COLLEGEVILLE, Minnesota — What started during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to lift spirits and provide something unique to the students at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in the Diocese of St. Cloud is turning into a tradition.
On Feb. 20, the weekly 9 p.m. Sunday Mass for students at the neighboring institutions was celebrated on frozen Lake Sagatagan on St. John’s campus in Collegeville.
Several hundred students from St. John’s and the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota, attended the “Ice Mass.”
“This is a unique experience, as we are not aware of any other university that holds this type of student Mass,” said Margaret Nuzzolese Conway, executive director of St. John’s University Campus Ministry. “We are lucky to have such a dedicated and dynamic chaplain in Father Nick (Kleespie), who motivates us to do some really creative, fun and adventurous work for practicing faith.”
According to a news release posted on www.csbsju.edu, the schools’ website, St. John’s University Campus Ministry periodically has Mass outdoors when the weather is nice, but this was just the second time on a frozen lake.
“Beyond COVID, it draws students to a place they love and connects them to creation,” Kleespie said.
“A freshman from just outside Chicago told me that when he saw the news of the ‘Ice Mass’ last year, he was especially inspired to make the decision to come here” for college, Conway said.
Organizing an outdoor winter event of this magnitude takes a lot of planning, time and energy, she noted.
“This is a huge event for our staff and requires intense hours of labor, setup and cleanup,” Conway said.
Taking everything downhill to the beach at the lake “also means that everything must come back up,” she explained. “But when we saw students approaching the space and their faces upon receiving hats and hand warmers, everything was clearly worth it. Students really seemed to have fun with it.”
“The centrality of the Mass is that it brings us together, despite differences, disagreements, whatever we are carrying,” Conway said. “It’s a special experience to bring people together on the ice, some who are from Minnesota and ice-fishing pros and others for whom this is an especially novel experience even just walking on the lake.”
“In the Mass,” she added, “we can put differences aside and celebrate our connection to the Gospel and how it propels us forward. We can level with the fact that we were all freezing! My hope is that all who attended know that wherever they are at in their faith, they are welcome.”