The Ranieri siblings, including one-month-old Salvatore, are pictured on the Solemnity of St. Joseph. (Photo courtesy Nina Ranieri)
The Catholic Sun asked members of the Syracuse Diocese to share their experiences of life during the coronavirus pandemic. Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
José “Peppie” Calvar, Director of Music, St. Ann’s Church, Manlius; Director of Music for 1 p.m. Mass at Hendricks Chapel/Syracuse University Catholic Center; Associate Professor/Assistant Director of Choral Activities, Syracuse University
Biggest pandemic-related challenge: The biggest challenge was dealing with everything else in life. Once our parish reopened to offer livestreamed Masses on April 5, 2020, the church became the only place where I had the opportunity to perform live music for an audience of any kind. For our small team of cantors serving the Catholic Mass in Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University during the fall semester, many of whom are music majors, cantoring without additional vocal support was their only performing opportunity for a live audience for the entire semester. It turned out to be extremely beneficial to them both spiritually and artistically.
Singing in a mask has taken some getting used to, but it quickly became second nature. Both at St. Ann’s and with the Catholic Campus Ministry at Hendricks Chapel, I’ve been reminded of my ministerial responsibility to provide quality and excellence despite challenges and limitations.
New skills I developed: I’m on the faculty at the Setnor School of Music at Syracuse University, and as part of my fall duties, I offered an independent study in sacred music to a student who also happened to be a recent convert to Roman Catholicism via RCIA. My student cantored weekly at various locations, and played her first two Masses at the keyboard under my supervision. We also examined several key church choral anthems and liturgical resources from a conductor’s perspective, and we even examined some Gregorian chant.
How I dealt with stress, grief, loneliness: By maintaining a steady stream of goals and staying focused on the opportunities the pandemic afforded me: perform at church to the best of my ability and minister to the liturgy at every opportunity. Otherwise, spend more time with my family, create and sustain a parish band, contribute to virtual projects around the country and the world without leaving home, and spend lots of time outdoors in beautiful Central New York. I find that a good time to pray and reflect is while I’m pushing my lawn mower.
I learned: The small victories are worth celebrating. The silver linings are reminders from above that we are loved. I’m a strong subscriber to the philosophy that “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
After the pandemic ends, I’m excited about: Our parish band, which is a tremendous blessing. It’s multigenerational and blends high school students with more seasoned musicians. It represents a fine cross-section of our parish, and it’s composed of dedicated volunteer musicians who place our collective success high on their list of priorities. The members come prepared every week, and they show incredible stylistic versatility and musicianship. They are dedicated to our practice time. Complacency is not part of their vocabulary.
Sister Barbara Jean Donovan, general minister of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities
Biggest pandemic-related challenge: Trying to keep the sisters safe was the No. 1 priority. Isolation was, and is, the most hurtful. No church services, no Eucharist, an inability to hug anyone, which we do all the time. No face-to-face meetings when people need support.
How we met this challenge: Technology. We learned to Zoom, we learned to watch TV, we learned to get on the telephone. We learned to reach people, both for ministry, and for personal needs, using all kinds of devices. The other thing that I found particularly helpful for the sisters, both spiritually and personally, was the availability of free webinars on all kinds of things. If I would have been in the pandemic in 1902 or 1918, it would have been much more difficult than it has been.
What we lost during the pandemic: We lost three sisters to COVID, and other sisters who died. We were unable to be with them when they died. People felt guilty, and while they would go to their rooms and pray, it wasn’t the same as holding the hand of a person and praying with them. We have two years of community Jubilee celebrations waiting to happen. That’s on hold, and all of our yearly celebrations, Christmas, Easter, New Year’s, St. Patty’s Day and Fourth of July and all of that, everything is on hold.
