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“In the Time of COVID-19”

is a set of audio and digital stories highlighting the experiences of people whose lives have changed dramatically during the pandemic.
In a time where our homes have been transformed into offices, classrooms, and meeting rooms, JoAnn Seaman at Mother Cabrini Shrine is working to provide a separate space of peace and rest. Through her 31 years as director of development, Seaman feels the shine offers a constant atmosphere of serenity in an increasingly busy world.

Coronavirus Pandemic brings a new quiet to the Mother Cabrini Shrine

by

Nestled in the foothills above Golden, Colorado, the Mother Cabrini Shrine rests in quiet contemplation. The arid mountaintop was purchased by nun Frances Xavier Cabrini in 1910 to serve as a spiritual retreat for the orphaned girls she cared for in Denver. The site remains a restful place for people to visit and collect their thoughts in the fresh mountain air.

Although the shrine feels isolated from the world, it has not been immune from the Covid-19 pandemic. During the height of the shutdown in late March, Mother Cabrini staff were forced to close to the public. Everything from daily church gatherings to religious retreats were canceled.

Shrine offers serenity during pandemic

by Leif Townsend | Next Generation Radio | Colorado Public Radio | September 2020

“We have so many things going on and to have to shut everything down was really heartbreaking,” said JoAnn Seaman, the Shrine’s director of development.

JoAnn Seaman has been working as Mother Cabrini Shrine’s development director for 31 years. Photo: Leif Townsend

For the past 31 years, Seaman has been fundraising and handling public relations, a job she took immediately after graduating from Fort Hays State University in Kansas. Rallying support for the shrine has been a passion of Seaman’s ever since, with her favorite event of the year being Mother Cabrini’s yearly gala that she started nineteen years ago.  

Every Easter people flock to the shrine to pray and reflect away from the noise of Colorado’s cities. They climb the 373 steps to its mountain peak, passing by stations that tell the story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. This year, however, the stairs were empty as quarantined worshippers watched other Easter Sunday services through TV screens. Poor WiFi reception on the mountain prevented the shrine from live streaming Easter service for its regular attendees. 

With so much focus on staying productive and handling life, opportunities for both quiet reflection and community have fallen by the wayside for many people. Seaman sees the shrine as an antidote. 

The shrine is a place for people to come and pray and find God or find answers that they’re looking for in their life, and I think now more than ever during these unsettled times, people need that and they need a place like the shrine to be able to come.”

 

The Grotto Chapel is a place where worshippers pray and light candles in memory of dearly departed. Photo: Leif Townsend

Since Mother Cabrini Shrine reopened in early May, the staff have worked hard to ensure the space is a safe place for people to retreat. There are signs throughout the property requesting visitors respect all safety guidelines, and church gatherings admit fewer people so that everyone is socially distanced. But ensuring the safety of their guests when visiting one of the shrine’s most important features, its holy spring, presented a challenge. 

The spring dates to Mother Cabrini’s purchase of the property. “They told her there was no water. And she said to the sisters and the girls with her at the time: turn that rock and you will find water,” Seaman said. “And it has been flowing ever since. Many people believe through their faith that the water has special healing qualities.”

The Grotto Chapel is a place where worshippers pray and light candles in memory of dearly departed. Photo: Leif Townsend

The spring is a popular place for people to wash their hands or take a quick drink. But in a pandemic, faucet handles could spread disease. Even when the shrine reopened, access to the spring had to be kept closed until contactless faucets could be installed later in July.

But still, some of the shrine’s familiar faces have had to stay away. Many high-risk and elderly visitors are still unable to come, and some volunteers have remained at home. Mother Cabrini is independent from the Archdiocese of Denver, and relies on its own fundraising, gift shop sales, and donations. Seaman described the financial situation this year as “dismal.”

Despite these concerns, she remains optimistic. “I’ve seen a lot of changes in my time here, but it’s really been positive. While other churches or other organizations may have seen a downturn, that’s not the case here, and we feel very fortunate.”

Seaman has more to look forward to next month. In March, Colorado governor Jared Polis signed a bill replacing Columbus Day with Cabrini Day, making Mother Cabrini the first woman to be recognized with a paid holiday in the US. “We’re excited about it because we get to share her story. It’s about her and her work and her legacy.”

A statue of Mother Cabrini in prayer sits above one of the shrine’s many meditation gardens. Photo: Leif Townsend

About NextGenRadio

The Next Generation Radio Project is a week-long digital journalism training project designed to give competitively selected participants, who are interested in radio and journalism, the skills and opportunity to report and produce their own multimedia story. Those chosen for the project are paired with a professional journalist who serves as their mentor.

This edition of the #NPRNextGenRadio project was produced in collaboration with Colorado Public Radio in September 2020.

Acknowledgements

Our audio engineer is Patrice Mondragon and Selena Seay-Reynolds.
Our illustrator is Ard Su and Emily Whang.
Our visuals editors are Erica Lee and Kevin Beaty.
Our web producer is Robert Boos.
Our managing editor is Traci Tong.
Our digital editors are Megan Verlee and Laura Isensee.

Special thanks to our journalist-mentors this week:

  • Taylor Allen
  • Sam Brasch
  • Graham Brewer
  • Ariel Van Cleave
  • Mariana Dale
  • Maggie Freleng

NPR’s Next Generation Radio program is directed by its founder, Doug Mitchell.

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