest hit by COVID-19. Faculty and staff can contribute to this fund through the annual Holy Cross United Way campaign, which will run from March 25 - April 11. We are working to determine additional ways that the College can aid in supporting the Worcester community.
We also recognize that because our students, faculty, staff and alumni are scattered around the globe, we must find new ways to remain connected as a community. For example, the Chaplains have designed a new video resource, “Closing the Distance” which offers spiritual support each Sunday and each day during Holy Week through reflections on the Scriptural readings of the day. Faculty members, class deans, librarians and other academic staff are available online for academic support, advising and mentoring. Student Affairs is creating opportunities to be in virtual community with one another, and the Counseling Center and Health Services remain available. I will be sending additional letters and occasional videos to you, as will other members of the administration.
In the midst of all the uncertainties of our lives and radical changes in our ways of communicating, doing business, worshiping, serving others, gathering together, and getting exercise, I know for certain that the greater Holy Cross community will be there for each other and for those in our respective communities who need support. We will have to be careful and creative, but we will find ways of living greater. Sustained by our loving God who walks with us in every situation, we can find in these final weeks of Lent and the upcoming season of Easter, hope that new life will come out of this darkness and that individually and communally we will find our way forward with grace. It is my hope that as our Faith deepens, so will our sense of peace and hope. You and your families all remain in my daily prayer.
Phil Boroughs, S.J.