Praying for India | Persons, places and things

Contributed
Bishop Thomas Zinkula, Barb Arland-Fye and Father Francis Bashyam talk with the Dalai Lama while in India two years ago to present the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award.

By Barb Arland-Fye
Editor

The mushrooming COVID-19 crisis in India caused me to send a message to Father Francis Bashyam, a priest who became a friend when I traveled to India two years ago with Bishop Thomas Zinkula. Father Francis is a good friend of the bishop and served as our guide during our multipurpose trip that included a presentation of the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award to the Dalai Lama.

Since then, Father Francis has shared news from India with me. He sends photos and short notes about news in the country, his extended family, liturgical celebrations and ministry. We have corresponded about the coronavirus and its impact on the people of India, particularly the migrant workers, who have suffered greatly during this pandemic. Father Francis organized meal-packaging and distribution efforts to feed desperately poor and hungry migrants traveling a long way home during the pandemic shutdown last year.

During the past week, he sent links to articles about the heartbreaking situation in India. “Covid: India sees world’s highest daily cases amid oxygen shortage,” “India Covid crisis: Hospitals buckle under record surge,” headlines to two separate BBC News articles read. “Covid-19 situation in India ‘beyond heartbreaking:’ WHO chief,” reads another headline, from the Deccan Herald.

“The country of 1.3 billion has become the latest hotspot of a pandemic that has killed more than three million people worldwide, even as richer countries take steps toward normality,” the Deccan Herald reported April 26. India has the dubious distinction of ranking fourth among the countries worst affected by COVID-19. The United States, Brazil and Mexico rank first, second and third, respectively. However, India’s cases are driving up the numbers.

I conveyed my alarm to Father Francis in a message April 26, telling him that U.S. news outlets were reporting 350K cases daily and more than 2,300 deaths daily. My heart feels heavy as I view images of grief-stricken Indians receiving word that family members have just died from COVID-19 or are ill themselves and receiving some of the scarce supply of oxygen to stay alive.

The screensaver on my laptop features a wonderful photo taken two years ago at the home of family members of Father Nathan, where we celebrated friendship and a delicious meal during our visit to India. Seeing their smiling faces (including mine) fills me with a sense of longing to visit them again someday. I can’t help but wonder about the expression on their faces today. COVID-19 is not discriminating. The stealthy, mutating disease seems to pick victims at random. My thoughts and prayers are with them.

News outlets, including Catholic News Service, have published stories quoting health care providers, religious leaders and others critical of the government for a lack of planning and foresight regarding this second, massive and brutal wave of COVID-19. “Please pray to God (to) give us strength to save some lives,” Father P.A. George says in an April 26 Catholic News Service article. He heads the largest Catholic hospital in New Delhi.

Long before the pandemic, I began praying for God’s blessings, guidance and for the well-being of the people that I met in India, particularly Fathers Francis and Nathan, their family and friends and the people they serve in their ministry. I also pray for Indians living on peripheries of society, especially the migrant workers and their families. I pray for their health and well-being and for an end to deprivation, discrimination, hunger, poverty and other crises.

Bishop Zinkula has been to India twice, and developed lasting friendships. “I have been worried about the situation in India all along, especially in the Diocese of Bellary where I got to know many priests and laity. To be honest, given the state of affairs in India — a high concentration of people, close living quarters, its situation as a developing nation, etc. — I am surprised that what is happening now didn’t happen early on in the pandemic. I think about and pray for my friends in India often, and I check in with them on a regular basis to see how they are doing.”

Please join us in praying for India.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org)

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Interfaith leaders share perspectives on morality of COVID-19 vaccines

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Faith leaders from the Quad Cities gather on Zoom April 20 to discuss perspectives on COVID-19 vaccination.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Many rumors are circulating about the COVID-19 vaccine, said Imam Bachir, the religious leader of the Islamic Center of the Quad Cities. “Some of them relate to medical issues and others to religious ones.”

On April 20, religious leaders from different faiths came together in a virtual presentation to “lend voices to clarifying the situation, demystifying perceptions and encouraging the community to take charge of their health,” Bachir explained. Jewish, Protestant, Unitarian and Catholic leaders participated in the effort, hosted by Quad Cities Interfaith.

