Pontifical universities plan to reopen in autumn

Students wait between classes at a hallway of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome in 2013. File photo: CNS
Students wait between classes at a hallway of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome in 2013. File photo: CNS

VATICAN (CNS): The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education has asked pontifical universities and faculties in Rome to plan to reopen in the autumn and teach with students present.

The universities are making preparations, but many of them also are devising backup plans in case the Covid-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic continues and many students are prevented from travelling to Rome.

The pontifical universities and other ecclesial faculties—those granting Vatican-recognised degrees in theology and canon law—are to be “places of dialogue and of communion,” said a note dated May 6 and posted on the congregation’s website. 

“Thus, teaching and research must develop in an environment where students and teachers carry out their activities in contact with others, in communion and sharing,” the post said.

“Distance learning is no alternative to this methodology and can be used only in part, and for particular situations, and always with the previous authorisation of the Congregation for Catholic Education,” the note said, signed by Giuseppe Cardinal Versaldi, prefect.

Italy ordered the shutdown of all schools and universities ib March 5, including the pontifical universities in Rome, which had just begun spring semester courses. The universities moved as quickly as possible to online lessons; many of the students from the United States, Italy and other parts of Europe headed home and followed their courses online.

In the same note, Cardinal Versaldi, formally and retroactively, gave the chancellors of the universities the authority to grant dispensations from any rules requiring the students to be present for the spring 2020 semester and from obligations to sit exams in person in June, the normal end of the semester.

READ  Vatican ambulance to serve the poor

Salesian Father Mauro Mantovani, rector of the Pontifical Salesian University and president of the conference of rectors of pontifical universities in Rome, told L’Osservatore Romano, the transition was “quick and positive.”

The Salesian University ended up being a Covid-19 “hot spot” with 62 residents of the campus testing positive for the virus. One staff member, Salesian Father Grzegorz Jaskot of Poland, died at the age of 67.  

Father Mantovani told L’Osservatore Romano, that the university had already been experimenting with distance learning. “We know well that the best technology can never substitute the value of the educational relationship of presence,” he said, but the online courses saved the semester.

He said that the Salesian University also has a faculty of psychology, so in addition to classes, “we have activated a service of psychological support for our students and their families, aware of the related psychological damage the virus is spreading.”

At the Benedictine-run Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm, which includes the Pontifical Liturgical Institute, 120 of the 700 students did not leave. They live at the abbey’s college, said the rector, Benedictine Father Bernhard Eckerstorfer.

The monastic lifestyle has provided the students with ongoing spiritual, social and recreational opportunities, he said, but also “the guarantee of health safety. No one leaves the abbey except for absolute necessities.”

Father Eckerstorfer said the majority of students are not Italian and, since no one knows what travel restrictions may be in place in autumn, the Benedictines are investing the equivalent of about US$7,500 ($58,100) in each lecture hall for cameras and the other technology needed to share lessons online.

READ  Vatican ambulance to serve the poor

“I think at the end of this pandemic, we will be stronger than before,” he told L’Osservatore Romano.

Jesuit Father Mark Lewis, vice rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, said the institution began preparing for remote learning in late February when the Covid-19 pandemic began spreading.

Planning for the 2020-2021 academic year is in the advanced stages, he said. The lecture halls and classrooms are being modified to ensure social distancing and the Italian lessons, which new students usually take in person in August and September, are being taped for those who may not arrive in Italy that soon.

The university will keep its fees as they were for this year, he said, “but we hope that the global economic uncertainty does not diminish the vital flow of scholarships that Propaganda Fide and other benevolent foundations distribute to our students.”

Related articles
Vatican approves special ‘Mass in the Time of Pandemic’

VATICAN (CNS): The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has approved a special Mass in the Time of Pandemic to Read more

Vatican decree issued for Holy Week liturgies with Covid-19 restrictions

VATICAN (CNS): “By the mandate of the supreme pontiff for the year 2020 only,” the Congregation for Divine Worship and Read more

Tour the Vatican Museums via Internet

HONG KONG (SE): You may now visit the famed Vatican Museums for free via virtual Internet tour! Maybe you have Read more

St. Peter’s Basilica cleaned and sanitised for reopening

VATICAN (CNS): Vatican workers cleaned and sanitised the inside of St. Peter's Basilica on May 15 in preparation for the Read more