Just weeks after the Archdiocese of Chicago assembled a team of priests set aside to give special blessings to COVID-19 patients in hospital, the Archdiocese of Boston has announced a similar initiative.
Thirty priests are being deployed to visit patients in the dangerous setting of COVID-19 intensive care units to ensure that they receive the Sacrament of the Sick in case they do not survive the illness.
“We are very grateful to the priests who have volunteered to serve in this ministry, and we ask everyone to pray for them, their mission and their safety,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley wrote in a post on his blog.
The priests, all under 45 and without preexisting medical conditions, are organized in teams of two, living in empty rectories close to various hospitals.
They will serve exclusively in this ministry throughout the remainder of the health crisis, according to the Boston Pilot, newspaper of the archdiocese.
M.C. Sullivan, chief healthcare ethicist of the archdiocese, said she had heard from clinical staff and healthcare leaders about the need for such chaplains. A former nurse, she told WGBH that she leaned on her medical background to convince hospitals, many of whom initially rejected the idea, that the process would be safe for patients, hospital staff and the priests themselves.
Hospitals have “severely reduced” access to their facilities and minimized staff contact with patients, she said. Some hospitals are not allowing visitors, and many are reluctant to allow priests in to provide the Sacrament of the Sick.
Forty-five hospitals ended up agreeing to allow the special chaplains.
“We are making it possible for (patients) to have the Sacrament of the Sick, even if their condition or the regulations in the hospital make that difficult to happen,” Sullivan told the Pilot.
Over 80 priests participated in an initial training session, which explained how to follow hospital guidelines; how to avoid close contact with patients; and how to maintain social distancing at home.
She said she thinks the initiative is a sign that the Church is still present and active despite needing to halt many ministerial activities during the pandemic.
“The Church not only hasn’t gone away, they do run into harm’s way to serve the faithful,” Sullivan said.
Father Tom Macdonald, vice-rector of St. John’s Seminary in Boston, told Catholic News Agency that being a COVID-19 chaplain is “like living as a firefighter in a firehouse. We’re here, we get calls, we rush out, we come back.”
Father Macdonald said that each time he’s been called to anoint a COVID-19 patient, hospital staff has assisted him in donning and removing his personal protective equipment.
He said that the priest prays most of the prayers for the Sacrament at the threshold of the patient’s room. When it is time to anoint the patient, he enters and applies the Oil of the Sick with a cotton swab on the patient’s foot. It is normally applied to the forehead and palms.
The program has impacted not only the patients themselves, as WGBH explained:
The response from family members, patients and staff members has been extremely positive, according to Sullivan. “Staff members and administrators in the hospitals have been really pleased about the way this has worked out,” she said. “They’re thrilled for their patients, who they know feel better to the extent that they are aware of things.”
On one of the first days of the program in early April, a priest went to do the sacrament for the first time, and Sullivan says a nurse asked him to bless the staff when he came out of the room, following his anointing of the patient. “He thought she just meant the few team members that were right there,” Sullivan said, “and when he came out, 25 staff members had assembled for the blessing.”
Worried about the future? Find peace in this short prayer
It’s relatively easy to be worried about the future. We simply don’t know what is going to happen today, tomorrow, or next year. This state of uncertainty can cripple us at times, keeping us from doing anything out of fear of the unknown. St. Josemaria Escriva consoled someone in a similar frame of mind, who…
It’s relatively easy to be worried about the future. We simply don’t know what is going to happen today, tomorrow, or next year. This state of uncertainty can cripple us at times, keeping us from doing anything out of fear of the unknown.
St. Josemaria Escriva consoled someone in a similar frame of mind, who said to him (as quoted in The Way of the Cross), “Father, I am having a very rough time.”
In response, the saint composed a short but peaceful prayer of abandonment, entrusting to God everything past, present and future.
My Lord and my God: into your hands I abandon the past and the present and the future, what is small and what is great, what amounts to a little and what amounts to a lot, things temporal and things eternal.
Asking his friend to pray this prayer, St. Josemaria wrote, “Then, don’t worry any more.”
The only way we can move forward in calm is to entrust our “rough times” to God and then let the worry go. He is in control, and will be with us every step of the way.
Pope Francis reminisces about 6th grade
Perhaps it wouldn’t be wrong to say that our Jesuit pope also has Salesian roots. Pope Francis hinted at this on Sunday, May 24, the feast of Mary Help of Christians, which is an important Salesian feast. “Today, on the day of Mary Help of Christians, I address an affectionate and cordial greeting to the…
Perhaps it wouldn’t be wrong to say that our Jesuit pope also has Salesian roots. Pope Francis hinted at this on Sunday, May 24, the feast of Mary Help of Christians, which is an important Salesian feast.