Dr. Louis Katz, medical director of the Scott County Health Department, kicked off the discussion by offering an update on COVID-19 cases in the Quad Cities. He said cases started increasing around March 1 and “really took off” around St. Patrick’s Day. The area is currently experiencing a plateau of cases that is three times higher than early March numbers. Young adults make up the largest share of these new infections; last spring, primarily older individuals were affected. “This represents the impact of intensive vaccination among older people in January and February.” Seventy-five percent of older and high-risk individuals in the Quad Cities are now immunized. However, the cases involving younger people remain a concern, as “not all have benign, mild courses” of the disease.

Katz also spoke about vaccine opposition and advised faith leaders on how to help people feel more comfortable about getting vaccinated. He said the number of people receptive to vaccination has steadily increased since December, especially among minorities. “Now, it’s pretty even among races,” Katz said. National polls have found vaccine hesitancy falling overall.

Katz believes the most persuasive argument against vaccine hesitancy is that vaccines are “nearly 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and death.” However, this argument is more effective for individuals who are unsure about the vaccine rather than those who are not receptive at all.

Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, reiterated in Spanish and English the Vatican’s view that, despite remote connections to aborted fetal tissue, it is morally acceptable and “an act of love” for Catholics to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. “It must be understood as an act of charity toward other members of the community. It should be considered an act of love for neighbor and part of the moral responsibility toward the common good.” However, it is important for Catholics to recognize the “grave, immoral nature of abortion” and not deny the “tragedy” of it, he said.

Bachir told viewers that Islamic law is clear that if the benefits of a therapeutic outweigh the harms, then they are permitted for use. “Islam’s concern for self and neighbor insists that participation of vaccination is a praiseworthy act.”

Rabbi Linda Bertenthal of Temple Emanuel in Davenport said preserving human life and health “is a primary Jewish concept,” deriving from the first books of the Hebrew Bible. Likewise, it is “not smart to think God will save you if the treatment is there” and you refuse it. She also said people of faith have a responsibility to protect others, especially those who are not medically able to get the vaccine. “It puts duty on those who can to (work toward) herd immunity.”

Jay Wolin, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, finished the discussion by expressing condolences for people who have died or lost loved ones due to COVID-19. “I know people who have died. It’s a horrible death.” He said his role is to “reduce suffering in the community.” He understands that the COVID-19 vaccine can tap into the “understandable” human fear of things that are new or unknown, “but I invite you to have courage, as I’ve heard from the others, to work for the common good and save lives. I ask you to please get vaccinated and save lives.”

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The Year of St. Joseph: Coalition seeks justice for excluded workers

Contributed
At an online meeting, representatives of various groups talk about needs of excluded workers.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Pope Pius XII established the feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1, 1955, hoping to inspire deeper devotion for the foster father of Jesus and acknowledging the value of the worker in Catholic Church teaching. Furthermore, the pope chose May 1 in response to the May Day celebrations for workers sponsored by Communists, according to Franciscan Media.

Excluded workers are at the heart of an advocacy movement underway in Iowa City and the greater Johnson County area. A coalition of groups including Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, SEIU Local 199, AFSCME Local 12, Iowa City Catholic Worker, Iowa Freedom Riders and LULAC Council 38 are demanding pandemic relief funds for excluded workers and other marginalized people. The Iowa City Catholic Worker House organized the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition.

Catholic Social Teaching inspires the coalition’s guiding principles on expenditure of COVID-19 relief funds: “Public money should be spent on the common good, with a preferential option for the poor. Relief aid should go directly to the essential and excluded workers most impacted by the pandemic.”

Manny Galvez, a Latino with a job that allows him to support his wife and son, is also a Catholic Worker community member who feels committed to supporting the Latino community, especially those struggling to support their families during the pandemic.

“I can’t close my eyes to what other people need. We need to show fraternity, solidarity and even say thank you,” he said, referring to essential workers, some of them undocumented. Factory workers, farm workers, meatpacking plant workers, childcare providers, domestic workers, farm workers, construction workers, dishwashers and others.

“We cannot just move forward from the pandemic and forget some part of our community,” added Galvez, who as part of the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition seeks hazard pay for essential workers, cooperative housing for refugee resettlement and Sunday bus service.

