By Therese Fink Meyerhoff
It’s safe to say that before the last quarter of 2019, the circle of people who had given significant thought to pandemics was relatively small. Father Michael Rozier, SJ, was among that group. He spent seven months of his Jesuit formation at the World Health Organization, working on ethics and international health issues. He has a Ph.D. in health management and policy and teaches courses in global health and in ethical leadership in health care. So, when SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) – commonly called COVID-19 – was declared a pandemic – Fr. Rozier was in demand.
“Over the past year, people have justifiably felt more anxious. Whenever I can give resources to help reduce anxiety and help people be informed and not act out of fear – that’s the best,” he said. “I have been trained well by the Society of Jesus and I am grateful for those moments when I can give back.”
Father Rozier was busy even before COVID-19. He teaches both graduate and undergraduate students at Saint Louis University, writes about ethics in health care and accommodates frequent speaking requests. In the past year, he also advised the leaders of this province on how to respond to the pandemic effectively and ethically.
In the meantime, he adapted his courses to highlight real-time issues. “In past semesters, we would discuss things like the ethical allocation of ventilators, or whether employers had the right to require vaccinations,” Fr. Rozier said, noting that students often found those discussions farfetched. But, in the past year, “I got messages from former students thanking me for those conversations, saying they were the only members of their staffs who had ever considered these ethical issues. It was pretty gratifying.”
In the future, this past year is likely to be a case study for students in health sciences. Father Rozier says the most important question at this point in the pandemic is not about PPE allocation or vaccination requirements, but “How do we not fear our fellow person?” He wants to encourage Americans to approach this question realistically, acknowledging that some people might pose risks, but that fear mongering and “othering” is destructive.
“I encourage open conversations and honest relationships,” he says. “If you’re not comfortable asking someone if they’re vaccinated, you’re probably not close enough to spend time with them in close proximity. We as a people of faith need to put energy into how to be hopeful and bridge divisions, such as those we’ve seen in the past year. We want to be models of how not to fall victim to the ways of the world.”
Father Rozier has been impressed by the creative energy demonstrated by people working in schools, parishes and retreat centers. “In some of our parishes, we have more people attending evening programs on Zoom than we had attending in person (before the pandemic). This is wonderful in the way it helped to create a sense of community, but we don’t want to become ‘too virtual,’” he said. “As in all things, these innovations are good in how they help us achieve our desired end.”
Like the rest of us, Fr. Rozier is looking forward to the day when the coronavirus is not as topical as it is now. “Very few academics want to be relevant in real time,” he said. “We in public health would welcome becoming less relevant.”