Franciscan Father Gerry Waterman stands in his office at Syracuse University, where is is Catholic chaplain, in this Sun file photo.


By Renée K. Gadoua | Contributing writer

Syracuse University’s coronavirus policy means six students will miss out on a trip to Nazareth Farm, a Catholic service and retreat center in West Virginia. The university’s Catholic chaplain may also cancel campus Masses.

Syracuse University, which is on spring break March 16-20, announced March 10 that students should stay home for at least an extra week as faculty deliver online instruction. That will continue until at least March 30, when officials will decide whether to extend online classes.

The university previously canceled all spring break traveling, called students home from programs in Florence and Madrid, and banned events of 50 or more people. (Residential classes of 50 or more are an exception through Friday, March 13.)

Franciscan Father Gerry Waterman, the university’s Catholic chaplain, said he’ll attempt to survey the 400 students on the Catholic center’s mailing list to see how many plan to attend services over break. If 50 or more say they will attend Mass, he will follow campus rules and cancel. If a smaller number is expected, he may celebrate Mass, unless the Syracuse bishop cancels all diocesan Masses.

Waterman has distributed Holy Communion in the hand, suspended the distribution of the Precious Blood from the chalice, and discouraged handshakes at the Sign of Peace since the beginning of the regular flu season. He will drain holy water fonts, he said.

“They’re unhappy,” Waterman said of the six students and one staff member who had planned to travel to Nazareth Farm. Many college and high school groups volunteer with Appalachian families at the farm, previously a ministry of the Syracuse Diocese.

The center will host its 7 p.m. Thursday Mass and dinner. “Instead of an intimate Mass in the chapel, we’ll probably have to move it to the bigger space,” Waterman said, referring to calls for people to maintain a 6-foot distance from others. Seventy-five students attended last week’s event.

Waterman has canceled a March 28 Confirmation retreat at the center at 110 Walnut Place. About 120 students from around the diocese were expected. The chaplain also worries he may have to cancel baptisms and confirmations scheduled to be celebrated during the Easter Vigil, April 11.

Although inconvenient, disruptions are a necessary precaution and a Christian imperative, said Waterman, whose age puts him at higher risk of contracting the disease. “We owe each other the respect of taking care of ourselves and not spreading a disease that is going around,” he said.

He might have to stream Masses online. “If I’m not providing service, I’m going virtual,” he said. “Students are living virtual lives anyway.”

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