MECO Makes a Return

The annual senior MECO retreat has returned for yet another year, even in the middle of a surging pandemic.

Ben Franzone, Friar's Life Editor

After a turbulent and sudden ending to the 2019-2020 school year, MECO leaders were able to show their resiliency to adapt to the times and pull off traditional MECO experiences that the Class of 2021 will remember for a lifetime. 

For decades, MECO, Malvernians Encountering Christ in Others, has been a long standing tradition at Malvern, but this time-honored custom almost came to a halt in 2020. 

Chaplain James Flynn O.S.A. has long been a part of the planning process for MECO speaks about how this year was different from those in the past. 

“We begin really preparing for the next MECO as soon as the previous one has finished. So, sometimes it’s longer than others,” Flynn said.

This year, due to COVID-19, the planning for MECO was a little bit different and the MECO leaders had an extra layer of planning which had to be done.

“What the school wanted primarily is a safe place to go for a retreat. If that were not possible, we might just maybe make it possible,” Flynn goes on to say. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, extra precautions had to be put in place in order to keep everyone safe and healthy during their MECO retreat. 

“That’s the key thing, if we can get a program and still have the protocols observed, then that takes care of as many problems as possible,” Flynn said.

For an event as large as MECO, there is a great deal of planning involved. Now with added steps, there was a bit more caution with this particular event.  

“There were all sorts of people involved in these decisions. There was a committee that one of the leading pulmonologists in the area, Dr. John Travaline, a Malvern graduate. And he was very influential,” Flynn said.

When making important decisions about MECO, Flynn and the MECO leadership team felt it was important to receive advice from multiple different sources. 

“So he would put on the table what he thought would be safe and sufficient. And then other people would weigh in with other things and somebody would say what about this and all that,” Flynn noted.

The team had to be able to adapt with these changing times and were able to come up with a safe plan to execute these MECO experiences.

“So there was an underlying understanding that this is not going to be perfect, no matter what we do. We’re going to try to create a bubble. But how successful we will be. It’s not perfection. But it’s very close to it,” Flynn said.

With that in mind, it was important to understand that the MECO leadership team has done all that they can to produce a safe and successful MECO experience. 

“As we’ve always said, the schools always try to mitigate the possibility that we will be spreading. And so people get tested before the weekend, and the school pays for that,” Flynn said.

Testing all of those going on the MECO retreat, was just one way that safety protocols were implemented. Students also had to keep masks on and maintain social distance during the retreat. 

In the spring and summer months, as COVID-19 cases began to surge, some may have wondered if anything could have affected these traditional MECO trips and their annual happening.

“I don’t think that was on the table. I think what we’re trying to do is just make it as safe as humanly possible. And I think we come pretty close to that,” Flynn said.

MECO leader Aidan Catania ‘21 voiced how the experience has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as what had to be done in order to execute this memorable event from a student leadership perspective. 

“We (MECO leaders) got selected, I would say last November [2019] and then we went on the last senior trip in December [2019], just to get a feel for it and we’ve really been working, meeting ever since then,” Catania said. 

Catania said the MECO leaders continued to work over the summer to plan for the weekends.

“We still had to wear masks at all times, we had to be six feet apart, but it didn’t really change from my experience when I went on it as a junior,” he said.

For the most part, students on campus have been abiding by COVID protocols, but there was always a possibility that many will disregard these pandemic protocols. 

“I think the students that we talked to was sort of, gives you a barometer of what the whole class is about and I think we felt very comfortable that the students would be socially distant,” Flynn said.

Even though the MECO trips this year may have looked a little different than those in the past, the tradition remains a present and relevant force for the Malvern community of Brotherhood.