“Today, on the day of Mary Help of Christians, I address an affectionate and cordial greeting to the Salesians,” he said, following the midday Regina Coeli prayer at the Vatican’s Apostolic Library. “I recall with gratitude the spiritual formation I received from the sons and daughters of Don Bosco.”
The Pope did not mention it directly, but he was referring to 1949 when he and his younger brother, Oscar, were enrolled as boarders at Colegio Wilfrid Barón de los Santos Ángeles run by the Salesians at Ramos Mejía.
Pope in Salesian school
The Virgin Mary, under the title Mary Help of Christians, is the principal patroness of the Salesians of Don Bosco, the religious congregation that Don Bosco founded in 1859 in the northern Italian city of Turin, to serve the young people.
The city’s Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, which was commissioned by Don Bosco himself, remains the heart of the Salesians of Don Bosco.
The Argentine Pope’s remarks on Sunday is not the first time that he has spoken about the influence of the Salesians of Don Bosco in his childhood.
Turin, June 22, 2015
Pope Francis visited Turin, June 21-22, 2015, during which he joined the Salesians in celebrating the 200th birth centenary of Don Bosco, who was born on August 16, 1815, and died on January 31, 1888.
During his visit, the Pope met the Salesians, including the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, known as the Salesian sisters, which Don Bosco co-founded with Saint Mary Mazzarello.
While commending Don Bosco’s ministry for young people, the Pope recounted fond childhood memories of his family’s closeness to the Salesians and how, when his mother was ill, he was taken out of public school to spend one year studying with the Salesians.
The Holy Father spoke of how he grew very attached to the Salesian community in the year he spent with them and that one priest, in particular, followed him from Baptism to the realization of his vocation, accompanying him ultimately on his journey to the Jesuit Order.
Salesian priests Fathers Enrico Pozzoli and Cayetano Bruno are particularly remembered by the Pope.
“Evangelii gaudium with St John Bosco”
Again, in January 2019, Pope Francis wrote a preface to the book, “Evangelii gaudium con don Bosco” (Evangelii gaudium with St John Bosco), a collection of reflections by 25 members of the Salesian family.
Commending the spirit of joy of Don Bosco, despite the thousands of “difficulties that besieged him every day”, the Pope recalled his association with the Salesians as a boy in Argentina.
While studying in a Salesian school, he wrote in the preface, he found that same “climate of joy and family.” The Salesians, he said, trained him to appreciate beauty, work, and cheerfulness – and this, he told the Salesians, “is your vocation.”
Houston church closes again after priests test positive for COVID-19
Catholic churches in Texas had begun offering Mass for the public again in early May. But at one parish, public Masses were abruptly suspended again after three priests tested positive for COVID-19. “Today we learned that three members of the Redemptorists community living and working at Holy Ghost Parish have tested positive for COVID-19, Fr.…
Catholic churches in Texas had begun offering Mass for the public again in early May. But at one parish, public Masses were abruptly suspended again after three priests tested positive for COVID-19.
“Today we learned that three members of the Redemptorists community living and working at Holy Ghost Parish have tested positive for COVID-19, Fr. William Bueche, C.Ss.R., pastor of Holy Ghost, said in a statement May 16. “While the individuals themselves are asymptomatic, they, and the other members of the community, are in quarantine in the residence isolated from the others. All members of the household have been tested and are awaiting results.”
Fr. Bueche said that one of the individuals who tested positive had been active in celebrating public Masses at Holy Ghost since the church reopened on May 2. He urged anyone who has attended Masses in person at Holy Ghost since the reopening to “monitor your health for any symptoms and be tested for COVID-19, as a precautionary measure.”
The priest said he informed the City of Houston Health Department about the situation.
In a statement issued Monday, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston noted that, Fr. Donnell Kirchner, a 79-year-old priest at Holy Ghost died. “The specific cause of death is unknown, but he had been recently treated at an urgent care clinic who referred him to a hospital emergency room,” the statement read. “He was diagnosed with pneumonia but he was not admitted to the hospital and ws sent home with medication. It is not clear if he was tested for covid-19 at either faciity. He returned to the residence he shared with seven other members of his religious order.”
The statement said that following Fr. Kirchner’s death, the other Redemptorists “sought medical advice, and all were tested for the coronavirus. Although the parish had followed cleaning, sanitation and social distancing guidelines described by State health officials since reopening on May 2, they determined at that time it was best to close the church immediately to public Masses until the results of their tests were known.”
The archdiocese also noted that in-person attendance at Holy Ghost had been “closely controlled” and that attendance at Mass on Sunday never exceeded 179, far short of the 900-person capacity. Weekday Mass attendance as a “small fraction of that amount.”
An earlier statement on the parish website said that Masses would be canceled as of May 14 because the Redemptorist community was self-quarantining while awaiting results of the COVID-19 tests. Suspension of Masses included the funeral for Fr. Kirchner originally scheduled on Saturday, May 16.