Mississippi priest posting videos to give students reason to smile during COVID-19 crisis

Published 11:46 am Saturday, March 21, 2020

One Mississippi priest is using one part humor and one part social media to help bring a smile to students who are missing their classmates and — gasp — maybe their teachers in this era of COVID-19.

Before local Catholic Schools closed their doors to prevent spreading the disease, Father Mark Schoffner, St. Mary Basilica’s Parochial Vicar, said he would visit the Natchez schools every day around lunchtime and catch up with the students between their lunch break and classes.

“I can’t stand school breaks. I just about lose my mind,” Schoffner said. “… I’ve got 600 and something kids that I think about every day.”

When the schools closed, Schoffner said he missed the students dearly and thought perhaps it would make them happy to see a familiar face in places that are familiar to them, like the school’s courtyard and playground.

He began posting light-hearted videos of himself on the Cathedral School Facebook page as a way to interact with students and give them something to smile about, he said.

“Before I was in seminary I was a registered nurse. Hospital work can be very depressing. There are a lot of situations in life that you could just break down and cry about, and it’s OK to cry. … But if you don’t bring levity and light to a situation, then you will just break down and cry all of the time,” Schoffner said.

On the playground, Schoffner sat on the swing set and joked about eating dandelions. Thursday in the courtyard, he told his students a historical story about the feast of St. Joseph.

“I miss them dearly,” Schoffner said. “… I do it for myself, but I also think kids enjoy being able to see you and know that they are being listened to and that someone is praying for them.”

Although not every church pastor has taken to posting funny videos, a few churches have started posting sermons on social media instead of hosting services in the church building.

Schoffner said he and St. Mary’s pastor, Father Scott Thomas, would be hosting the 10 a.m. Sunday mass in a live stream online at greenwavesports.live, where traditionally school athletic events have been posted. Videos of daily masses are also published on St. Mary’s Facebook page, Schoffner said.