UMary Dining Lenten Phone Challenge

When I interviewed for my current position, Director of Mission and Hospitality in Dining Services, at the University of Mary, in November and December 2020, one of the interview questions was how I would enhance Catholic culture within the dining options on campus. Although I had a few responses, my first idea was placing some sort of phone box on the tables during the Season of Lent to encourage our students and others that eat in the dining areas to abstain from using their phones during meals.

At the time, it seemed rather rudimentary but after working at the University for the past year, fourteen months to be exact, and learning about the Benedictine mission and values of UMary, the phone box idea will premiere today as the UMary Dining Lenten Phone Challenge.  With support from my supervisors and support from colleagues, I am happy to say that this idea has become a reality. The reason why I thought of this idea is that so many people, myself included, are attached to our phones. Although at times they are a useful tool, they can also be an incredible distraction and allow us to waste valuable time. They also tend to rule our lives even when we are spending time with other people.

Personally, I struggle with my phone most especially when I am home with my family. My wife has called me out countless times about me being on my phone instead of focusing on her and the boys. Part of my Lenten sacrifices this year is doing this very thing – detaching myself from my phone and abstaining from unnecessary computer use.

After some prayer and numerous drafts, I settled on the following as the UMary Dining Lenten Phone Challenge – `

Over the next 40 days, we will partake in the Season of Lent. The Season of Lent is a penitential season that draws our attention to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. For many, this season is about “giving something up.” On the surface, the UMary Dining Phone Challenge is just that, however, it is also a deeper challenge of taking something on, which is having genuine conversations with the individuals we sit with at these tables without the distraction of our phones.

Each time you sit at a table in any of the UMary Dining options on campus, the challenge is to place your phone into this box and not to look at it until you are finished with your meal. If you have a watch that notifies you of messages, just ignore them. If your phone won’t fit in the box, place it in your backpack. We live in a culture that is filled with constant noise. This challenge can assist in silencing some of that noise – even if only for a short time. This is completely optional and by no means mandatory.

Over the past few months, I determined that utility boxes (pictured below) would serve the best for the UMary Dining Phone Challenge because the size that I found would fit the larger phones and fit at least 4-5 devices, which is the average table size in our dining options on campus. For the pub on campus, Chesterton’s at the Cloisters, we will use a variety of empty cigar boxes (pictured below), which will fit the décor better than the utility box.

I hope and pray that everyone that reads this blog post has a fruitful, blessed, and holy Lenten Season. Please pray that our students will be open to this challenge and that it bears much fruit.

I also want to thank some of the members of the University of Mary Knights of Columbus Council 16402 for their assistance in helping me create the materials and doing much of the work to get this project where it is today. Specifically, I want to thank Thomas C. and Kolbe R. – without their free time and work this would have taken a lot longer to prepare.

4 replies »

  1. Wonderful idea, Tom! Thank you for sharing, and for the reminder that for whatever we “give up” for Lent, there is something good that we can “take on”.

  2. Hi Tom, It’s me again, Susan Perna in Canada! I like the idea of a Mary Dining Box on the table and will try it out in my home too!

    I really wanted you to know that I have written a book and it has been published. It has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Gagnon, Archbishop Miller has added a comment, Bishop McGrattan has his photo in the book and Archbishop Prendergast has translated it into French. There are 2 editions, English/Frecnd and English Cantonese. It will also be translated into Italian and Spanish.

    Inspired by the work of Dr. Sofia Cavalletti a Hebrew Scripture scholar and Maria Montessori, this books for all ages and all people. It starts with the fact that you have been in God’s Plan before he created the earth; then goes from billions of years for Creation, Redemption and Parousia. It makes a great Baptism, First Communion or any sacrament gift. One priest in Toronto is getting a copy for the seminarians that will be ordained this spring.

    If you want to order one contact The Centre for Children and Theology !2022509505. Catherine Maresca can ship it to you directly from Washington DC.

    If you have any questions call me 705-384-2092

    LIving in The Light! Susan


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