I’m looking forward to: Our General Chapter, the community governance meeting that we have every four years, which we had to postpone last year. It’s scheduled for August in Buffalo. We are living in hope that that will be able to take place. In the meantime, we’re doing virtual meetings on the content, but we need to be together for this, our most important meeting, and we’re just praying to God that we’ll be able to gather there for a week. Who knows?
Reese Evans, junior at Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School, Syracuse
Biggest pandemic-related challenge: It’s been a year of many changes and adaptations to a new way of life. Schools open, close, then open again; masks are required; churches cannot hold as many parishioners; sports have been put on hold; etc.
How I met these challenges: Technology has improved and we have shined a light on all of the everyday things that could be changed for the better. Many of my classmates have not been able to go to school, either because they are not feeling well or they cannot be exposed to the virus. Online classes have helped with that tremendously. Those students did not have to leave our loving, God-centered environment at all; they simply had to open their laptops!
How my faith grew: Seeing other students gain opportunities, even if they are short-lived, has really been an inspiration for me to help others as much as I can. This time is difficult for many families, and I have been donating to local charities as much as I can.
I have realized just how much God is the center of my life. There were many weeks when I would feel quite lonely if I didn’t go to church. I truly love going, and the pandemic put limitations on it. At the beginning, it was a relief to have nearly no obligations, but I got very bored very quickly. It was then that I decided to become an usher at my church, Blessed Sacrament. Nearly every weekend, I am at our late-morning Mass greeting people and ensuring that they will be safe while there.
Playing volleyball has also shown me how much I truly love my life. High-risk fall sports were pushed to the spring. The team is currently playing, and I am having loads of fun. Being away from my team and not having a high-pressure goal to work toward was difficult, but it showed me how much I missed and how much friends, teammates, and classmates matter to me.
Troy and Natalie Fazio, from Binghamton, who were married at St. Patrick’s Church Sept. 5, 2020
Our biggest pandemic-related challenge: Figuring out how to recreate structure when we were either working a lot less or not at all.
Then came the worrying about how our decision to move forward with our wedding would affect our loved ones. We faced the possibility of not being able to have a wedding at all, moved on to the possibility that we could have 10 attendees, and eventually to having 50. For months we thought we were going to have to pick 10 people to witness our marriage — and that was including our photographer and videographer. How could we choose which parents or siblings to include? Troy’s immediate family live out of state, which added many more challenges and sacrifices.
How we met these challenges: With many different phases and attitudes, including feelings of grief. We have faced many other challenges outside of COVID-19. This was one of our most frustrating but best examples of strong teamwork. We learned to stop looking 10 miles down the road. We learned to focus on the most pressing problem at the time and deal with that first. We held each other up and acknowledged the frustration, but we never dwelled too long in that mindset.
How we dealt with stress, grief, loneliness: We found more time for the outdoors and focused on our personal goals and goals as a couple. We tightened up our budgeting so we felt less stressed about finances. We made sure to remember that we were so blessed and that our problems were really minor compared to all the loss we saw others experience.
We learned: We always valued the Sacrament of Matrimony and the uncertainty about completing this sacrament made us feel a greater commitment to becoming husband and wife. God truly does have a plan and a path for us all, whether we agree with it or like it at the time. As our Prepare Enrich mentor, Maria Klawiter, always tells us: “Give it to God.” We always believed and we will always do our best to remember we are stronger together and that is all thanks to God’s plan and journey for us.
Mark and Nina Ranieri, parishioners of Holy Trinity in Utica and parents of Olivia (11), Mark Jr. (9), Juliana (7), Dominick (4), Francis (2), Salvatore (1 month), and two babies in Heaven
Biggest pandemic-related challenge: We welcomed our sixth baby, Salvatore Angelo, in February. Although we have had many babies, this pregnancy was unique in that it was our first baby during a global pandemic!
During our pregnancy with Salvatore, we relied on the Divine Mercy message that Jesus gave St. Faustina: “Jesus, I trust in you.” St. Padre Pio said, “Fear is the workshop of the devil,” and although there was much that we could be fearful of — especially being pregnant — we chose to anchor ourselves in our Catholic faith. We have always had a devotion to Divine Mercy and have visited the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. But this year, God asked us to truly live the message on a daily basis.
