Friars’ Ministries during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Several of our friars were able to send updates on their ministries’ responses and precautions taken during this current crisis around the COVID-19 strain of the coronaviruses.

Friars’ Ministries Vis-à-vis the COVID-19 Pandemic

Durham, NC (from Fr. Michael Martin, OFM Conv., Director of Campus Ministry at the Duke Catholic Center – March 11, 2020):
“University President Price sent an email to the entire Duke community late yesterday in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which will in essence bring our ministry on campus to a virtual halt for the next 6 weeks. While there remain many unanswered questions, I want you to know that we are cooperating fully with university officials and will take appropriate steps to do what we can to support our students in their spiritual lives wherever they may be. Initially it seems that we are not permitted to carry out any religious services on campus at least until April 20th. There are some remaining students on campus (international students and spring student athletes as well as grad students who live off campus). We are in dialogue with the university to see how we can meet their spiritual needs and still protect public safety as the university is requiring. I have cancelled the rest of my donor-visit trip this week and am returning to campus to better assess how we will proceed. I believe that in moments like this that are difficult and limiting, there are also opportunities. We continue to call on God’s grace to heal all those affected and to sustain us as we look to work through this together. Lent as a season of spiritual alignment with Jesus who suffered offers us a framework in which to accept the inconveniences and challenges that this pandemic presents with humility and patience.”
[update – March 16]: “…working from home. Our livestream Mass yesterday from Goodson Chapel has had 1600+ views already. We got so many emails and texts of thanks from people.”

Durham, NC (from Fr. Bart Karwacki, OFM Conv., Pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church – March 15, 2020):
“Bishop Zarama has canceled all weekend Masses until further notice. I will continue to have daily Mass because the numbers are well under the 100-person restriction imposed by the Governor of NC. Thought you should know.”

Port St. Lucie, FL (from Fr. Mark Szanyi, OFM Conv., Pastor of St. Lucie Catholic Church – March 14, 2020):
“We are having Masses and Confirmation tomorrow, as usual but with cautions… Schools are closed statewide for the next two weeks… Saturday 4:00 PM Mass today was about half what it usually is!… Oh the times; oh the collection!” (Diocese of Palm Beach)

Chicopee, MA (from Fr. Joe Bayne, OFM Conv., Pastor of the Basilica of St. Stanislaus, and Team – March 14, 2020):
“At the Basilica in Chicopee, we are naturally, following the directives of the Diocese of Springfield.  Thus, all regular Masses are suspended, until further notice.  We are permitted funerals, Baptism, and weddings for the immediate family only.  Fr. Mietek had a funeral today.  I have a Baptism at Noon as family was already coming in from out of town.  I will have another funeral Thursday.  Our School is closed for two weeks.  Our Polish Lenten Retreat was to begin tomorrow 3/15.  Fr. Pawel came all the way from Ukraine.  I am making arrangements for him to video his conferences for our web site and we will print his homilies for distribution.  We always get a nice crowd for the Polish Retreat.  Monday I will meet with Staff so we can all remain calm and focused.  We will do a sanitizing of the Basilica and Parish Office, as will be done by the School Staff as well. We friars met already today.  We will have a Conventual Mass tomorrow and probably all week.  We will fulfill the Basilica Mass Intentions.  Deus providebit.”
[update – March 18]:Our Polish Lenten Retreat was videotaped and will be available to our people on our web site soon. Bravo to visiting Friar Pawel Odoj, OFM Conv. from the Kakow Province, ministering in Ukraine. He is young and vibrant, and has been a joy in the Friary. Our School prepared learning packets for all students, picked up by parents yesterday outside in a very organized fashion. The Upper & Lower Basilica are being sanitized and will stay closed. I will take care of funerals at the funeral homes. I have a funeral tomorrow. The Friars here will prepare Sunday Mass Readings with brief Homily (English & Polish) for our Web Site. We have been talkng about the possibility of blessing Palms and distributing them as would be done with food at a drive thru restaurant, as take-out is permitted in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Again, along this line, we may be able to offer Święconka, via a common blessing in the parking lot, with folks remaining in their cars. Needless to say, Friars and Staff are in great dialogue. Friar Chis Dudek and our Franciscan Sisters (FMSA and FSSJ) have joined us for Conventual Mass in the Friary. We are still under the max of 10 people gathering in one space. Br. Michael Duffy, our medical guide, is keeping us well informed. He is very busy at Elms College with planning and adjustments during the crisis.”