On April 19, the coalition submitted a letter to county and local governments in the Iowa City/Johnson County region spelling out their demands for American Rescue Plan funds for excluded workers and other marginalized people.

“Almost $2.7 billion is coming to the state of Iowa, counties, cities and towns, including more than $29 million to Johnson County, $18 million to Iowa City, and millions more to other cities in Johnson County,” coalition members said in a news release. Coalition members specified four ways to allocate those funds, keeping in line with the guiding principles:

1. $20 million for an Excluded Workers Fund to provide more than 6,000 undocumented, excluded workers and previously incarcerated people with a portion of the economic stimulus, enhanced unemployment insurance, derecho disaster relief, and other reparations they never received. The coalition calls for grassroots groups with membership bases in the impacted communities to oversee aid distribution. The coalition also calls for elimination of burdensome paperwork requirements such as proof of financial impact, loss of income or back payments owed.

2. $20 million in hazard pay raises for the more than 12,000 public employees, school and hospital workers on the front lines of the pandemic. The coalition seeks an average of $1,600 more per worker per year, or nearly $150 in additional income per month.

3. $5 Million for 54 new community controlled, affordable housing and housing cooperative units for undocumented workers, previously incarcerated people, and refugee resettlement, collectively owned and managed by a housing cooperative and community land trust.
Coalition members say, “…caring for migrant children is our responsibility, and we should welcome them here in Iowa.”

4. $2 million for public transportation and Sunday bus service, expanding access to the city to everyone, seven days a week.

For the most part, the governing bodies have listened but not committed to a plan of action, Galvez said. KCRG.com quoted Rod Sullivan, a Johnson County supervisor who spoke at a county board meeting April 22. He appreciates the coalition’s good ideas and anticipates “a lot of opportunities to work with them and do a lot of things for the community.” However, “It’s just premature to commit to a single plan because there’s a lot of things we need to discuss.”

Galvez said the coalition plans to keep the conversation going with the governing bodies. “This is a human issue,” he said. The dignity of the worker, the flourishing of the worker requires the other necessities of life such as health insurance, life insurance and retirement benefits.

“The foundation of this country is the immigrant.”

In his apostolic letter “Patris corde” (“With a Father’s Heart”) introducing the Year of St. Joseph, Pope Francis reflected on St. Joseph’s role as a worker and the applicability in today’s world. “The crisis of our time, which is economic, social, cultural and spiritual, can serve as a summons for all of us to rediscover the value, the importance and necessity of work for bringing about a new ‘normal’ from which no one is excluded.”

Excluded workers share stories with Iowa City Council

Three immigrants who lost their jobs during the pandemic shared their stories with the Iowa City Council on April 20 and petitioned for funds through the American Rescue Plan to help them recover from their loss.

Emily Sinnwell, an Iowa City Catholic Worker and family and psychiatric nurse practitioner, translated for each of the immigrants, identified as workers, during the public comment period of the city council meeting held via video conferencing.

“Hello, my name is Rosa Brito Pastor and I’m from Guatemala and living in the Catholic Worker House….I was working in a Mexican restaurant during the pandemic. They lowered our hours, they let us go, they had me come back and work again. And then, about two months ago, they let me go because there wasn’t a lot of people and they didn’t need me anymore. So, I was left without work. I also have a 1-year-old son and I’m fighting for us. And I haven’t received any help. It’s not just me, there are many undocumented workers in my position and just because we’re immigrants, we should not be treated different.”

“Hi, my name is Ingris Diaz and I work in a hotel, cleaning. I am from Honduras and I’m a single mother of four children who were all born here. So my question is why haven’t we also received a stimulus check? Just because we’re immigrants doesn’t mean we should be treated any differently than other people here. We’ve all suffered the same under the same pandemic. We have to leave our houses and take the risk to go work and we should all be treated the same.”

