By Andy Telli
Catholic News Service
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) — The university students who belong to the Knights of Columbus council at University Catholic in Nashville decided that if their fellow students couldn’t come to their Lenten fish fry, they would bring the fish fry to them.
Council 15020 of the Diocese of Nashville’s campus ministry to college students in the city held a virtual fish fry March 27 to bring together their friends who have dispersed across the country in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was actually a suggestion from a friend of mine,” said Jake Edwards, the Grand Knight of the council. The friend is Elizabeth Lansden, a junior at Vanderbilt University from Atlanta, who is the president of University Catholic.
“She was a little bummed we weren’t going to have the fish fry,” Edwards told the Tennessee Register, Nashville’s diocesan newspaper.
Vanderbilt University, Belmont University and other colleges in Nashville moved their classes online and sent their students home earlier in March in an effort to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“One day, we’re going along like nothing happened and the next we were off campus,” said Edwards, who has been back home with his family in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for the last two weeks.
For the virtual fish fry, the council used Zoom, the same video conferencing platform Vanderbilt professors have been using to conduct classes online, said Edwards, a senior biology/pre-med major at Vanderbilt.
Zoom can accommodate groups of up to 50 people, Edwards said. “We’re really looking forward to trying it out,” he said before the event.
“It’s just one of the first ways we came up with to keep the community engaged together and keep up with our friends, especially for seniors who are graduating and didn’t have a chance to say a proper goodbye,” said Edwards, who graduated from St. Vincent de Paul School and Notre Dame Regional High School in Camp Girardeau before heading off to Vanderbilt.
“We’re letting everyone know we’re here for each other even if it’s not ideal circumstances,” he added.
The virtual fish fry is another creative way ministries and parishes must use to continue their mission of bringing Jesus Christ to the world, said Father Gervan Menezes, University Catholic’s chaplain.
“We have to be creative,” he said. “If the world gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
University Catholic has moved much of its activity online in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Father Menezes said, including daily Mass, eucharistic adoration and fellowship opportunities, like the virtual fish fry.
With his community of students sent home for the rest of the semester, “I have parishioners everywhere in the country,” Father Menezes said.
“It’s not the same thing, but that’s what we have today,” he said. “We have to use the creativity we have to bring people together.”
The Knights sent out word to all the students associated with University Catholic inviting them to prepare a meatless meal and join them on Zoom for the virtual fish fry.
“Unfortunately, the Knights of Columbus can’t cook for each individual person in their own location, so they’ll have to put their own cooking talents to the test,” Edwards said ahead of the fish fry. “Before the meal we’ll see what everyone cooked and we’ll enjoy a meal together through a screen.”
About 15 people joined the meal online. “It went well,” Edwards said. “It was neat seeing what everyone cooked up.”
Having another online gathering “might be something we can continue,” he said.
Edwards was introduced to University Catholic by a friend who invited him to attend a retreat the ministry was hosting.
“It opened up my eyes to the community,” he said, and led to friendships “with so many people open to their faith and witnessing for Christ on campus. After that retreat I was all in.”
His involvement with University Catholic led to his joining the Knights of Columbus. “The Knights are a solid group of men who are that constant witness to Christ,” Edwards said. “They make living on a college campus a whole lot easier.”
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Telli is managing editor of the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.