Our biggest struggle being pregnant during the pandemic was the restrictions on Mass and the sacraments. Although we have participated in livestream events, our Church is a Sacramental Church. As humans with both body and soul, we need the Eucharist, as it is the source and summit of our Catholic Faith. For our family, nothing can replace being fully present at Mass. Journeying through a pandemic pregnancy, it was also a struggle to not have Catholic community live and in-person through regular Mass attendance.
How we met these challenges: One source of comfort was reading books by Catholic priests, Catholic parents, and Catholic saints. As our baby boy was growing in the comfort and darkness of the womb, so too did our Catholic faith grow.
When we experienced difficult moments while being pregnant and parenting during a pandemic, we took comfort in the Holy Family, looking to our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph’s example. They also encountered many hardships as parents of our Lord, but never wavered in their trust of God’s plan.
We take refuge in trusting that God alone knows the day and hour in which we will be called home. In his Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, St. Francis says, “Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death, from whom no one living can escape.” For St. Francis — and for all of us on Earth, too — death is the definitive moment when we meet our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May He find us ready and confident that we can respond “yes” to His question, “Did you Love me?”
While we want to live a long life, and hope to see our children’s children grow, this time of global pandemic has taught us not to live in fear of our own deaths, as death is only the beginning. We pray that one day we will all hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
Patrick Kinne, vice principal, Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School, East Syracuse
Biggest pandemic-related challenge: Learning to rethink everything and to see it through the lens of “Will this practice keep our students, faculty, staff, their families, and my own family as safe as we can make it?”
There were big picture ideas like how to set up virtual and in-person classrooms and how to get people safely into the building once classes resumed in person, to little details like safely serving lunch during a professional development day.
Pandemic-related change to faith practice: It forced me to become more flexible. I went from gathering with my family, including members of my extended family, each week in “our” pew to worshipping in our living room via Facebook Live as a solitary nuclear family. The ability to pivot and continue to provide an opportunity to worship remotely provided comfort, consistency, and familiarity when everything else seemed to be changing or discomforting. Over the past year I’ve witnessed how the birth of this ministry has yielded and will continue to yield fruit as we have people worshiping with us from various places throughout the country.
How I met this challenge: Rather than one day at a time, it felt like one minute at a time. The challenges of being an administrator and teacher were overcome by surrounding myself with an incredible team that worked tirelessly to make this school year as “normal” as possible. During spring 2020, when both my wife and I were working and teaching remotely at home and our two children, both students at Bishop Grimes, were learning from home, we would have a weekly virtual lunch date with friends to stay connected. We formed a tight “quaran-team” that met regularly to check in and help one another with struggles and worries.
One of my personal coping strategies was to participate in daily at-home workouts that my gym offered. This helped me stay physically active and helped to alleviate a great deal of stress.
I am quite certain that one of the lessons God has taught me throughout the pandemic was flexibility. This year has taught me to bend and flex while remaining true to our mission and allowed me to see that uncompromising rigidity to the daily minutiae can be detrimental personally and professionally.
How I dealt with stress, grief, loneliness: I relied heavily on my family and friends, even if from afar, to help with the grief, loneliness, and stress of the past year. Through FaceTime, Zoom, family game night, nightly at-home “bootcamp” workouts, binging on Netflix or Disney+, or seeking the counsel of my pastor during a socially-distanced talking walk, keeping contact and connections open were so important. In addition, prayer and what seemed like a constant discernment of where God was leading us next were also really important.
I allowed myself the time and opportunity to grieve for those that we have lost, and for the missed opportunities and time that we will never get back. In the midst of that grief, I sought help in processing that grief and stress.