“My name is Jacqueline (last name unintelligible). I’m a single mother of two children and since the pandemic started they let me go. To this day, I’m still not working. I was infected by COVID. For two weeks I was at home with my children, I wasn’t able to access healthcare and I was at home this whole time. We believe we should be given the same rights as other people even though we’re undocumented…”

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Left behind: people on the margins struggle to obtain vaccine

A worker at Lumen Field Event Center in Seattle holds up a sign March 13, 2021, to signal that a station for administering the COVID-19 vaccine needed more doses. (CNS photo/Lindsey Wasson, Reuters)

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

All Iowans could be eligible to receive the vaccine to protect them from COVID-19 beginning April 5, provided the federal supply continues to increase as projected, Gov. Kim Reynolds said last week. That is encouraging news for Iowans who become aware of the news and have time, flexibility and access to transportation to secure an appointment and receive a vaccination. For Iowans working inflexible shifts in low-income jobs, those without homes, with mental illness, addiction, a language barrier or fear of being deported — obtaining the vaccine is a daunting hurdle at a time when deadlier variants of the virus have arrived.

The Iowa Department of Public Health coordinates the COVID-19 vaccine distribution effort in Iowa, but not the distribution sites, which throws confusion and frustration into the quest for a vaccine appointment, even for people comfortable with navigating pharmacy and grocery store portals.

The state’s 211-call center assists Iowans age 65 and older with scheduling appointments. That leaves younger individuals without computer access in danger of exclusion at a critical point in the pandemic.

The Social Action Office of the Diocese of Davenport has been fielding calls from Iowans seeking help with the registration process. “Those who are more comfortable speaking Spanish or other languages, and those who also don’t have access to a computer, are ones who are expressing frustrations with a tedious vaccine reservation process,” said Kent Ferris, director of the Social Action Office. There are 144 languages spoken in Iowa.

“Many portals free up places in a temporary batch clinic at odd hours of the day or night. Many portals have prompts only in English if trying to navigate a phone system, with an inconsistent patchwork of qualifying pre-existing medical conditions, age parameters or geographical boundaries.

Some essential worker job sites have provided information to workers, others have not.”

It is a challenge nationally. “The data the federal government received from the states has confirmed concerns that the vaccine is not reaching underserved populations at an equitable pace. Vaccine access and convenience have been persistent problems, Black doctors and community leaders said, as have vaccine hesitancy and skepticism” (Quad-City Times, 3-21-21).

One agency committed to reaching the most vulnerable populations in its jurisdiction is Community Health Care, Inc. (CHC), based in Davenport, which serves the Quad-Cities area, including Scott and Clinton counties in Iowa. CHC’s mission “is to provide the communities we serve with excellence in patient-centered medical, dental and behavioral health care that is compassionate, affordable and accessible.” That commitment includes vaccination distribution.

Bob Davis, Outreach Program Manager for CHC, said the agency is getting into local communities with a mobile vaccination unit. “We’re going into the African American communities, the homeless communities, anyone struggling to get vaccinated,” he said. That includes people living in shelters, on the streets, in treatment centers or recently released from prison. The mobile unit travels wherever a church or agency is willing to assist with the effort. The unit has traveled to shelters, hotels accommodating the overflow from homeless shelters and other sites. Davis gets the word out at regular meetings of local social service agencies and through email notices. He is in contact with the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action Office about the possibility of coordinating a mobile unit, he said. CHC, however, does not cover all 22 counties in the diocese.

A co-founder of the Iowa City Catholic Worker, which provides hospitality to people in need in the Iowa City area, expresses frustration with vaccine access, but also offers a suggestion. “The biggest issues are lack of information on eligibility and lack of vaccine pop-up locations that serve their community,” said David Goodner. “For example, if someone could come set up at the Catholic Worker with vaccines, we could get a ton of immigrants and refugees vaccinated.”

Goodner wants Iowa to provide pop-up clinics at the Catholic Worker and at church sites and other smaller communities where members know and trust their leaders. He shared a letter from the Johnson County Interfaith Coalition, which asked Gov. Reynolds and other state leaders to provide pop-up vaccination clinics for several reasons. The letter reads, in part:

“We are concerned that Johnson County and the State of Iowa have failed to prioritize clergy in their vaccination and distribution plans despite federal guidance defining clergy as essential workers. Clergy do important work on the frontlines and on the margins of society. We have significant contact with the public in places of worship, private homes, hospitals, soup kitchens, jails and prisons; and we face similar risks of exposure as other essential workers. We are also concerned that poor and homeless people and Iowans being held in county jails and state prisons have not been prioritized for vaccination. … To improve access, vaccination stations should be set up in marginalized communities and places of worship. We urge you to take the necessary steps to ensure that these vulnerable citizens are protected immediately.”

