Witnessing Resilience and Goodness

USD Associate Vice President of University Ministry Michael Lovette-Colyer


These past months have been full of unexpected and dramatic change. Amidst the daily, even hourly shifts in how we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, University Ministry has continued to provide services, support and care for the university community … albeit in unexpected and perhaps untraditional ways.

USD Magazine recently sat down with Assistant Vice President and Director of University Ministry, Michael Lovette-Colyer, to discuss how he and his colleagues have managed to remain responsive to Toreros during these trying times.

Can you describe how University Ministry has managed or maintained their function of providing resources and support for the university in our new normal?

I’m exceptionally proud of the University Ministry team. In the midst of massive uncertainty and change, we have continued to provide excellent care and support to students, helping them through the transition to remote learning as gracefully as possible. We have communicated via Zoom, phone calls and emails with hundreds of students, in groups and individually, accompanying them and offering spiritual support and encouragement.

In addition, we quickly found new ways of adapting our programs to the online environment. This includes, among others, our weekly faith sharing groups, Lenten Retreat spiritual conversations and regular meetings of Founders Chapel Choir.

We have also continued Sunday night Mass in Founders Chapel, without missing a week. Those Masses are now broadcast on Instagram Live and, afterward, posted to our YouTube channel. These weekly Masses are marking time, helping students make sense out of and provide structure to a most unstructured season.

How has University Ministry managed to migrate their services virtually?

The UM team demonstrated outstanding creativity in imagining how we can support the spiritual growth of students in a virtual environment. We launched a Tuesday evening prayer via Instagram Live that includes a student joining the feed from wherever they are, sharing a reading and their reflection on it. We also incorporate music from Founders Chapel Choir in these online prayer sessions and invite those viewing to type in their prayers so that we can continue our practice of praying for and with one another.

Similarly, we created an online prayer board that people can use to post their prayers as well as to lift up the prayers of other members of the community.

To assist students and others in entering into the important celebrations of Holy Week and Easter, we created a series of video meditations. These included videos for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.

One of our largest and most popular retreats, Search, was scheduled for the middle of April. While we couldn’t gather in person for a traditional retreat experience, the student leaders worked hard to create a virtual, 24-hour prayer experience that incorporated several of the most meaningful aspects of the retreat.

How has the feedback from the community been?

We’ve received fantastic feedback. People have expressed tremendous gratitude for the support and resources we are providing. They have been especially thankful for the ability to stay connected to the USD community and Founders Chapel. While dispersed and confronting new realities, students and alums have told us that they appreciate the chance to be together virtually and to stay engaged with familiar elements that they find so meaningful. We also have received positive feedback that we are helping folks cultivate hope, resilience and other spiritual qualities that are so needed right now.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge is missing the physical proximity and close human interaction that is characteristic of USD and University Ministry. It’s great to see people on the computer screen but that doesn’t compare to the richness of being together, to praying together in person.

The biggest reward?

The biggest reward is witnessing the resilience and goodness of our community, the countless ways that people are staying positive, looking to help others and lift each other up. On our Tuesday evening prayers, for example, the student reflections have brought tears to my eyes every time. In that context and many others, I’ve been so touched by the ways that Toreros are living our culture of care and our spirit of changemaking. Rather than turning inward and focusing on themselves and their challenges, students are looking outward, to those around them and around the world, trying to figure out how they can ease their burdens or make their lives a little better.

How has this experience changed your perspective about the work you do?

The shift to remote learning has reinforced the fundamental human need for connection, intimacy, proximity. While that isn’t possible now, it has helped us to be much more creative and think of totally new approaches to our work. Like a lot of high-performing teams, we work really hard to make sure what we do is at the highest possible standard. Given current constraints, we have a new sense of freedom to experiment and dream. At the same time, we’ve done some deep reflection on what is at the heart of our ministry. So far, we’ve identified 3 core aspects of our work: community, accompaniment, and helping people grow in faith. With that clarity and this new freedom, we’re super excited to see what we will create for the summer and next year. — Mike Sauer

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