Chicopee, MA (from Br. Michael Duffy, OFM Conv., Guardian of St. Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr Friary – March 18, 2020)
The friars of St Hyacinth Friary and St Stanislaus Friary are having Holy Hour.  While we experience social distancing – let us be united in prayer.

Washington, DC (from Fr. Jude DeAngelo, OFM Conv, Director of Campus Ministry at The Catholic University of America. – March 14, 2020):
“Sunday, March 15, will be the first day we will all be together as a community:  Fr. Albert was in Camden NJ, Fr. Louis Maximilian was in West Virginia and Fr. Andrzej was Apopka Florida – all three on Immersion trips with our students. After the Conventual Mass tomorrow we will have Chapter and assess what needs to be done in the apostolate since the University is mandating that students move out of the residence halls by Monday noon.  The University remains open and staff are required to work, although a liberal “work from home” policy is in place. We are live streaming Mass on Sunday at 6 PM on the university’s Facebook page.”

Rome, ITALY (from Fr. John Voytek, OFM Conv. while at Santi Apostoli, our Curia in Rome – March 15, 2020):
“It is hard to get one’s mind around what is happening around the world with this Coronavirus.
There was a saying going around here in our house: “Man plans and God laughs.”
Your “NYC 51st Street”  phone call [Fr. John’s location when Minister Provincial phoned to tell him of Minister General’s request that he become a confessor at the Penitenzeria) this past January was a shock for the year, (I thought) let alone now being here in Italy with all closures in the midst of a World Pandemic of the Coronavirus and the fact this is with all of us for the next several months: Time will tell… All precautions have been decreed and are in place for our friary, washing of hands, being a meter apart, no talking when taking your food, etc., and trying to be safe all around.  I do miss going to school (closed indefinitely) and now try different ways to continue learning Italian. Remembering our Province and loved ones in these days.  We will have Community Mass at Noon today.”

Japan (from Fr. Nicholas Swiatek, OFM Conv. serving as a Parish Priest at the Catholic Seto Church in Aichi-Ken – March 15, 2020):
“We are still able to celebrate weekday Masses unlike Tokyo and Osaka…. Today we held adoration of the Blessed Sacrament from 9 am till the hour of Mercy, closing with the Chaplet and Benediction.”

Hamburg, NY (from Fr. Michael Sajda, OFM Conv, President of St. Francis High School – March 15, 2020):
“This message was sent out this morning after consultation with our principal, Tom Braunscheidel and assistant principal, Dr Mary Lou Stahl.  The situation is changing very rapidly: ‘We have made the decision to take control of our own destiny and close school through April 19th.  As has been previously stated we will provide online instruction to our students throughout the closure. All school activities are cancelled as of Monday March 16th.  On Monday March 16th, all faculty and staff shall report to school 9am-2pm. We will begin with a meeting in the library then have professional development available. Please remember that teachers need to be prepared to deliver new content and provide feedback to students on a regular if not daily basis.  You must work in a mechanism to ensure you can verify student engagement.  On Tuesday March 17th and beyond, office staff are to report daily from 9 -12.  All offices must maintain an operational presence except for on specific days previously designated as holidays.’”

Hamburg, NY (from Fr. Ross Syracuse, OFM Conv., Pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church – March 16, 2020:
“The Bishop here has canceled all scheduled Masses and, basically, all parish events.”

Lackawanna, NY (from Fr. Romulus Rosolowski, OFM Conv., Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Victory National Shrine & Basilica – March 15, 2020):
“It’s a shock that goes far beyond any personal description. The Holy Spirit better be very active:
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger [Diocesan Administrator] announced today that there will be no regularly scheduled public Masses in the Diocese of Buffalo until further notice due to an abundance of caution and growing concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus.  Churches may remain open, as locally feasible, and the faithful are encouraged to continue to visit and pray while maintaining a prudent distance from one another.  Already on Friday, the Bishop announced that all Catholic faithful are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and Holy Days of Obligations. Live-streaming is recommended. In addition, all other parish events and large gatherings are to be postponed, including Confirmations.  Funerals will continue to be conducted, though with only immediate family present until further notice.  All Catholic schools will remain closed until April 20, 2020.”