Ferris said that the struggle for vaccine access in many ways “mirrors the challenges faced early in the pandemic,” when the most vulnerable people lacked awareness or avoided calling attention to themselves for fear of repercussions from government agencies. “Now we are about to enter another potentially dangerous time with new variants of the virus, and getting folks vaccinated becomes a race against time.”

Just this past week, he responded to a voice mail from the Governor’s Office “asking for input on vaccine rollout to our parts of the state.” Ferris is encouraged by “the outreach to us.”

For vaccine information, please visit
coronavirus.iowa.gov/pages/vaccineinformation and the Diocese of Davenport webpage davenportdiocese.org/flu.

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Bishop Zinkula offers guidance on COVID precautions, vaccines

By Bishop Thomas Zinkula
For The Catholic Messenger

This Lent has brought a number of grim milestones. We have been in a pandemic for a year; over 500,000 people have died because of COVID-19 in our country; and over 2.5 million have died around the world. It is important to keep in mind that these were our sisters and brothers, parents and grandparents, children and co-workers, neighbors and friends. Many died alone. More than 115 million people (that we know of) have been infected and countless others have faced financial hardships, eviction and job loss. Communities of color, and the poor, have borne the brunt of the suffering.

CNS/Kamil Krzaczynski, Reuters
The COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTec vaccine is seen in this illustration photo amid the pandemic.

We have given up much this past year. Out of concern for the common good and out of love of neighbor, we have had to modify how we celebrate the Mass and other liturgies, how we catechize and how we support one another in our parishes. It has not been easy. We are tired. We are ready for this pandemic to be over. We ache from COVID fatigue. Sacrificial love is costly. It is tempting to want to just bounce back to what we were doing in 2019, especially as we see others acting as if the COVID-19 virus has magically disappeared. It has not.

The number of reported infections has been dropping. This is good news. However, the variants — changes in the virus over time — are a significant cause for concern. These variants, which are more contagious and seem to cause more severe disease, put us at increased risk for another significant spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Protecting one another, and avoiding overwhelming our healthcare system, remain critical goals. The next one to two months (March-April) will be crucial as we watch for a surge of variants, especially if people getting re-infected becomes a growing concern.

All is not doom and gloom. We have been blessed by several safe and effective vaccines (Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson), which Catholics can use with a clear conscience and are encouraged to do so for the sake of ourselves and the common good. While the number of persons presently vaccinated is not high enough to warrant changing the current practices in the Diocese of Davenport, this is sure to change in time. It was encouraging to hear that enough vaccine for adults in this country ought to be manufactured by May, but getting the vaccines into arms will be another challenge. It will take time before we can completely relax our safety protocols.

We are watching the situation closely and will ease our restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so, in a manner that keeps us prudently safe and is consistent with what we know about the virus. The vaccines have offered a sense of hope that such a time is getting closer. But we are not there yet. We need to stay the course for now. Letting our guard down too early would risk even greater spread of the virus and prolong the pandemic, which is the last thing we want to do.

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COVID-19 losses: the story of Rick Pianca

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Roni and Rick Pianca of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport, are pictured at Froedtert Hospital & Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Wis. Rick was being treated for COVID-19 and passed away on Nov. 11.

 

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

“Faith over worry” became the go-to phrase of Roni Pianca of Davenport and her close-knit family as they journeyed through 94 days of her husband Rick’s fight with COVID-19. Rick succumbed to the vicious disease on Nov. 11, at 3 p.m., the hour of the day Roni prayed the rosary and the hour that Christ died on the cross, she notes.

Roni and her family, relatives and friends, never gave up hope for a miracle. Rick had been healthy, active and full of life before contracting coronavirus. They remember Rick, 62, as the life of the party, the caring guy who practiced hospitality par excellence.

The Catholic Messenger asked Roni to share her family’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 265,000 lives nationwide and more than 2,426 in Iowa (coronavirus.iowa.gov.).

Focused on family and hospitality

First, we begin with the love story of Rick and Roni and the bonds they formed with family, friends, faith community, priests and the healthcare workers who dedicated their skills and compassion to a valiant effort to save Rick’s life.

