Father Pipp tests negative for COVID-19

Josie Schuman , Managing Editor

The John Carroll community had a COVID-19 scare when Rev. Tom Pipp, S.J., the rector of the Jesuit community at Schell House, showed symptoms of the virus and got tested. The COVID-19 Task Force, led by Vice President for Student Affairs Mark McCarthy, sent an email on Saturday, March 29, alerting the community of this situation. The test came back negative for COVID-19, and the task force sent another email to confirm this on Wednesday, April 1.

Pipp explained that his symptoms included body aches, sore throat and a temperature of 100.6 degrees Fahrenheit on the evening of Friday, March 27. On Saturday morning, March 28, Pipp called Pam Pipas, one of the five nurses for the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus. The JCU Jesuit community had been in close contact with Pipas, who outlined the precautionary measures to adopt and the procedures to follow in case of sickness in the community. Pipas recommended that Pipp isolate himself, call his physician and have the rest of the Jesuit community self-quarantine as well.

“The plan is working together to make sure the guidelines from the CDC are being followed by anyone who is sick,” said Provincial Assistant for Health Care and Pipas’ supervisor Jane Glynn-Nass, B.S. Glynn-Nass explained that Pipp followed standard procedures for any Jesuit having symptoms. In addition to the previously mentioned protocol, the JCU Jesuit community also had to maintain daily contact with the province nurse, and members were required to take their individual temperatures twice daily. However, the Jesuit’s physician ultimately decides if the person should be tested or not. “The criteria for testing keep changing,” Glynn-Nass said.

Pipp immediately followed Pipas’ advice and self-isolated in his room. “I didn’t want to infect the other Jesuits or anyone else,” he said. He called his physician, who told him that he was eligible for a test. Pipp planned to go later that day.

Pipp also sent an email to the other Jesuits, explaining the situation. Rev. Karl Kiser, S.J., the pastor at Church of the Gesu, was chosen to be the temporary rector of the community should Pipp be unable to carry out his responsibilities. Kiser immediately led a meeting with the other Jesuits to discuss the new quarantine measures, which entailed that no one could leave Schell House except to take brief walks no farther than the parking lot of the Church of the Gesu. Other conditions included two shifts of surface cleaning, celebrations of mass with no more than four people and two people per table in the kitchen.

Andrea Bianchini, S.J., a Jesuit preparing for ordination to the priesthood, was surprised by the news of Pipp’s possible diagnosis. As a house consultor, or someone who aids Pipp in making decisions that affect the community, Bianchini met with Pipp and other Jesuits on Friday evening to discuss how the community would handle COVID-19. “Last night, we were talking about it as a remote possibility, and now it [was] happening,” said Bianchini. “I appreciated his [Pipp’s] perspectives and his ability to foresee this possibility.”

While the environment in Schell House remained calm, the quarantine was still unsettling for the Jesuits. Rev. Bernie McAniff, S.J., another member of the community, described the experience as “unsobering.” Bianchini had a similar attitude toward the quarantine: “I don’t like to be locked down in general, and this was a strange thing I believe because we were all doing fine. But I saw the value in it, so I tried being more mindful of my actions.”

Bianchini was most affected by the uncertainty surrounding the situation: “How long do we need to be in this suspension mode? We knew he [Pipp] was going to do the test, and the outcome would determine our life for the next month or a few days.”

On Saturday afternoon, Pipp went to the University Hospital Landerbrook Health Center, which is a drive-through screening location for COVID-19. Pipp explained in an interview afterwards that the healthcare workers wore gloves, gowns and masks to protect themselves. He stayed in his car and did not even have to roll down his window until the nurses administered the actual test, which Pipp described as annoying, like a shot. The nurses explained that the results would be sent to Pipp’s primary care physician, but they were unsure of the timeline.

After Pipp was tested, he informed Vice President of Mission and Identity Edward Peck, who was the last person Pipp had come into contact with. Peck recommended that they share this information with the greater John Carroll community in order to maintain transparency. The COVID-19 Task Force reflected these sentiments in their email sent out to students, faculty and staff on the following day, Sunday, March 30:

“To be clear, this is not a confirmed case of COVID-19, but we felt it was important to inform our community out of an abundance of caution and in light of our central connection to and concern for the JCU Jesuit community.”

This email created a ripple in the John Carroll community. Caroline Maltese ‘21, president of JCU youth mentoring program Seeds of Hope, said she was shocked by this news but appreciated John Carroll’s transparency. “I think that it was a smart move by the student body, staff and faculty,” she said. “We want to be informed. We don’t want them to hide things from us.”

Maltese had gotten to know Pipp through his generous donations to Seeds of Hope and hands-on work with the organization. “I was very sad and shocked because, when people you know start getting it, it hits a little closer to home. You start to see the reality of the situation really play out,” she explained.

Andrew Welki, professor of economics, had a similar outlook: “There’s this thing out there and it’s not in my world, but now this is much closer to home than I could’ve ever imagined.” Welki also explained how this incident changed his thinking about the pandemic.

“We tend to view the world as sort of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ When it was over in China or Italy, it’s a bad thing, but that’s ‘them,’” he said. “But each incident, like the Father Pipp situation … it shows that we’re all part of ‘us’ as opposed to the ‘us’s’ and the ‘them’s.’”

After not hearing back from his physician’s office, Pipp called on Tuesday, March 31, three days after he was tested. His physician had the results, which stated that Pipp tested negative for COVID-19. “It was a Hallelujah day,” Pipp said.

After receiving the results, the Jesuit community was no longer in quarantine. The COVID-19 Task Force relayed this information to the John Carroll Community by email on April 1.

The members of Schell House were overjoyed with this news. McAniff said he felt “a sense of deep relief” after getting the test results back. Bianchini was happy that Pipp could come out of isolation. “I knew he was there, but I couldn’t see him, I couldn’t talk to him, and that was kind of weird,” he said. “It was good to have him back.”

Welki was also grateful about the good news. He said, “The idea of that being lifted from Pipp’s shoulders, I think was a grace.” Welki was not the only member of the JCU community to express relief about Pipp’s test results. McAniff explained that many students and faculty members reached out.

“It’s nice to be part of a community, and it’s nice to know people care. It was a consoling moment when we got the good news,” McAniff said.

Pipp expressed gratitude for the negative test results and the support of the John Carroll community during this time. He also expressed a raised awareness of the effects of the pandemic.

“The Jesuits are very conscious of praying for the John Carroll community and for our world in this extremely difficult time,” he said. “We are praying together everyday.”