What I learned about my faith: I found myself being pulled toward particular Scripture verses that previously had not really spoken to me. As I spent time with these words, they took on new meaning and pertinence. The verses include “Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You are mine. When you are in over your head, I’ll be there with you” (Isaiah 43:1-5) and “Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still” (Psalm 107:28-29).
Kathy Poupart, Parish Life Director, St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church, Chadwicks
Biggest pandemic-related challenge: Maintaining effective communication with our Sauquoit Valley faith community. That challenge pushed the parish staff and me to listen more closely to the cares and circumstances of our parishioners and respond appropriately.
How we met this year’s challenges: Our parish met the challenge of COVID-19 through prayer, mutual support, and trust in God’s providence. It seems as if this has been a season of refinement and improvement of existing skills and strategies, but we have a long way to go.
How I dealt with stress, grief, loneliness: At times these past 12 months, I felt like an Israelite in the desert grumbling and saying, “Manna … again!” But through prayer, reflection, and the support of many, I was finally able to come to a place of gratitude.
I learned: An ongoing, life-long lesson: Trust in God and surrender to His presence in my life and the lives of others.
Dr. Louise A. Prince, parishioner at Our Lady of Hope, Syracuse, and doctor of emergency medicine at Upstate University Hospital and Syracuse VA Medical Center
Biggest pandemic-related challenge: As an emergency physician, one of my initial challenges was the fear of the unknown as we began to anticipate the disease coming into our area. After witnessing the surge of patients along with the physical and emotional toll on the providers in the downstate area, we were very concerned about something similar happening here. Once we began to take care of our COVID patients, we realized that they were vulnerable patients who were afraid and alone and it was our privilege to be with them and to help them.
The inability to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist was very difficult.
How I met these challenges: I was able to spend more time in prayer, especially in the quiet hours of the morning. I was very grateful that so many priests livestreamed Masses and other liturgical events. Overall, I think my faith grew stronger as I focused more on God, trusting in Him, and learning to patiently await His plan to unfold.
One important strategy I learned during this challenging time was to be grateful. I have so many things to be grateful for, including my family who have been so supportive and undaunted, my friends and priests, my ability to go to work and care for the sick, for the increased time for prayer, and especially for my faith. Reflecting on gratefulness gives us light and hope.
Msgr. J. Robert Yeazel, retired pastor of Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, recovering from COVID-19
Biggest pandemic-related challenge: Not being able to publicly say Mass and preach has done more to make me feel the pandemic than anything else. I can’t breathe very well and I can’t stand a lot of time, so I can’t preach, and it’s taken me away from the people. What I miss the most is being able to interact with people, just maybe raise their spirits or whatever if I can.
Pandemic-related change to faith practice/role? I’ve really grown, I think, in terms of prayer. I have so much time alone though, and I can’t be out. And so I spend a lot of time in prayer and spiritual reading, and just feeling at home with the Lord. That’s been a great, great boost to me.
How I met these challenges: I tried not to do unnecessary things. I knew that during this time, I had to slow down and just do the things I could: connecting with people on the phone, texting them, emailing them, whatever, but to not get overwhelmed. I learned how to slow down. I got to let a lot of things go. I didn’t answer every piece of mail. And I just know people understood.
I learned to go slow, not get overly stressed, and to depend on others. So many times people say, “Oh, what can I do to help?” and I give them something. And I wouldn’t normally do that. I’m allowing them to be a part of the solution because I realized how much people do want to reach out and do want to be of help.
I learned: To pray more, and to meditate more. I really felt great about that. I put more emphasis on the essentials of life: prayer, spiritual reading, taking things as they come. Staying calm. And as Jesus promised, “I have come to save the world,” so what do you have to worry about? And I keep saying thanks to him.
We don’t have total control over our lives. I’ve learned to depend on the Lord. I have to depend on doctors, nurses, all the good people with their calls and letters, cookies, and everything else. I have not been a self-sufficient person. I’m dependent on so many others. And I am grateful for them being there.