Rome Seminarians Move Beyond Quarantine
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
October 1, 2020
Close to 30 masked men got off a bus at the Pontifical North American College Aug. 20, beginning a new student orientation that kept as many traditions as possible in a 14-day quarantine.
Among them was Diocese of Rockford seminarian Jeffrey Filipski who said he had worked “most of the summer to receive my visa for entry into Italy.”
Catholic News Service reported that the seminarians, from 23 U.S. dioceses, were tested for COVID-19 a few days before boarding their flights to Rome and were being monitored each day within the confines of the NAC campus on the Janiculum Hill overlooking the Vatican in a quarantine that was mandated by the Italian government.
Filipski says that “rather than seeing our quarantine as an inconvenience barring us from exploring Rome, we came to see it as a beautiful grace that helped us ease into our transition and bond as a class.”
“We are still awaiting the arrival of a few of our new students due to delays beyond our control in processing visas at some consulates in the U.S.,” Father David A. Schunk, vice rector, said Aug. 28 in the CNS article. “Though our brothers are not with us, we have been keeping in regular contact with them and are hoping the visas will be processed soon so they can arrive in the next week or two.”
One of those later arrivals was Rockford seminarian James Linkenheld, returning for his fourth year of theology studies.
Aside from the inconvenience of his 14-day quarantine, he says, “This month looks to be pretty normal ... Life at the seminary is mostly the same as before, with a few new procedures to help keep the community safe.”
He mentions assigned seating in the chapel and wearing masks in the elevator and food line. 
“We usually eat lunch family-style,” he says, “but now all meals are served buffet-style, with guys assigned to scoop food.” The COVID procedures, he adds, “are minor inconveniences and have not impacted the life and mission of the seminary.”
There have, however, been significant, non-COVID changes, Linkenheld says.
“I think a greater adjustment for those of us returning from last year has been coming back to a community that is different than the one we abruptly left,” he says. “Several of my classmates discerned out of the seminary over the summer or decided to transfer seminaries and remained home, and their friendship and presence in the class and the community cannot be simply replaced.”
The newest seminarians, of course, are not as aware of those missing seminarians. They are too busy exploring their new environment. For example, as soon as the initial quarantine was lifted for Filipski’s class, they headed to Assisi for the weekend.
“Assisi has a special place in my heart as St. Francis is my confirmation saint and patron so it was a blessing to pray with him and my brother seminarians,” Filipski says. “To cap off the weekend, we returned to Rome and my class had the privilege of meeting the pope! I do not think it was a coincidence we met Pope Francis the same weekend we returned from Assisi and am grateful to St. Francis for his intercession for my class.”
Linkenheld brings a voice of experience as he looks at the newest class. 
“What has been wonderful is getting to know the new members of Jeff’s class, who have brought a great spirit of positivity and openness to the house, which is very refreshing,” he says. “It has been humbling for my classmates and me to step into more of a leadership role in the house, as deacons, and to realize we have a responsibility to set the tone and model for the rest of the community.”  
After a week-long silent retreat for each class, school will begin Oct. 5. Both Rockford seminarians have positive outlooks and anticipate good things to come going forward.
Blessings experienced so far prompts Filipski to quote St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:28). “If you ask what I’m most looking forward to in these coming months, it’s to see how the Lord continues to make Himself present to us as ‘we know all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose,’” he says.
Linkenheld notes an early October blessing coming his way.
“I will be ordained a transitional deacon in St. Peter’s on Oct. 1 before classes begin,” he says. “We have a good house here this year, and I am excited to see how we continue to grow together in mutual support ... on this adventure of following the call of the Master during uncomfortable and uncertain times.”
— CNS contributed to this story
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