By Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Notre Dame’s student newspaper, The Observer, said the school’s vice president for public affairs and communications announced that Father Jenkins was tested for COVID-19 when he learned that a colleague had tested positive. He is now “entering an extended period of isolation as indicated by university medical personnel and county health officials.”
“My symptoms are mild, and I will continue work from home,” Father Jenkins said in the emailed message. “The positive test is a good reminder for me, and perhaps for all, of how vigilant we need to be,” he added.
The college president had received criticism for not wearing a face mask and for shaking hands during a Sept. 26 White House ceremony where President Donald Trump announced Judge Amy Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee. Barrett, a judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago, also is a law professor at Notre Dame.
The priest’s actions sparked criticism on social media since he has urged students and faculty to wear masks and practice social distancing on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Father Jenkins attended the ceremony with Marcus Cole, Notre Dame’s Law School dean. Many in Rose Garden crowd were not wearing face masks, nor were they seated with social-distanced gaps. Video footage showed Cole wearing a mask, but not Father Jenkins.
A statement by a university spokesman said Father Jenkins and Cole received COVID-19 testing near the entrance to the White House and, after getting a negative result, were allowed to remove their masks before being escorted to the Rose Garden.
In a statement to students, faculty and staff Sept. 28, the priest apologized for his “error of judgment” in not wearing a face mask at the ceremony and shaking hands with people there.
“I failed to lead by example at a time when I’ve asked everyone else in the Notre Dame community to do so. I especially regret my mistake in light of the sacrifices made on a daily basis by many, particularly our students, in adjusting their lives to observe our health protocols,” he wrote.
In August, he apologized for taking photos outdoors in close proximity to Notre Dame students.
Early in the pandemic’s U.S. impact, Father Jenkins strongly advocated for classes to reopen for this fall’s semester. In May, he wrote an op-ed in The New York Times where he noted the risks involved in opening the campus and said school officials “believe the good of educating students and continuing vital research is very much worth the remaining risk.”
When the school reopened, it faced a spike in positive COVID-19 cases and moved all classes online for two weeks. Cases have since declined and the university resumed its in-person classes.
The announcement that Father Jenkins tested positive for coronavirus came the same day that news broke that President Trump and the first lady Melania tested positive for COVID-19.