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Catholic communities preparing for total solar eclipse

From closures to camping, eclipse impacts schedules of communities across state

Published: March 27, 2024   
Visitors at the St. Joseph Center in North Little Rock look to the skies during the annular solar eclipse Oct. 14, 2023. (Courtesy Sandy DeCoursey)

Catholic schools, churches and organizations say the total solar eclipse sweeping across Arkansas April 8 is generating a lot of excitement.

With the peak zone being a diagonal swath across the state, it will be very busy with tourism and special activities. 

The Arkansas Department of Health, as well as the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, recently estimated the eclipse will attract thousands of visitors from around the world to the Natural State. 

According to NASA’s Eclipse 2024 webpage, “A total solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, completely blocking the face of the sun. The sky will darken as if it were dawn or dusk.”

Astronomers report that while a total solar eclipse happens once every 18 or so months, the opportunity to witness a solar eclipse in any given location only happens once every 400 years, given that the path of the eclipse is so narrow. The last time Arkansas saw a total solar eclipse was 1918. 

Some Arkansans saw a partial solar eclipse in 2017, but this year’s total solar eclipse will be much more impressive. While the 2017 eclipse had a maximum length of 2 minutes and 40 seconds and was 70 miles wide, the 2024 eclipse will be four minutes and 28 seconds and around 115 miles wide. 

This year, Arkansans will experience daytime darkness beginning at 1:45 p.m., with the final exit of the moon’s shadow at 2 p.m. The next time Arkansas will be near a region of a total solar eclipse will be 2045. 

Several Catholic schools, parishes and organizations are changing their plans, teaching about the eclipse, closing for the day or holding an event for the eclipse. 

Deacon Jason Pohlmeier, principal of St. Joseph School in Fayetteville, was so impressed by viewing the eclipse in Missouri in 2017 he has been preparing for this year’s Arkansas eclipse ever since. 

“I set reminders for April 8, 2024, on my school calendar seven years ago,” Pohlmeier said. “Last school year, when it was time to create our school calendar, I scheduled April 8 as a day off, since Fayetteville is just outside of the path of totality. I was worried that families might see it as an inconvenience, but I've been very pleased to see how excited our families are about it. 

“The movement of heavenly bodies is in our curriculum, and I felt this was too important of an opportunity for our students and teachers to miss. I hope everyone makes plans to travel to the path of totality — it's worth it.”

Rebecca Steimel, principal of St. Paul School in Pocahontas, said St. Paul will be closed that day — not just for students to witness a unique event, but to accommodate unprecedented traffic. 

“We are in the path of totality, and our county is expecting an influx of 20,000-30,000 extra visitors that day,” Steimel said. 

Vivian Fox, principal of St. John School in Russellville, echoed Steimel’s sentiments. 

“We are closed on April 8 and 9, because of the traffic that should be in Russellville,” Fox said. 

Sara Jones, principal of Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock, found a unique way for MSM students, faculty and staff to enjoy the eclipse. 

“We have ordered glasses for everyone in the building,” Jones said, noting that Mount St. Mary will be closed that day. “We will all be enjoying the view from home.”

Liz Tingquist, director of youth and campus ministry for the Diocese of Little Rock, said the Catholic Youth Convention April 5-7 in downtown Little Rock will proceed as planned, ending on Sunday morning so youths can make it home safely. 

“We’ll start on Friday night and go until Sunday at about 9:30 a.m. or 10 a.m.,” Tingquist said. “Regardless of challenges, our youth are eager to come together to celebrate our faith, so we’re pushing forward.”

The eclipse theme will be woven throughout the annual high school event for around 240 registered students.

Another Catholic organization with fun things planned is the St. Joseph Center in North Little Rock. The non-profit is dedicated to preserving and restoring the historic building’s 63-acre grounds through sustainable farming and food production. The center is also an ideal location for watching the eclipse, given its location, expanse of property, RV hookups and rooms for rent. 

Executive director Sandy DeCoursey said they have planned some events and opportunities The center’s website currently has a countdown clock, with the days and minutes leading up to the eclipse. 

With each passing second, DeCoursey is growing more and more excited. Three of the four historic rooms at the St. Joseph Center are booked, with one suite still available. 

“We’ve got the AirBnB rooms, we’ve got the RV boondocking, which means there are no hookups available, but you can come and use your own generators,” DeCoursey said. “We also have tent camping that’s allowed for that period. We don’t normally allow tent camping, but we decided to open that up for this event. So we structured it so it’s more than just the day of, because we’re hearing about how congested all of the roads are going to be. We structured this to be for a minimum of two days and as long as a week.”

The center is also having an eclipse watch party. For $25 a car, guests can park and receive eclipse glasses. DeCoursey is working on bringing in food trucks for guests as well. The Beer Shed on the center’s grounds will also be open. 

“I’m really curious because we’re going to have all of the animals out, and I’ve heard that they react very differently to the eclipse,” DeCoursey said with a laugh. 

DeCoursey also revealed a surprise event to Arkansas Catholic.

“We’ve got this wonderful cupola on top of our building that is accessible,” DeCoursey said. “We don’t allow a lot of people up there, but we’re having a fundraising campaign to purchase a ticket for a chance to watch the eclipse from the cupola. The winner will be able to come in and watch the eclipse from (the top of the St. Joseph Center).”

The center taught kids about the eclipse and nature during the Junior Naturalist Spring Break Camp March 18-22.

For DeCoursey, the eclipse is just another reminder of what the center — and the Church — have been telling guests for years — the outdoors and nature are important, and an example of God’s magnificent creation. 

“It’s a wonderfully blended urban farm environment. You’re out here amongst the animals and gardens, and it’s just a great spot to be. There’s lots of space, so you can spread out and observe the eclipse, unimpeded as you watch.”


Want to celebrate the eclipse at the St. Joseph Center?

If you’re interested in camping, RV boondocking or renting a suite for two nights at St. Joseph Center, visit You can see the Center’s upcoming seasonal events and opportunities at


Read more in our 2024 Solar Eclipse section here.

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