Pandemic prompts Father John Lamansky’s return from Rome

Father John Lamansky, right, is greeted at an Iowa airport by his brothers James, left, and Nate. His studies in Rome were interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

(Editor’s note: Father John Lamansky, a priest of the Diocese of Davenport, was studying in Rome when the COVID-19 pandemic required his recent return to the United States. Now in quarantine in Iowa, he shares his reflection.)

A lot has changed since my last column three weeks ago, in which I reported on the COVID-19 situation in Italy. Due to ever-tightening restrictions coming from the Italian government, the American-run priest housing in which I resided in Rome decided to close and asked us all to return home.

Mere days later, I was on a plane bound for JFK Airport in New York. I was very hesitant about transiting through New York, a hotspot of coronavirus cases. However, JFK was the only airport accepting the one remaining daily flight from Rome, so I had no other choice. I was on the same flight as dozens of other American seminarians and priests in the same situation.

In Rome, social distancing in the airport building was strictly enforced, although the airport was quite empty. (Interestingly, the social distancing recommendations vary by country; the Italian government requests distancing of 3 feet, rather than the 6 feet requested by the U.S. authorities.)


We were required to wear masks during our transit through the airport in Rome and on our entire trans-Atlantic flight (except when eating). Upon arriving in New York, we were required to fill out some health-related paperwork and had to undergo a temperature screening. Thankfully, I and all of my travel companions had normal temperatures.

From New York, I flew to the Des Moines airport as part of a group of Iowa seminarians and priests who had also been studying in Rome. Family members met me at the airport, but because I was potentially infectious, I had to maintain my distance. They left me a car, which I drove to the place where I would be quarantining.

The U.S. government asks that those returning from high-risk countries, such as Italy, quarantine for two weeks. The novel coronavirus has a significant incubation period, meaning that symptoms may not appear until long after initial infection. This is part of what makes the virus so dangerous. Together with the other Iowa students, I am currently quarantined in a house owned by the Diocese of Sioux City in northwest Iowa.

We are well provided for. Local parishioners are supplying us with all the food and supplies we need (which we can’t get ourselves, due to the quarantine). During this time, we continue to communicate with our professors over the internet, watching online lectures and emailing our homework.

Since being ordained not too long ago, my assignment has been to obtain a degree in Biblical Theology from a university in Rome. The plan has been to finish the degree by June. At this point, significant library study is required. Due to the present situation, I can only access online libraries, which have some, but not all, of the needed resources.

It’s too early to tell what will happen or how things will change in the coming weeks, but I’m optimistic. In any case, I will be starting an assignment as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf on July 1, as recently announced in the Messenger, and I am certainly looking forward to that. This pandemic has interrupted and impacted all of our lives, in ways large and small, and we must be flexible and adaptable. For example, I know that many Catholics worldwide are struggling with having limited access to the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. When people have expressed this to me, my advice has been the following: respect the policies that are in place, and offer up this great trial for the good of the world.

Those who are pained about not being able to go to Mass or receive Communion (in a particular way during this Easter season) can turn this trial into a prayer. This can help them to grow in personal holiness, and, in an invisible way, can be a grace for others through the way in which we are spiritually linked as members of the mystical body of Christ.

My heart goes out in a particular way to those who are isolated or under quarantine. I have been quarantined for almost a month now (both in Italy and in the United States), but I have had the blessing of always being quarantined together with others. Those who are forced to remain by themselves carry a great burden. Thank­fully, we have technological means of communication that ameliorate this isolation somewhat, but it’s not the same.

Although ordinary human contact is irreplaceable, such isolation presents us with a renewed call to prayer. We are always in the presence of God and are surrounded by the saints and angels, even if, by human standards, we are alone. Good spiritual reading can help us to develop greater awareness of this reality. Keep one another in prayer, and trust that God can bring good even out of great losses and difficult trials.

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