Our Seminarians’ Coronavirus Stories

God has blessed our parishes with priestly vocations. Of the sixteen seminarians currently enrolled in major seminary for our La Crosse Diocese, three of them (fully 18%) belong to St. Paul’s or to St. John the Baptist’s Parishes. These young men have now returned safely home to us, but what was it like for them to be at seminary as this pandemic arose and what has life been like since? These are their stories.


Isaac Pecha of St. Paul’s Parish in Bloomer had been studying in 1st Theology at the North American College in Rome. He writes:

My experience of the Coronavirus outbreak has occurred in three stages: the initial outbreak in Italy, the two-week quarantine upon returning to America, and then the statewide stay-at-home order that started right as I left quarantine. Each has come with its own graces, which I share below.

In late February, a few towns in the north of Italy were put on lockdown, but Rome continued as normal. I even remember telling a classmate on March 4th, “I don’t think classes will be cancelled unless someone in the university gets sick.” The next day, the government announced that they were suspending all school activities. Then on March 9th, the lockdown was extended to the whole country. We were called back to America, with a flight out in 11 hours. I said my goodbyes, packed a single suitcase, and we left Rome. An hour after we landed on the 11th, the U.S. suspended travel from Europe. During this stage, my biggest graces were the clear reminder of how little we are in control of things, and having a bishop who acted so wisely as to call us home when he did.

When we got back to America, the four of us La Crosse seminarians had to quarantine together for two weeks before we could go to our families. In the unused rectory where we stayed, we established an horarium and continued to pray, study, and enjoy fraternal time as usual. There was a sliding glass door, and on Sundays a nearby priest would say Mass on the porch outside (with us safely contained in the house). This was the greatest grace of the personal quarantine—a concrete reminder of how lucky we are to have the sacraments, and the lengths to which priests will go to bring them to us.

The day before our release from personal quarantine, Governor Evers issued the statewide stay-at-home order, so as soon as the health department cleared us to leave, we all went straight back to our families. Since then, I have been at home, still taking classes online, spending time with my family. Having little to do besides pray, study, and hang out with my family members has been a great grace.

I am reminded of the words of one of my favorite holy women, Servant of God Chiara Corbella Petrillo. She said, “God does not want to take good things away from you, and if he takes, it is only to give you so much more.” Obviously, I cannot wait to go back to Rome, or receive a parish assignment here in our diocese, but it would be wrong to only long for those things without thanking God also for the good things he has given me in the meantime.


To this account, Eric Mashak, the 3rd year theologian from St. John the Baptist Parish in Cooks Valley, simply adds:

For us seminarians who study in Rome, it was very unexpected to be called back to the U.S. by our bishop. We found out that we were coming home around dinner time and were at the airport about 12 hours later. This, for me, was a simple lesson in obedience. There is a necessity for fast acting obedience in the priesthood. Like the Apostle Andrew who dropped his nets and instantly followed Christ, so too the priest needs to be ready to take a new parish assignment at a call from the bishop. Formation never stops! Even when we can’t be in a seminary.


Matthew Bowe of St. Paul’s was studying in 2nd Theology at St. Francis de Sales Seminary just outside of Milwaukee. He writes:

Greetings, brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray that everyone is doing well and is staying healthy. If you or your family or your friends have been deeply affected by the Coronavirus, please know that they are being prayed for in a special way.

Like other places, St. Francis de Sales Seminary had to adjust to the Coronavirus situation. After finishing our spring break, we had classes the week of March 9th. On Friday, March 13th, around 11 a.m., we received an email stating that the plan was to continue with classes on the following Monday. Later that evening around suppertime, all that changed when emails were sent about going to online classes until Easter and that formation would be suspended for a couple of weeks. Seminarians would be allowed to St. Francis Seminary under quarantine during that time if they so wished. For the seminarians of the Diocese of La Crosse, we received an email after supper stating that we were to go home as soon as possible. I have been home since March 14th.

Since then, classes will be conducted online through the end of the semester, and seminarians are to remain where they currently are until St. Francis Seminary tells us otherwise. At home, I have found balance in completing my schoolwork while maintaining prayer times and other healthy habits (e.g., eating well, exercise, and leisure activities). I have been catching up on some good movies and enjoying home-cooked meals with my parents. Further, I help out around the house. Other than that, my life is somewhat uneventful and routine, and there is a peace with that. The stress and pressure of a normal seminary life, which does give me life, have been removed, and I have a more comfortable position to reflect on the good that God has given me during my time as a seminarian. God has given me good gifts during this time of trial and tribulation.

I would like to conclude by asking everyone to continue to keep faith. Although this is a difficult time for everyone, let it bring forth good fruit that can only be achieved by uniting oneself to the will of God. Trust God, and He will do good things for you (in ways that you may not expect). While we brave this storm, let us pray for one another. I will continue to pray for the families of the parish, and I ask you to pray for my family and for my brother seminarians. May the merits of Jesus’ Passion enliven our faith during this Holy Week.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: