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Virtual Matel Center Keeps IWA Community Connected

When Incarnate Word Academy made the decision to close campus in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the measure was to protect the health and safety of the entire IWA community. As the shift to remote learning began, so did something else: the launch of the Virtual Matel Center.

The Matel Center, a glass-walled room on IWA's fourth floor is the epicenter of IWA's campus ministry. Our campus minister, Ana Paula Panzarini, oversees the center, working with the 38 students who make up the Campus Ministry Team. Panzarini and the CMT devise activities, lectures, programs and initiatives that keep the IWA community rooted in the spirituality of Jesus the Incarnate Word. None of that, she felt, should be lost, even if the campus was closed.

"For me, it was important that we continue to build community to be the Body of Christ," she said. "During this time, we must continue to be God's representatives in the world for each other."

CMT members enthusiastically responded to her approach. Within a week of  creating the Virtual Matel Center, Panzarini and the Campus Ministry Team hosted an IWA-themed trivia game, held a watch party for Pope Francis' Urbi et Obi on March 27 and prayed a rosary together. 

Those opportunities for daily gatherings have been helpful, said students.

"The Virtual Matel Center is definitely different than what I’m used to, and everyone else really," said Dana Theroux '21, a member of the Campus Ministry Team. "I think it’s a super cool idea being able to meet up a few times a week to really feel that sense of community again and also getting to talk about God and having prayer time together. I think Ms. Panzarini has done such a great job putting it together and I’m really thankful that as a member of CMT, I’m able to help put it together."

Classmate Avery Garig agrees.

"I think it’s beautiful that no one in the IWA community has given up on the sisterhood," she said. "Just by putting in effort to maintain what we used to call our 'normal' through prayer time together, or even some SoulCore has been both calming and empowering."

Maintaining the sense of normalcy was important to Panzarini, who admits the task of figuring out how to keep the community is both daunting and a day-to-day progression. But she's been proud to see how the students are harnessing their prowess with technology and coming up with creative ideas. There was an online petting zoo on Monday, where students, faculty and staff could introduce others to their pets. And Panzarini hopes to find a way to launch the weekly Wednesday Mass online. 

"It's been a little overwhelming to adjust to," Panzarini said. "But we meet regularly to plan activities, and I love that this gives our students some of the social aspect to their life and learning that's been lost as we practice social distancing. Pope Francis tells us it is important to pray with your family, and I am grateful we've found a way to continue doing that."

That feeling of gratitude is echoed by many CMT members, including Anne Culbreth '20.

"Having that space at the end of the day to reconnect with the IWA community and with God has been such a blessing," she said. "It refocuses me and reminds me of the beautiful people that surround me, and I am so grateful to have been a part of that planning process."

And while no one can know what happens next through these uncertain times, it's safe to say that Panzarini and the Campus Ministry Team will be there to find ways to help all of us make sense of it all. 



  • Spirituality