With students stranded inside by sub-zero temperatures, the Catholic clergy at Culver Academies held services in the dorms and barracks to ensure they still could receive Holy Communion.
Culver leaders sent a message through Schoology to all students at 8:25 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 14, when the temperature was 7 below zero with 13 mph winds, that all religious services were canceled because of the dangerous cold. The only authorized movement on campus was to and from the dining hall. Brunch was delivered to lakeside dorms so girls living there wouldn’t have to go outside.
The Rev. Stephen Felicichia and Deacon Mike Madison were already at Memorial Chapel preparing for service when they received the notification. They decided to wait in case any students who hadn’t heard the news showed up for Mass.
Felicichia said Madison, inspired by the Holy Spirit, came up with the idea to hold communion service rites, an abbreviated service that includes the Scriptures and prayers and takes 15 to 20 minutes, in each of the barracks and dorms.
“We were just trying to figure out, ‘Well, if they can’t come to Jesus, how do we bring Jesus to them?’ ” Madison said. “We were just trying to be creative.”
Madison said he received e-mails from students him asking if he could bring them to the 11 a.m. Mass at St. Mary’s of the Lake Catholic Church, where Felicichia is the pastor. Others asked if Mass could be held later in the day at Memorial Chapel when temperatures warmed up.
Madison said he couldn’t bring the students to Mass at St. Mary’s because students weren’t allowed to leave campus. With temperatures not expected to get above 2 below and wind chills even colder, holding Mass later at Memorial Chapel wasn’t an option.
Felicichia and Madison held the 11 a.m. Mass at St. Mary’s of the Lake and consecrated enough Eucharists for the students. They then hopped in their golf cart and began visiting the dorms and barracks.
“I used to work in Alaska, so this wasn’t so bad,” Felicichia said. “It was actually delightful. I was so pleased that day by the students. Anything to get God to the students.”
The challenge was getting the word to students about the services. Madison hadn’t brought his computer with him. But the Rev. Dr. Sam Boys, director of spiritual life at Culver Academies, let Catholic students know via Schoology at 11:48 a.m. that Felicichia and Madison would be stopping by.
He also let students of other religions know that spiritual services for them would be held Monday 3-3:30 p.m.
Felicichia and Madison started visiting barracks and dorms at 12:45 p.m. and it took them over three hours to make seven stops. There are 269 Catholic students at Culver Academies. Madison estimates about 100 students, including some Protestants, attended the services.
“For me, that was fun to see some non-Catholics coming to participate, coming with their friends, wanting to hear Scripture,” Madison said.
Madison, who has been a deacon at Culver for three years and a volunteer a year earlier, said it is the first time he is aware of this being done.
Kristine Alderfer, whose twin daughters Katherine and Caroline are juniors, posted a message on the Culver parents’ Facebook page expressing her gratitude to Culver Academies administrators for taking steps to make sure students were safe and warm. She said she was particularly thankful for Felicichia and Madison.
“I am thankful for your dedication to our kids and their faith journey,” she wrote.
She said in a telephone interview that as a boarding school parent she needs to rely on Culver to help provide examples of kindness and faith.
“It’s hard to be a boarding school parent. But to know you have administrators and adults who can be there for your kids and do the right thing is outstanding,” she said.
Students also were appreciative.
“We were so happy to see them,” said Nicholas Besachio ’26. “When I saw the amount of guys who showed up in the lounge who were there because it really meant something to them, that was really inspiring.”
Kari Teglia ’24 said she was eager to take part.
“It was super meaningful that they were willing to bear the cold and take time out of their Sunday to be there for all of the Catholics who wanted to receive Communion and have a prayer service. I really appreciated their thoughtfulness in figuring out a way to make our spiritual life service still possible despite the extremely cold weather.”