As you can imagine, this is not the message I expected to write three months ago. Yet much has happened — and continues to happen — as our nation rallies to beat back the deadly coronavirus in our midst.
Like many colleges and universities, Seton Hall transitioned to distance learning in March and is providing online instruction for the rest of the semester. Students were sent home and events, including Commencement, were canceled or postponed. These measures, and all of our decisions, are expressions of the University’s deep commitment to our community’s health, safety and well-being.
With the coronavirus not yet eradicated, many of us — including my family — have relied on our Catholic faith for comfort and much-needed perspective. Indeed, we are instructed to:
“Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18.
In recent days, I have been reminded of all for which I am thankful, even in these challenging times.
I am thankful for our faculty. When it became clear that academic instruction would move online, our faculty members committed themselves to the effort immediately and totally. On very short notice, they mastered the technological aspects of presenting information online, adapted their courses and instructional materials, and adjusted their teaching methods for the benefit of our students.
I am thankful for our priest community. They remind us that faith and kindness are hallmarks of the Seton Hall experience. Since Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., rightly canceled the celebration of public Masses in the Newark Archdiocese, our clergy have ministered to the Setonian community individually and online, helping us understand each new development in the context of Christ’s ceaseless love for His creation. Seton Hall’s first hour-long prayer livestream, which was presented by Campus Ministry on March 19, was viewed on Facebook by more than 3,000 Pirates from all over the nation.
I am thankful for the administrators and staff members who are exhibiting extraordinary dedication to our students, faculty, clergy and each other. In working around the clock to diligently and purposefully address the challenges we face, they have shown the true heart of the University. And in facilitating a rapid transition from on-campus to distance learning, they have achieved new levels of excellence.
And I extend my special thanks to our students and their families, especially our graduating seniors. They have adapted to these unexpected changes with uncommon grace and cooperation. As the president of Seton Hall and the parent of a college student, I understand how disruptive this semester has been for them. Yet they are forging ahead, as many of them have shared with me over the past weeks. And I am impressed and encouraged by their spirit to persevere in these uncertain days.
Finally, I give thanks for Seton Hall’s strength and stability. Even before the coronavirus began decimating the communal aspects of our society, many colleges and universities found themselves on precarious financial footing. Smaller institutions were closing at a slow but steady pace. COVID-19 is accelerating that pace and — barring outsized federal or state intervention — the disease will transform higher education just as it is reshaping myriad aspects of the American cultural landscape.
Yet Seton Hall is well-positioned to ride out this storm. We have been blessed by the exceptional community members I mentioned above. And most importantly, we have strong roots. They are strong because you and many generations of Setonians traversed our campus on your way to creating better lives for yourselves and your families. They are strong because you have never forgotten where you come from. And they are strong because you and more than 100,000 graduates have worked to safeguard Seton Hall’s bright future.
Before the Civil War, there was a Seton Hall. Before the Spanish-American War, World War I, the Influenza Pandemic of 1918, the Great Depression, World War II and a host of other national and world crises — there was a Seton Hall. Since 1856 our community has come together to show the world our best when times were at their worst.
When you support the University, connect on social media, mentor a student or promote your alma mater to neighbors and friends, you are building a better Seton Hall in the immediate sense. But more than that, you are extending our University’s roots ever deeper. So when the next storm cuts a path through our society — as it most certainly will — your University will have the strength to stand unbowed against it.
As it has for nearly 164 years.
As it is now.
And as it will in the centuries to come.
Thank you for all you have done to ready Seton Hall for this moment. No matter where you find yourself in these extraordinary times, I pray the Lord continues to fortify you and your loved ones with His strength and comfort you with His peace — today and always.