Back to Posts
Apr 24, 2020

How Priests Are Shepherding during a Pandemic

Merridith Frediani

The skies are quiet.

I noticed it earlier this week when we had a succession of friendly spring days. The wind shifted and was coming from the south. Living nine miles north of the airport, spring and summer are when my house is on the landing flight path. I notice the increase of lowish flying airplanes overhead and by early summer, it is routine: another marker of the season. Sometimes, when I’m in the backyard, I pause and wave, imagining someone gazing out the window and smiling. This spring I noticed an absence of airplanes. The skies haven’t been quiet since 9/11. It was eerie then. It’s eerie now. 

It seems what is normal is being replaced by what’s abnormal. It’s easy to cross the streets now while walking because the cars are parked in driveways, sidelined indefinitely. So odd is it that national insurance companies have sent out refunds. I’ve become strangely comfortable with Zoom and memorized the meeting number and password of the room I’m in most often. With kids living at home who should be in college, I’m cooking and cleaning and actively parenting once more. It wasn’t normal for me to say “enough you two,” but it’s part of the vernacular again. The old normal meant dashing home from work to maybe squeeze in some exercise before dinner and then having enough energy for an hour of TV before going to sleep and starting over. The new normal is a fifteen-second commute to and from my dining room and time for daily hour-long workouts. Much has changed and it’s a bit rattling but now more than ever, the constancy of Christ is more apparent and more comforting.

Continuing to Serve

While many of us struggle to reinvent our daily prayer because of wildly altered schedules, we discover that Jesus has gone nowhere. And if we are receptive, the words of St. Paul in Romans—when troubles increase, so does grace (see Romans 5:20)—will become more relevant. I am trying to manage my exposure to COVID-related information in order to manage my stress level. I am trying to be smart about being informed enough, but not slip into the fray of futile arguments. I am focusing instead on the graces and one of those is seeing the beautiful shepherding our priests are offering. My priest friends say they are busier now than before. Rather than this being a time for a sabbatical, they are finding ways to care for their flocks. 

The job of the priest is highly relational. I wondered how they continue to serve when they don’t get to see us for Mass and conversation after when they can’t have coffee meetings, and dinner at our houses, when even anointing and visiting the sick is curtailed.

New Space for Confessions

I read about Fr. Daniel O’Mullane in Booton, New Jersey who purchased a plastic shed and every day goes into it, offering the sacrament of confession through a window. 

Fr. Kevin McManaman in Big Bend, Wisconsin tried the outdoor confession thing but it’s cold in Wisconsin in spring so he made a “tree fort” in his church. He set up partitions with screens, put blue tape on the floor four feet away, and sits two feet away on his side with his back to the screen. People can pull up a chair from the clean chair pile, but most stand for their confession. 

Catechesis for the Youth

Fr. Patrick Heppe in Waukesha, Wisconsin tries to do something daily online for the school and religious education kids. On Holy Thursday he dressed up like a shepherd and carried a stuffed lamb further deepening the connection of our Lord as a shepherd and we as his flock. 

More Phone Calls

Fr. John Burns, the vocation promoter for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has noticed that people are more spiritually hungry now that they have to abstain from the Eucharist, and are willing to talk about issues and questions they didn’t have time for before when the pace of life was busier. In his vocation work, he sees those who are discerning the priesthood and religious life making big strides. He is busier in ways he didn’t expect. His days are filled with phone calls with people who need support or are eager for a sense of community but he believes we will see “new wine out of this.”

Love for the Homebound

Fr. John Baumgardner in Milwaukee finds he was reminded of the importance of praying for his parishioners. He is offering his Liturgy of the Hours and daily Masses for them. He, and many of the other priests I talked to, have been making phone calls to all their parishioners to check in and offer support. He said it has been well received and people like the personal touch and connection. The religious education youth made Easter cards for those who are homebound or in nursing homes, and Fr. John hopes to continue having them reach out. This time has also been a reminder that the work of ministry is unseen but God is always in charge and at work. Fr. John trusts that God will bring beautiful fruit out of all this. 

Virtual Classrooms

Fr. Andrew Infanger in West Bend, Wisconsin is a millennial priest who is using his digital savvy to stay connected to his parishioners in creative ways. He meets with students in fifth through eighth grade once a week via the school’s Google classroom, dividing each grade into two groups so it is a manageable number. He created a chapel in his office and with another priest launched the Catholic Family Hour, a talk show format where they sing songs, pray a couple of decades of the Rosary, do show and tell, and take calls from parishioners. He moved all his RCIA and men’s group activities to Google Hangouts and this week will launch “Fr. Drew” on his YouTube channel where he will discuss religious topics, draw pictures, and encourage others to draw along. 

New Wine

It brings me comfort to see how our priests are being creative and intentional about being Christ in our toppled world. The image of them shepherding us, their flock, is beautiful.  I think the most beautiful thing though was early in our quarantine, when our Archbishop Jerome Listecki, our diocesan exorcist, and Fr. John Burns traveled the diocese with the Blessed Sacrament and blessed each deanery and all the faithful within it. It was an eight-hour project involving several hundred miles. They were caring for their flock, offering us the spiritual protection we need, and being a visible presence of the Church in the world. 

There’s no doubt about it. COVID-19 stinks. A lot of suffering is happening. It’s hard to notice the good. But the good is still there and like my priest friends insist, God is in all of this and will bring fruit and new wine. Amen.

You May Also Like:

Ministering to Coworkers, Ember Days, and Revering Saint Relics [Fr. Josh Johnson podcast]

A Faithful Response to Canceled Masses amid COVID-19

How I Avoid Laziness at Home

The Activated Disciple: Taking Your Faith to Next Level

Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three teenagers. She loves leading small faith groups for moms and looking for God in the silly and ordinary. She blogs and writes for her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Has Ascension's free media strengthened your faith?
You can now offer ongoing support for this content with a recurring gift.
Support Ascension

Get your favorite Ascension content sent right to your email!