All Hungarian children above age 14 continue their studies from home, on-line, starting 16th November, 2020. The Covid-19 epidemic is reaching new highs in the country, and the Ministry of Education issued a digital learning for higher grades. Only 29 boarders, 15 girls and 14 boys, all under the age of 14 stayed in the dormitories of Fényi Gyula Jesuit High School, Miskolc, Hungary after the partial lockdown. Out of the 870 strong student body 206 are boarders, the rest commute to school daily from the city of Miskolc and nearby villages.
The boarding school has always been a special place of formation, fellowship and spirituality within the school community. The boarders stay in the school five days every week, travelling home only at the weekend. Their afternoons are spent together, studying, doing after-school activities, doing sports, playing together. The youngest ones sleep in larger rooms of 6, and as they grow they move to rooms for 4 or 3 by the time they graduate. Study groups and activities are arranged by age, but they pray, eat and play together. Girls and boys go to class together but live in separate dormitories located in two faraway corners of the campus.
The spiritual highlight of dormitory life is the Wednesday evening Mass for students when all of them go to the dormitory Chapel. The students love music, over twenty of them play some musical instrument, the piano, chellos, guitars, flutes, drums, while all sing Taizé chants and popular church songs and hymns. Mr. Köllő, head of the dormitories says, “When the 200 children fill the dormitory chapel, play music and sing, the whole place resonates with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Now we have only a handful of younger children, practising social distancing, sitting awkwardly far away from one another, wearing masks. The youngest are not always brave enough to sing loudly. It is a very different, but even more intimate and gentle experience.”
“The dormitory is like a really big, noisy family, where children from 10 to 19 live, eat, play and work together. Most boys never forget the thrill of the moment when in 5th grade a friendly 12th grader said hello, and invited him to kick ball. It is something a boy remembers all his life. Or the little girl will who felt so secure and wonderful when a young lady of 18 came to read a bedtime story, and say goodnight. Now with the upper grades sent home, the 8th graders suddenly have become the seniors. It is a new responsibility and a new kind of freedom to be more generous with the youngest ones.”
Kajtor Domi SJ is spending his magisterium in the school and the boarding residences. His pastoral and teaching duties in the boarding school include leading evening prayers, reading nighttime stories, playing the guitar at Mass, and listening to children and adults as a spiritual counsellor.
“The evening prayers and the Wednesday Masses cement the boarding school community together in a special way. I would not think that all 206 students practise or even have faith. There are some very committed Christians, both among Catholics and Protestants, and there are some others with varying levels and maturity of faith. But all the boarders, even the non-believers seem to be very open. The boarding school has a certain magic; the family-like atmosphere draws people in, they all feel safe, the young ones look up to the elders as role models, who in return show kindness, respect and care for the little ones. They are friends and people are usually interested in what their friends think or believe. This may be the basis of their openness. They model life, faith, caring and comradery for each other. The community supports the individual students, and the students all know that it is a good place to grow, to move forward. Normally 10 teachers plus the school health worker in the dormitories with 200 students. This time when there are only 29 young children in the dormitory, we have even more time and energy to encourage and help them.”
Mr Köllő adds: “Here everybody wants to grow and be and do better. Teachers do not have to be wizards in order to motivate the students to study or be diligent. Hard work and love of learning are among our most important shared values. Here all of them want to do their best, and even if occasionally they feel less motivated, the boarding school provides a supporting structure that keeps them going until they feel motivated and strong again.”