“I met him on my 18th birthday. We’d been together ever since,” recalls Roni, 61, of their first encounter, at Uncle Sam’s, a long-ago nightclub in Davenport where Rick worked at the time. He was a year older than Roni. The couple married on June 30, 1979, at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Davenport, the church that Roni’s grandfather helped build.

Rick and Roni honeymooned at Disney World, which became their favorite go-to destination with family and friends. Rick provided tips and tricks to family and friends on navigating Disney World to gain the maximum enjoyment. “Rick always wanted to make sure everybody had a good time,” Roni said. “Rick was the first one who would say, ‘Let’s go. Don’t wait for tomorrow.’”

Family man is perhaps the best descriptor for Rick. He and Roni raised two daughters, Rachel (married to Brian Gartner), 33, and Chelsey (married to John O’Donnell), 30. “We are very close with our kids,” says Roni. “We have two wonderful sons-in-law and two granddaughters. They were at our house on weekends. (Rick) would do the grocery shopping, the cooking and the cleanup. He loved to have all of us together.”

The Piancas have been active members of Our Lady of Victory Parish and its school, John F. Kennedy. Their daughters graduated from JFK and Assumption High School in Davenport. Rick and Roni helped start the committee that organized the annual fundraising gala for the parish and school.

They developed a lasting friendship with Father Apo Mpanda when he served as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Victory two decades ago. Father Apo prayed daily for the family as they endured their COVID-19 experience. “He and Rick had a special bond,” Roni said.

“Rick was a great friend who cherished our friendship,” Father Apo said. “He had a good sense of humor. He wanted to help anyone. He cared for people.” Roni recalls a humorous story involving Father Apo and Rick at the 60th wedding anniversary celebration of Rick’s parents, Richard and Betty Pianca. Every time Father Apo turned around to pick up his glass of wine, it was full. When he wondered how that happened, Rick quipped, “The good Lord did it again!” (Rick’s father died on Thanksgiving Day this year, two weeks after his son’s death).

Coronavirus journey

Employed in product support, sales and service for Altorfer Co., Rick worked from home during the pandemic. On Aug. 9, coughing and not feeling well, he visited an urgent care clinic where he was told he had a mild case of COVID-19 and that he should self-isolate at home.

Contributed
Roni Pianca wrote adjectives to describe her husband Rick so that hospital workers could know him a bit better.

“By Aug. 13, he was not getting better … I said, ‘Rick, I want you to call your doctor today,’” Roni recalled. After listening to his cough over the phone, the doctor advised Rick to go to the emergency room. Roni drove Rick to Genesis West in Davenport, but had to drop him off in the parking lot because of pandemic restrictions. Genesis did not have a bed available for Rick, so he traveled by ambulance to UnityPoint in Rock Island, Illinois. Roni followed the ambulance, but had to wait in the parking lot because of pandemic restrictions.

The healthcare pro­viders and Rick kept her posted, Rick by text. “He was texting, ‘Don’t worry. They’re going to keep me a few days.’ But (his condition) went downhill quickly,” Roni said. Rick required a ventilator to help him breathe. Doctors treated him with plasma and Remdesivir and had him on a pronating bed to improve ventilation. His healthcare providers determined he needed advanced care at a larger hospital.

Rick and Roni’s niece, Jordyn Werderitch, a nurse practitioner at Froedtert Hospital & Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, called on a regular basis to get updates on Rick’s condition. When his lab test results continued to show a decline in his condition, she worked with doctors at her hospital to transfer him to Froedtert. Flight for Life Emergency Transport System flew Rick to Froedtert on Aug. 18.

“My uncle and I have always had a close relationship. He would greet me with a joke or an incredible story every time I saw him. He was one of a kind and the life of the party, but also a really caring guy too. I prayed and researched for him every single day of his hospital journey,” Jordyn said.

Upon his arrival at Froedtert, surgeons operated to provide Rick with a life-support option, Extra­corporeal Membrane Oxygen­ation (ECMO) to oxygenate his blood. “He became ill so quickly,” Roni said. “That’s what is so unbelievable, because he was so alive.” He had no underlying medical conditions but contracted a lethal strain of the virus, she said.

For the first 21 days of his stay at Froedtert, Rick remained in isolation, meaning his family could not visit in person. He used the social media app “FaceTime” to visit with his kids. He had to have a tracheotomy and occasionally had a speaking valve. “They would put it on and take it off during speech therapy,” Roni said.

