The Season of Waiting
Dear Saint Mary’s Friends,
I’m sure that, like my husband and I, many of you celebrated an unusual Thanksgiving. Usually, we have a crowd at our house, anchored by our family of five but including various additions: old friends and new, colleagues with no local relatives, area students who can’t get home for the short break. Sometimes we have almost as many pies as people, because we know that friends and neighbors will stop in for dessert and then hang around for a sing-song and lots of laughter. And everyone wants leftovers the next day! So “turkey-and-trimmings-for-two” was a first in our 40 years of Thanksgivings together. But we are grateful for our health and for the safety of family and friends, even if we missed their presence around the table.
Now we have all moved quickly from the season of gratitude to Advent, the season of waiting. And it feels like the past nine months were a dress rehearsal for Advent. It’s as if we have been in a long dark tunnel with no glimmer of light ahead, with no sense of an ending, no real understanding of what the future will look like. We have been waiting for information. Waiting for news. Waiting for a vaccine. Waiting for “normal life” to resume. Now Advent gives our waiting some purpose: we wait, watch, and prepare with a specific hope. We look forward. And if we are truly patient—as the first Advent Sunday scriptures ask of us—we may discover, in unusual places, what we have anticipated. After all, the Christ child will be found in a manger. There is nothing “normal” in that!
Having made it through an anything-but-normal Fall semester, I can’t help but muse a bit on how some of what we learned in the past several months may change forever what we expect and what we hope for in the Saint Mary’s experience. I’ve written earlier messages about coursework and traditions and how they have been transformed for the times we are in—like the virtual Christian Culture Lecture that unexpectedly yielded over 42,000 registrations!
One of our faculty members remarked recently on how fruitful it is “to think about what you actually want students to get out of a semester when all the normal trappings are suddenly stripped away.” She affirmed: “It’s a generative time for doing better teaching or for learning lessons that will bear post-pandemic fruit. I made changes to my finals out of necessity, but I think they’re pedagogically superior.” In the same meeting, another colleague observed that in the Office of Admission, they will do some things very differently post-pandemic, not simply return to their “normal” methods of connecting with prospective students. People are feeling a creativity born of constraints that has produced surprising possibilities.
We managed to close the semester with several of our traditional special occasions. Late Night Breakfast was November 16—right at the beginning of finals week. Students enjoyed special breakfast fare in the evening, and they were welcomed and served in the dining hall by members of the faculty, staff, and leadership team. Because COVID cases were rising in Saint Joe County, the event didn’t include the traditional “dancing with the President”, which was postponed to the Spring semester.
Another Saint Mary’s tradition that survived in the pandemic was the Christmas Madrigals. This past weekend, on December 5, our talented performers appeared via Zoom, complete with period costumes and British accents. While there was no sit-down dinner of prime rib or Cornish game hen this year, our extraordinary campus dining partners created delicious meal kits of brisket, herbed potatoes, green beans with almonds, traditional waldorf salad, and homemade wassail for local supporters! I was one of the 170 live participants on the Zoom, so I can attest that the singing, dancing, and acting were delightful. Our Office of Campus and Community Events reports that many alumnae participants from across the country decorated their homes, dressed in costumes, prepared special meals, snapped photos, and expressed appreciation for the opportunity to see an event they had been unable to attend as students. Since posting the video on our YouTube channel, we have had an additional 121 views.
Our traditional Lessons and Carols will be staged on December 8 under the title Saint Mary’s Celebrates Advent. I encourage you, as part of your own Advent observance, to join us tomorrow night for this very special event—just click on the link for access. Music will be provided by members of the Saint Mary’s College Women's Choir, the Church of Our Lady of Loretto Choir, and the Campus Ministry Chapel Choir. The prayers and readings have been chosen to help each of us participate in the reflection and anticipation that mark the season. I am so proud that we have responded to the current needs of our community by customizing these events rather than cancelling them.
As we approach Christmas, the season of joy and giving, it strikes me that those were the prevailing spirits at Saint Mary’s throughout the entire semester! The whole community—students, faculty, and staff—came together to make the Fall semester, which was so different from most, the best it could possibly be: our pandemic version of normal. As we look toward the New Year and the new semester, let’s continue to be patient and hopeful, to be joyful and giving. Let’s move forward with the same Saint Mary’s spirit that brought us to this point.
Wishing holiday blessings for all,
Katie Conboy, PhD