• |
Header Banner

Beyond Our Expectations

On the grounds of the Norbertine abbey of Daylesford in Paoli, Pa., is an old springhouse that years ago was converted into a chapel. The spring flowing through the simple stone structure once supplied all the water for the property and provided natural cooling for perishable food before the advent of refrigeration.

But the centuries-old building has become a symbol of modernity and progress since Daylesford priests tapped it last year to serve as the namesake and icon of new-media outreach efforts launched in response to the coronavirus pandemic. With social restrictions designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 keeping visitors away from the abbey, the priests had to look for new ways to support the spiritual life of the local church. They decided to minister to the spiritual needs of others through social media and a website called Springhouse Media, or “The Springhouse.”

“Our digital media efforts have worked well beyond our expectations,” says Andrew Del Rossi, who oversees Springhouse Media and all other digital outreach from the abbey. “There have been natural glitches and hitches … yet it has been successful overall.”

Billed on Daylesford’s website as a means of “[providing] seekers with a wellspring of virtual content to deepen their spiritual journeys and grow closer to their relationship with God,” Daylesford’s Springhouse Media is one of many ways that Norbertines throughout the United States have maintained a connection with the communities they serve during the pandemic. Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey in Albuquerque started live-streaming Mass at the beginning of Advent 2020, according to communications director Joseph Sandoval. Santa Maria also live-streams a monthly ecumenical prayer service called Taizé in the Desert, and Come to Christ, a monthly “Night of Praise, Worship, and Adoration.” It also streamed the Triduum services of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil, and it sends out a monthly digital newsletter. And St. Michael’s, in California, has its Abbot’s Circle, featuring webinars and videos.

Daylesford’s Springhouse Media is among the more ambitious outreach efforts, with presentations on various topics, novenas, virtual retreats, theological and spiritual reflections, podcast interviews, and streaming of liturgies and other events live from the abbey. Springhouse also includes ongoing series such as “Rock the Word 153,″ in which the Rev. John Zagarella explores how God communicates through rock-n-roll music (more on that below) and “Art and Artists at the Abbey,” which takes viewers on virtual tours of the abbey. Daylesford has a Facebook page, too.

“The abbey created an entire digital media ministry from scratch,” Del Rossi says, “reaching our normal community and extending far-beyond.” The learning curve for new-media outreach is ongoing and steep, Del Rossi says, “depending on the day and the task.” But there’s plenty of time to get it right; Springhouse will continue after the pandemic.

The priest and the Rocket Man
Sometimes Zagarella ministers in flowing vestments. Other times he wears a “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” T-shirt.

“Captain Fantastic” is an Elton John album released in 1975, and Zagarella, a longtime fan of John’s, wears a shirt bearing an image of the album’s cover in Episode 5 of Season 2 of his “Rock the Word 153” series on Daylesford’s Facebook page.

“Rock the World 153” is Zagarella’s ongoing exploration of scripture through the lens of rock music.The number 153 refers to the Bible story of the disciples who, while fishing, catch nothing until they see Jesus on the shore and hear him urging them to try again. Dutifully doing as Jesus suggests, they reel in 153 catches – supposedly the number of extant species of fish. (The number, we know today, is much higher; it’s in the tens of thousands.)

The first installment of “Rock the Word 153,” based on John’s song “Healing Hands,” came out in June 2020 after Del Rossi heard Zagarella weaving rock music references into a homily. He suggested the priest consider doing the same on a regular basis through Springhouse Media. To say Zagarella liked the idea would be an understatement: He started a semiweekly video series and hasn’t looked back.

“It just took off for me,” Zagarella says.

“[Rock music] has been inside me ever since I was a little kid. When I was 1 or 2 years old, I would carry 45s [records with a single song on each side] around in my hand. It was always the primary channel to my spirituality.”

Public reaction to “Rock the World,” Zagarella says, “has been unbelievable.”

“It’s been wonderful. I never dreamed that this would get this kind of a reaction. People who are younger, people who are older, people who never were able to understand the lyrics of rock music, have come up and said. ‘I never knew that’s what they were saying.’ ”

The series has also worked the other way, Zagarella says, illuminating the meaning of scripture with rock music.

Zagarella isn’t just an Elton John fan: He loves rock music in general. In the fifth episode of the second season of the series – the first episode after Easter 2021 – Zagarella draws parallels between Ezekiel Chapter 37, verses 1-14, and the rock group Evanescence’s song “Bring Me to Life.”

The inspiration for that episode came to Zagarella like most do – out of the blue, as he was driving to his teaching job at a high school in Claymont, Del.

“I’m on the Blue Route, as the locals know it, and I hear a song on the radio from Evanescence’s latest album, and all of a sudden this song ‘Bring Me to Life’ starts going through my head, and I thought, ‘Oh, my Lord above, this is the Ezekiel reading.’ ”

In the episode, Zagarella tells his audience:

“I love this song. It’s a very intense rock song. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought this really was the appropriate song for a post-Easter ‘Rock the Word’ because the Resurrection, let’s face it, is a very intense event. It really is amazing how the song parallels Ezekiel.”

But Zagarella’s admiration for Evanescence, like his admiration for every other musical artist not named Elton John, pales next to his sense of wonder for the Rocket Man, as John is known for his hit 1975 song of the same name.

“To my ear [John’s is] the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard,” Zagarellal says. “When I first heard ‘Yellow Brick Road,’ I couldn’t believe how incredibly beautiful it was. And it never ended. I’m still saving my lunch money to buy this stuff.”

July 9, 2021