Syracuse, NY (from Fr. Nicholas Spano, OFM Conv., Pastoral Associate of the Franciscan Church of the Assumption – March 16, 2020)
Praise & Worship and Adoration via Facebook Live 

Jonesboro, GA (from Fr. John Koziol, OFM Conv., Pastor of St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church – March 16, 2020)
8:30 am English M-Sat
7:30 pm Spanish M-F
10 am Sunday: Mass in English
12 pm domingo: Misa en español
“Join us and please do interact with each other and the Friars by commenting!”

Columbus, GA (from Fr. Robert Schlageter, OFM Conv., Pastor of St. Anne Catholic Church – March 18, 2020)
Online article by Mike Haskey of the Ledger-Enquirer

Chapel Hill, NC (from Fr. Timothy Kulbicki, OFM Conv., Pastor and Campus Minister at the Newman Student Center Parish – March 18, 2020)
“On the advice of a parishioner (UNC professor emeritus of epidemiology and infectious diseases) we discontinued communion under both species and handshaking already on Tuesday, March 3. The Bishop suspended all Sunday Masses on Saturday, March 14, and all Masses and gatherings on Monday, March 16. We will begin live-streaming Sunday Eucharist this Sunday at 11AM on our YouTube channel. We shut down the Church building and Activity Center on Tuesday, March 17. UNC-Chapel Hill has been on extended Spring Break since March 6. All the dorms must now be vacated by Saturday, March 21, and all classes will now be online.
I had already begun sending out a monthly e-letter, Friar Tim’s Telecom, which has gotten much more use with the rapidly changing situation. I’ve used it to communicate closings and cancellations, share thoughts and encouragement, instructions on how to practice spiritual communion, practical tips on coping with the pandemic, and reminders about the continued need for stewardship, especially e-giving. I also appealed for extra donations dedicated to eventual charity assistance for people with limited resources, furloughed hourly workers, and individuals and families without adequate health insurance or paid family sick leave, whom are expected to come to their parish for help.
Our ministry outreach has gone completely on-line. We have begun to solicit volunteers for a Newman Response Team; they will be connected to parishioners who need help with errands, loneliness, or setting up tech contact. All our student and parishioner small-faith groups are now meeting weekly on-line. The Associate Director of Campus Ministry is maintaining contact with our scattered student community via cellphone, Instagram, Zoom, and email. He has already organized an on-line Coffee House as well as an online version of Carolina Catholic Night, our regular Wednesday evening large-group dynamic. The Director of Faith Formation has organized the first of a series of Parent Webinars on caring for our families; another is planned for how to school children at home. Online contact is already in the works for parent small faith groups, Newman Youth Ministry and Junior Youth Ministry, First Communion class, and adult Confirmation class. Families are being encouraged to take the time to pray together, given resources for doing it, and asked to share pictures. An already-scheduled Adult Faith Formation presentation was made available on YouTube. Upon the encouragement of the staff, I and/or Friar Bill Robinson will be uploading more regular videos, which we are calling Friarside Chats. The Development Director is working the phones, meanwhile, to stay in contact with our large but active elder community. I and Friar Bill will be hearing drive-thru Confessions in the Church parking lot and at picnic tables behind the Activity Center on Saturday, March 21 and Saturday, March 28, from 4-6PM.”

