by Alex Z. Salinas (B.A. ’11, M.A. ’19)

When the coronavirus pandemic hit San Antonio during spring break – temporarily paralyzing St. Mary’s University’s prayer community – it didn’t take long for Jessica Uhlig, Ed.D., Executive Director of Marianist Educational Associates, to place her faith in technology. 

By the start of April, Uhlig resumed operations by conducting Tuesday morning prayers for faculty and staff who were interested – albeit via Zoom, a cloud-based videoconferencing platform. 

Through virtual meetings no longer than 30 minutes to start the day, “what I saw was people who are usually reserved or shy, open up and share personal information in a community in which they felt safe,” Uhlig said.

“One participant shared about her mother in a nursing home who she wasn’t able to see,” Uhlig said. “The comfort level of being at home allowed her to open up, allowed her spirit to flow.”

Kathe Lehman-Meyer, Director of the Academic Media Center, has joined Uhlig’s Zoom morning prayers – which have seen up to 35 participants – and said, “the pandemic has made self-care extra important.” 

“Now, more than ever, I’ve needed to stay focused on why I’m here working at a Marianist institution whose charism focuses on balance and community,” Lehman-Meyer said. “Knowing that once a week, I’d be able to connect through prayer with other Marianist Educational Associates and members of the community helps me stay grounded.”

Twice in May, Uhlig hosted themed prayer sessions she called “Food for the Soul.” 

On July 18 and 19, Uhlig helped oversee the Marianist Lay Assembly – a conference held every three years for members of more than 200 Marianist Lay Communities worldwide – which was supposed to take place on the St. Mary’s campus with an anticipated 300 attendees.  

Laptop monitor showing a Zoom screen of participants' video and chat window
The 2020 Marianist Lay Assembly was scheduled to be held on the St. Mary’s University campus, but instead of canceling the event due to the coronavirus pandemic, it went online for the first time ever.

Enter Zoom.  

Altogether, Uhlig, who served as co-chair of the event, said 209 people logged in to the weekend assembly, including Marianist brothers and priests in Argentina, Ireland and Kenya – and also about 20 faculty, staff and students from St. Mary’s. 

“We miss gathering in person, and that’s immensely valuable in amassing our faith, but there’s a blessing and a gift in the technology we have,” Uhlig said. 

During part of the Marianist Lay Assembly, Christine Gray, Ph.D., Professor of Biological Sciences, lent her musical talents from the comfort and safety of home. 

“I play guitar and have been an active pastoral musician for more than 40 years in multiple parishes and schools where I’ve taught,” Gray said. “Music moves my soul.”

Gray said that while she was only able to attend a few sessions of the assembly, she found it “uplifting and comforting to know that there is an entire community of like-minded individuals who share in this Marianist mission – a mission that informs not only what we do but, more importantly, who we are in relationship with each other, with those with whom we live and work, and with society as a whole.”

On Monday, Aug. 3, at 3 p.m., Uhlig will host a virtual prayer session she’s called “Setting the Marianist Table,” in which she will invite attendees to reflect on “our current realities and challenges.”

“We need to maintain hope and live out our faith as best as we can – and sometimes that’s through Zoom,” Uhlig said. “It’s our job to continue the legacy the Marianists have given us, to band together in community, especially when the going gets tough.”

For more information on joining Setting the Marianist Table on Aug. 3 and other prayer sessions, email Jessica Uhlig at juhlig@stmarytx.edu.

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