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Bishop Loverde joins the online teaching trend

First slide

There is no such thing as business as usual when it comes to teaching high school students in the middle of a pandemic. But that doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. If the pandemic lockdown hadn't wiped clean Bishop Emeritus Paul S. Loverde’s appointment book, the opportunity to teach high school virtually might never have come up. 

It all began during a call with Sister Clare Hunter, a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist and religion teacher at Rice Memorial Catholic High School in South Burlington, Vt. She knew Bishop Loverde from her time as director of the Respect Life Office in the Arlington Diocese.

“I was talking to Bishop Loverde about the challenges of online teaching and it occurred to me that he would be a great guest-Zoomer,” said Sister Clare. 

She asked if he could teach a class on the history and meaning of the triduum before Holy Week. Bishop Loverde, who had taught in high school before putting on the mitre, was eager to get back in the classroom. Like many other teachers across the country, however, he had never taught virtually. But he wasn’t going to let a learning curve stop him. 

The technology turned out to be simpler than expected. When class time came, he sat at his desk at the St. Rose of Lima Priests’ Retirement Villa in Annandale with his iPad. Sister Clare sent him a Zoom link —  and just like that class was in session.

“The students have loved having him Zoom with us,” said Sister Clare. “It has been a great success.”

Word spread to the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist’s motherhouse in Meriden, Conn., and then the wildfire really spread. Many of the sisters knew Bishop Loverde during his time as a priest in Connecticut. He also had invited sisters to start a center at St. Philip Church in Falls Church when he was bishop of Arlington. 

Since Easter, he has taught multiple classes at St. Paul Catholic High School in Bristol, Conn., St. Bridget School in Cheshire, Conn., and Central Catholic High School in Portland, Ore., while also continuing to teach classes with Sister Clare at Rice Memorial. 

“I’m happy to do it,” said Bishop Loverde. “I love teaching. It’s a way to reach out to people in a pastoral way. When you teach, you plant seeds.” In addition to his class on the triduum, he has taught classes on confirmation, friendship, the role of faith as an essential element of life, the role of a bishop and redemptive suffering. When teaching the later class in Portland, he linked it to the state’s assisted suicide legislation as well as the pandemic. 

“We are in the midst of suffering right now financially, economically, not being able to worship together,” said Bishop Loverde. “How do we cope and what do we do? Do we get angry and bitter or do we remember that Christ took our suffering on the cross with his? Our suffering has value in a mystical way. It has a place with Christ. It has meaning.”

At St. Paul Catholic High School, Sister Marie Benedict Elliott and Sister Mary Mercy Lee organized a Q&A session about his vocation to the priesthood. Freshmen and sophomores in nine different classes with about 20 students per class read a biography on the bishop and came up with questions to ask. The sisters compiled the questions by class so he could prepare a response tailored for each group.

The questions kept on topic for the most part, with several humorous deviations such as what his favorite pizza place was in Connecticut.

After the sessions, the sisters asked the students to write feedback for Bishop Loverde.

“It was so edifying for me to read their feedback,” said Sister Mary Mercy. “It’s very hard with Zoom classes because you don’t know if they are listening, but they were.” 

One of the most impactful answers came from the question, “What is the hardest thing about being a bishop?” According to Sister Mary Mercy, many of the students were expecting a “job-like” answer. What they got was the response of a shepherd.

“When people leave,” said Bishop Loverde. “You can introduce them to Jesus, but you can’t make them stay. So, when people walk away, that is painful.”

Bishop Loverde’s presence and witness has been both a luxury and a blessing for the sisters and the students. For him, the opportunity to teach again has been the silver lining in the pandemic. 

“In the midst of all this, it's been a grace,” he said. 

Kassock is a freelance writer based in Fredericksburg.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020