Siler City, NC (from Fr. Julio Martinez, OFM Conv., Pastor of St. Julia Catholic Church – March 18, 2020)
“Last weekend felt very strange not enjoying our Eucharistic Liturgies, food sale, and the hustle and bustle of this wonderful growing community. Witnessing the church and property totally deserted on a Sunday was a sad thing to experience. While waiting for our web site to be launched we spread the news around the community by word of mouth and it worked. Only six cars showed up at the earliest mass and none at the others. I will be making some videos that will appear on YouTube and on a very limited new parish web site.
Confirmations were canceled. All parish groups have been directed not to gather on parish grounds and all faith formation classes and workshops have been brought to a stop. In order to meet our parish goal for the Bishop’s Annual Appeal, our parish groups committed to seventeen consecutive Sundays of food sales. Of course, these are not happening for now. We will reach our goal sometime in the future according to how this situation evolves. All weekday masses are canceled and so are Saturday confessions.
Our people constantly call the office wanting to know when masses will resume and they share their sadness in not coming together as a community. I’m sure some, if not many, of our people will become unemployed for a while. I have directed that all our funds to assist the needy be used for food and baby products. If we need extra funds, I will make the decision in union with the Finance and Pastoral Councils. On the first video I will convey to the people that we walk with them and that, as a faith community, we will do our best to see that no one in our community goes hungry. Today, three men with pick-up trucks headed for the food bank to bring back as much food as possible. Perhaps there will be many other trips like this.
The people of St. Julia are very generous and they love their parish and community. I pray that in difficult moments like these, we will rise to meet the challenges and take care of one another. As we move deeper into this challenging experience I am looking for ways to incorporate the active participation and leadership of our Finance and Pastoral Council members. It is extremely important that the entire leadership of the parish come together to tackle the challenges before us. I have the honor to live and minister with these wonderful people and I have much hope that the best in all of us here at St. Julia will manifest itself in gutsy heart-felt compassion.”

Burlington, NC (from Fr. Paul Lininger, OFM Conv, Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Community – March 19, 2020)
“Here at Blessed Sacrament Church in Burlington, NC, like many other ministries, we are facing many challenges spiritual, physical and financial. The challenges are multiplied by the reality of Masses being suspended, Common Penance Services and other spiritual enriching moments not being available because of Diocesan, State and Federal restrictions. Likewise we have the accompanying issues of loss of income due to mass unemployment for many from the local community who are now “laid-off” or furloughed from their jobs. This is very devastating for those who exist from “paycheck to paycheck” or who have “0” benefits etc., especially the undocumented.
With permission from Bishop Zarama: To support our people spiritually, we have initiated daily opportunities for them to come to church, not to gather or congregate in groups, but to simply receive the Eucharist and/or the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Information is posted on our parish website, was sent to parents of the school children and was distributed via our Religious Education program (and naturally word of mouth). We ask that after approaching the priest or Eucharistic Minister to receive, take a short moment for personal prayer and they leave the church. We request that they take with them a copy of the Bi-Lingual Stations of the Cross we’ve printed to pray at home individually or as a family. Or to take extra copies to share with others.
This program is operating seven days a week. On the weekends we follow the Mass schedule to help people stay in a routine of coming to church. This allows those who wish to be supported as they struggle with the ramifications of isolation, social distancing etc. And they are responding very well.
Food In-Security Issues: Our parish’s food pantry is the second largest in Alamance County. Now given the employment issues, school closings and others, the demand has ratcheted up dramatically. Like many volunteer based programs the food pantry’s foundation and support are members of the vulnerable age groups with comprised medical issues. So we’ve reached out to the larger local community for additional volunteers to help fill in. The response thus far has been excellent.
Our first major test of distribution will be this Saturday morning beginning at 7:00 AM when we open up. All recipients will be serviced via a drive through setup (adapted since the regular format involves many potential containment issues). No one who comes will be denied food.
School Support BSS / Public School Students: Our BSS teachers and staffs have been planning for a few weeks and our setup for materials being distributed via drive-thru for parents and ongoing on-line support and teacher contact. Our Religious Education Program which is a Family Based Program, has initiated online programing for those who have internet (most do not) and again a drive-thru at the church to receive packets of materials to aid families. These materials are updated weekly so there is a sense of making the new norm routine.
These are some examples of what we are unfolding. And daily we are looking at additional options.
With the blessings of God and Our Lady of Guadalupe along with all the Saints of the Franciscan Communities, we will make it to other side of this moment. Hopefully refreshed and renewed in faith and hope…by the love we share with each other.
Pax et bonum…”

Coal Township, PA (from Fr. Steven Frenier, OFM Conv., pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish as well as St. Patrick Parish in Trevorton)
Streaming Mass – Sundays at 11:00 a.m.,  on the Our Lady of Hope Parish Facebook page.

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