Sheila Grove

The Mass of the Holy Spirit celebrated by Bishop Lawrence Persico
Mercyhurst University in 2019.         Contributed photo

ERIE — Classes have begun at colleges and universities around the country. Students began the academic year with staggered move-in times, health checks, remote learning and socially distant classroom seating. At the two Catholic universities in the Diocese of Erie, the academic year opened with prayer.

Gannon University first-year students participate in
service with the D
owntown Erie Partnership during
their Welcome Week. 
Facebook photo

        At Gannon University in Erie, Father Michael Kesicki, vice president for mission and ministry, offered a blessing for the entire Gannon community on August 9, the day before classes began.

        Using the Easter candle as a symbol of the light and those who work to provide it — even the bees that made the wax — Father Kesicki blessed the four compass points by sprinkling holy water in all directions to invoke God’s blessing on the entire physical space of the campus. The video was shared on YouTube.

       “Beginning with prayer places us in God’s care,” Father Kesicki told Diocese of Erie-News. “We have done a lot of work to make this campus safe. We have to be vigilant and trust this to God. We hand our students over to God’s care.

       “We rely on our students to take care of each other by following protocols for wearing masks, distancing and crowd density,” he added. “We have a classroom policy called ‘wipe in, spray out.’ At the end of class, students spray their classroom desk area. The students who come for the next class wipe it down. Safety requires everyone working together. That is service.”

       The annual formal spiritual kick-off for the year at both campuses is the Mass of the Holy Spirit, a tradition dating to the Middle Ages on Catholic campuses. The Holy Spirit is invoked to bless all the endeavors in the new academic year with gifts of wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence, and wonder and awe in God’s presence. This allows academic communities to be brought into fuller communion with God and see his work in every part of life.

       Gannon’s celebration of this event is scheduled for 6:00 pm on August 23 at Gannon University Athletic Field. The Most Rev. Lawrence T. Persico, bishop of Erie, will be the celebrant.

Gannon University's Mass of the Holy Spirit
in 2019.            Contributed photo

       At Mercyhurst, this spiritual opening of the academic year will be held in Christ the King Chapel at 4:00 pm on September 24, and livestreamed to watch-groups across campus. Father Christopher Singer, chancellor for the Diocese of Erie, will be the celebrant.   

       September 24 is also Mercy Day, on which the founders of the university, the Sisters of Mercy, are honored. The charisms of mercy and service are embedded in the mission of the school.

       With prayer and spirituality at their core, both universities offer multiple opportunities for service throughout the year, beginning with a service day for freshman at Mercyhurst and Gives Day for students and faculty in the Gannon community. Service to the Erie community and community building are outcomes of both endeavors.

       “The Day of Service at Mercyhurst,” according to Deborah Morton, executive communications officer and director of public relations, “enlists all new students in service projects countywide. It will be done virtually this year on Tues., August 18.”

       “Working in small groups,” she added, “one contingent of students will develop video welcomes for students at Diehl School, where Mercyhurst is a community partner. They will create skits, cheers and songs designed to make the start of the children’s school year a little more festive.”

       “The other student groups will develop a campaign, producing videos and other creative materials, to encourage citizens to participate in the census. This is particularly timely as the September 30 deadline nears.”

       Gannon’s Gives Day will be held on Saturday, September 19.

Mercyhurst University students participate in
Service Day in 2019.         
Contributed photo

       “Since most service sites are small,” said Becky Perry, director of Gannon’s Center for Social Concerns, “many of our projects will be the same as in other years. We are working with our partners to make sure that the safety procedures ─ masks, sanitizing and distancing ─ required on our campus are in place at the sites where participants are serving.”

       A big kickoff rally will not be held this year, but volunteers will be given their t-shirts, masks, sanitizers and snacks when they meet in small groups with their site leader.

       As it seems with just about every experience this year, the look is different. At these two universities, however, the Spirit that drives the mission and the outcome of prayer and service are unchanged.