Virtually together: UTA Catholics remain connected in faith and fellowship

by Mary Lou Seewoester

North Texas Catholic

March 23, 2020

Jonathan Marek screenshot with rosaryJonathan Marek with rosary
Jonathan Marek holds up his rosary in this screenshot from University Catholic Community's online Rosary. (courtesy/Jonathan Marek)

ARLINGTON — Since last fall, members of the University Catholic Community (UCC) at the University of Texas at Arlington have met four times a week to pray the Rosary.  Then COVID-19 forced the university to move classes online, suspend all events and activities, and send students home.

Now, UCC students meet five times weekly for the Rosary. They pray together using Zoom, a video chat platform for large groups.  Even though they are no longer together on campus, these Catholic students have found ways to stay connected in prayer and fellowship.

Jonathan Marek, a UTA junior and co-president of UCC, was at home in Inez, Texas for spring break when he received the email from UTA advising all students to stay home or return home. The university closed residence halls, except for students who had no alternative.

Now, every weekday, nine or 10 UCC students gather online at 12:30 p.m. for the Rosary. Marek said when the group met on campus, attendance ranged from five to 15 students depending on schedules and exams. They met every weekday except Wednesday because that was free lunch day at the UCC. Now that they are online, the group has added Wednesday to their schedule.

“We have been getting new people or those who haven’t been to Rosary in a long time,” he said. “As we get to a new normal and people figure out their new online schedules, I’m hoping they will carve that time out of their day to join us for Rosary.”

Marek said the online Rosary has been a blessing because there is no Mass or Adoration in his home diocese, and he does not expect to be able to attend Holy Week services.

“The video Rosaries have given me a central focus of prayer,” he said. “Just having that community around you, with people you know and some of your closest friends, praying the Rosary with you every day, brings a consistency that you wouldn’t have just praying by yourself.”

Marek said the UCC pastoral council recently met on Zoom and decided to move as many prayer opportunities and events as possible to an online venue. For example, instead of the regularly scheduled Sunday evening Mass, the group will meet on Zoom for a Holy Hour at that time.

They will read the Scriptures for the day, pray a Lectio Divina meditation, offer a spiritual Communion together, and end with evening prayer from Liturgy of the Hours.

He said that after Sunday Masses on campus, the students would spend time in fellowship and building community. So, after the online Sunday service, they will leave the server on for anyone who wants to socialize.

“We’ll keep that as close to normal as possible while we’re online,” he said. “If people want to hang out, then we’ll just hang out. We’re hoping people will stick around and build community.”

Marek said the UCC also has five small faith community groups that meet once a week for Bible study and prayer. Those groups will move online using Google Hangout, which can serve up to 10 people.

“We’re not planning on getting rid of them,” Marek said. “We’re all young and we all know how to use video chat.”

And finally, the group also hopes to be able to socialize online.

“For our social events, we’re setting dates and times where we can get together over video chat and try to do the event,” Marek explained. “If we can’t, we’ll change it to something else.”

In fact, he said someone in the group found a Chrome extension that allows groups to watch Netflix together “so, we might be able to tell people ‘it’s movie night at the UCC.’”

“We [the UCC pastoral council] are dedicated to continuing the mission of the UCC. Just because we can’t meet in person, doesn’t mean we have to stop doing what we’re doing,” Marek said.

“Even though for the foreseeable future, we’re shut down as a face-to-face organization, we’ll be back one day,” he added. “And when we comeback we’ll be better Christians because of it.”

Jonathan Marek with rosary (screenshot)

ARLINGTON — Since last fall, members of the University Catholic Community (UCC) at the University of Texas at Arlington have met four times a week to pray the Rosary.  

Published (until 3/23/2033)