Most of the time, he couldn’t talk, and relied on physical gestures and an occasional written note to convey his thoughts. One message he wrote on a piece of paper, “Rick loves Roni.” “That was on his mind; he wanted to let me know,” Roni says tenderly. She wrote descriptive adjectives about her husband on a whiteboard in his hospital room to help his healthcare providers know about him.

Prayers, faith and togetherness

Even as his condition deteriorated, “He tried so hard doing his therapy,” Roni said. She expresses gratitude to all of the healthcare providers who cared for her husband at the hospitals where he fought for his life. Nurses who worked 12-hour shifts at Froedtert got to know and love Rick, she said. After Rick died, “I got a text from one of his nurses. She said she couldn’t stop thinking about Rick and us. She’s so sad Rick lost his battle.”

Roni stayed first at a hotel and then at Kathy’s House, a hospital guesthouse, during Rick’s hospitalization at Froedtert. She continued working remotely as vice president of relocation and business development for Ruhl&Ruhl Realtors. Her team and the company’s owners provided all the support she needed, she said.

Her pastor, Father Jake Greiner, along with Father Apo and other priests also provided moral and prayer support. “That’s what helped us on this journey,” Roni said. “Father Apo kept telling us, ‘I be­lieve in miracles.’ We did, too.”

Rick died on the third wedding anniversary of his younger daughter and son-in-law. “We decided it will be a remembrance. We’ll celebrate his life every year on their anniversary,” Roni said.

“We will all miss him, but we all have so many fun and unforgettable memories to share of him,” his niece Jordyn said.

“We did everything here on earth we could to help him,” Roni reflected. “I really feel it was his time and there’s a better place. It’s so sad for us. We’re left without him but we remember him as the fun one who took care of all of us. He’s in a beautiful resting place at Mount Calvary. I just know he’s watching over us.”

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Schools on reopening: ‘It’s definitely been a learning experience’

Karen Witt
Prince of Peace Catholic School-Clinton student Baya Perryman gets a temperature check from Mrs. Hansen-Wauford before school on Sept. 25. Schools in the Davenport Diocese have been working to make their school environments safe for students and teachers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Barb Arland-Fye, Anne Marie Amacher and Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

When Assumption High School in Davenport celebrated its all-school Mass on Oct. 1, it required four separate liturgies held simultaneously in different parts of the building to maintain pandemic protocols. Four priests presided, one each for Mass with freshmen (small gym), sophomores (cafeteria), juniors (large gym) and seniors (auditorium). Four musicians, including two faculty members, played a musical instrument at their designated Mass.

The Mass builds faith and community, says Assumption President Andy Craig, explaining why the school devoted so much energy, planning and coordinating with the priests. “We normally have one priest and one Mass. Now we’re trying to coordinate with four priests who have busy schedules.” While he prefers having everyone together in one Mass, the change is “something we have to accept to have in-person learning” during the pandemic.
Assumption is one of 15 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Davenport learning on the fly how to safely educate students during a pandemic now in its seventh month and showing no signs of letting up. “In a lot of ways, we feel like we’re in our first year (of educating),” Craig says. “We’re trying to figure things out” in terms of the myriad of possibilities that arise when striving to mitigate the spread of a virus that defies school and home boundaries.
All of the schools developed return to learn plans, which must provide 50 percent of the instruction in-person in brick and mortar buildings. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds made that ann­oun­cement July 17, which gave schools — some of which opened in mid-Au­gust — about a month to prepare for in-person learning.

This week “will be our 10th week of school of everyone being able to attend face to face and five days a week,” said Bill Maupin, principal of Notre Dame Elementary and Junior/Senior High Schools. “This is a tribute to the hard work and dedication of all of our staff.”

“We are on week six of school, day 28 and we are grateful,” Celeste Vincent, principal of Regina Ele­mentary School in Iowa City, said last week. Teachers have “gone above and beyond to help in-person learners and online learners.”

“Our students and parents have helped in making sure our guidelines have been followed,” said Glenn Plummer, principal of Regina Junior/Senior High School. “Teachers and staff have done a great job in enforcing guidelines and protocols.” One of the biggest challenges, especially in the upper grades, is helping students to understand the importance of social distancing, Plum­mer noted. “You can’t ac­count for every situation. You need to communicate chan­ges and communicate that things will change as better and more current information is released. People need to be patient, flexible, and understanding.”

