COVID-19 has made its way to every corner of the world. And, as we
know, it has shut down economies, created “physical distancing”, and
even altered our religious practices. Throughout the growing pandemic in
Canada, many of us felt untouched by this virus until we received word
that our most vulnerable brothers had contracted the disease. On
Wednesday, 22 April 2020, Erik Oland, Provincial of the Canadian
Province, received notice that an outbreak of COVID-19 had been declared
at our infirmary in Pickering, Ontario. Even before a request could go
out to the Province, two scholastics, then a third and a fourth, had
already volunteered to go. By Monday, 27 April, five Jesuits had arrived
to provide personal care and custodial support – a much welcomed
addition to a dwindling staff.
During the first week, five Jesuits died, two of which died in
hospital. The remaining three were accompanied by the Jesuit volunteers,
so that not one of them died alone. As staffing continued to be a
concern, three more Jesuits arrived to help, as well as the sister of
one of the scholastics, who is a nurse. But despite our best efforts, we
were losing the battle against the virus, and a sixth Jesuit died
accompanied by his younger companions.
As of this writing, there has been a seventh death, but the remaining
Jesuits are returning to health. It is true that being present to our
dying companions brings much sadness. There has been abundant
consolation as well. Because of geographic distance, few of the
scholastics had met the Jesuits of the infirmary before coming to help.
But in these past weeks, graces of genuine friendship in the Lord have
been given, as the young men sat with their older companions. As one
scholastic said to his dying Jesuit brother: “We have become good
friends, and I am grateful to have known you. I love you.” Most of us
had similar experiences of deep fraternal love. One of the infected
Jesuits, now recovered, gave us at the height of his struggles the only
thing he could: his blessing.