Craig of Assumption also praises faculty, staff and students for their resilience and ability to adapt to unprecedented changes. At Assum­p­tion, for example, classes take place in a variety of spaces, in additional to traditional classrooms now configured to adhere to the six-foot social distancing space requirement. Students clear their desks after each use and limit their close exposure to fellow classmates to 15 minutes or less. Last Friday, Craig observed a speech class outdoors. “The students have done an amazing job of adapting. It’s a testimony to them and their parents.”

Families desire in-person learning, Craig said. They view the socialization as critically important to their students’ development, more so after all schools had to move to remote learning when the pandemic took hold in Iowa in mid-March. “I saw it as a parent,” he added. “I think it’s important (for students) to have a connection with adults outside of their parents.”

The state of Iowa has advised schools against releasing specific statistics about COVID-19 cases. The leaders of Catholic schools interviewed for this story provided some generalized information about incidences of COVID-19 in their schools’ populations.

“I can tell you today (Oct. 2) that we have zero-positive faculty and zero-positive students that we know of, but that could change at any time,” Craig said. Assumption adheres diligently to the social distancing and cleaning protocols because families want in-person learning to continue. Due to the ability to safely distance students and teachers for all classes throughout the day, face coverings are not required at Assumption, except for attendance at Mass. Masks are strongly encouraged during passing times, and a number of students and faculty wear face coverings during the school day, he said.

No students, faculty or staff at Regina Catholic Schools have tested positive for COVID-19 so far this school year, Vincent and Plummer said. A few students were participating in remote learning as a safety protocol because of possible exposure. None of those potential cases turned out to be positive, the principals said. Some students from Notre Dame have tested positive for COVID-19 but no faculty or staff, “as of today” (Oct. 1), Maupin said.
Each school observes safety, health and cleaning protocols that include frequent sanitizing of  work spaces, physical distancing, use of hand sanitizer, avoidance of close contact exceeding 15 minutes and other steps tailored to the school’s needs. The use of face coverings varies from school to school because it is not a state mandate. Regina and Notre Dame require them.

Vincent said staffers carry extra masks in case a string breaks on a student or teacher’s mask. Students have more space between desks and all face the same direction. Multiple exit doors and staggered drop-off times help mitigate exposure to the virus. All elementary students participate in cohorts and remain in them throughout the day. Regina established mask break times and areas. Some learning occurs outdoors, when weather cooperates. The schools also have plans in place for students who choose remote learning or must do so because of exposure to the virus.

“It’s tough not to be cognizant that there’s a threat out there and we are mindful of that. But you also don’t want to be paralyzed by fear,” Craig said on behalf of the Assumption community. “We’re constantly evaluating what we’re doing as more guidance (from county, state and diocesan officials) becomes available. We’re not anywhere near the end point with having to make adjustments to our plans.”

He spoke with The Catholic Messenger during homecoming week, a ritual significantly altered to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The traditional pep rally, usually celebrated in the packed gym, moved outdoors to the practice football field at the St. Vincent Athletic Complex. Parents watched the rally from the bleachers and witnessed the crowning of the homecoming king and queen. A “socially distanced social” substituted for the homecoming dance on Saturday night.

As winter approaches, precluding many if not all outdoor activities, some tweaks will be necessary. “It is a constant rededication and mindset each day to look at the big picture and see what is working well and what we need to ‘change-up’ to make it even better,” Vincent said. “We can never let our guard down.”

The spike in COVID cases shows “You have to be respectful of the virus and what it can do. There’s a reason why we do these mitigation strategies,” Craig said. “It’s meant to keep people healthy and to slow the spread.” All of the schools have different challenges, he noted. “You have to construct a plan that reflects your community’s values and needs.”  “We hope we are getting everything done for our students and families that we can,” Maupin said.

Each of the schools’ leaders say their plans are working and they are grateful to their communities in and outside the school for making that happen. “It is such hard work. We take it one day at a time and pray regularly for God’s grace to keep everyone safe,” Vincent said.

“I am very hopeful that together, we will make this work. Catholic education was never more important than it is right now.”

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