Alumni Priests Respond to Pandemic with Faith, Hope and Creativity

Posted on March 18, 2020

As the United States implements necessary restrictions to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, Catholic parishes are working to maintain a sense of community at a time when the celebration of public Mass and other parish activities have been suspended for the foreseeable future.

Across the country, alumni priests formed at Mundelein Seminary have taken creative and technological measures to shepherd their flocks and share the Good News of Christ’s saving love during an unprecedented and stressful time.

This page will be updated with inspiring stories of the unique ways Catholic communities are continuing to enrich their faith as well as resources to help you strengthen your own spiritual life. Share a story from your parish by sending a message and/or photos to socialmedia@usml.edu.

Father Derek Ho (Archdiocese of Chicago ’14) shares his experiences ministering to COVID-19 patients during the pandemic and offering Last Rites.

#MundAlum Fr. Stan Rataj (Chicago ’79) at Our Lady of Snows Parish blesses homes in his parish community. Thank you for continuing to spread the light, peace and joy of Christ to others by your example and prayers, Fr. Stan.

Photo from Our Lady of Snows Parish in Chicago, IL.

#MundAlum Father Brian Slezak (Diocese of Albany ‘14), on the left in the photo, became a new pastor at Holy Family Parish and St. Joseph’s in Little Falls, NY last month. In an article by MyLittleFalls, Father shared his path to the priesthood, as well as the various ways he is trying to connect with his new parishioners during this unprecedented time.
Father Slezak said, “I’m trying to call at least ten people a day. Just call them, check-in and see how they are doing, and see if I can do anything for them…I want to let them know I’m there. We think social media can reach everyone, but it can’t. Not everyone is on it, and there’s no substitute for a human voice and a real connection.” Read the full article. 

#MundAlum Fr. Robert Krueger (Archdiocese of Chicago ‘12) of St. Leonard led a blessing and Eucharistic walk on March 29, 2020 through the neighborhood of Berwyn, IL. One parishioner rang bells when Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament was at her door.

Photo credit: Sandy Bressner

“Seeing our Savior” in St. Charles, IL.

On Sunday, March 29, Father John Kladar (Rockford ’19), Parochial Vicar at St. Patrick’s in St. Charles, held a Parish S.O.S. “Seeing our Savior.” This was an opportunity for parishioners to drive in the car and receive a blessing from Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Father John said on a social media, “It was overwhelming! For 50 minutes a constant stream of people drove by because they wanted to be blessed by Christ present in the Eucharist.”

“Select Group of  Priests and Chaplains Still Visiting COVID-19 Patients at Hospitals, Homes”

In an interview with CBS Chicago, Father Matt O’Donnell (Chicago ’12) mentioned that he volunteered as one of 24 chaplains of the Archdiocese of Chicago who is providing Anointing of the Sick to patients affected with COVID-19.

“Being able to pray with people in their last days or hours or moments, or even just to be there to give a presence of hope for a family, is really important to me,” Father Matt O’Donnell said. WATCH

Visit with Jesus in the Church Entrance

Deacon Michael Groth and second-year seminarian Brian Geary of the Diocese of Joliet are currently stationed at Immaculate Conception Parish in Elmhurst, where they are offering the opportunity for parishioners to walk by or drive in their cars to the church parking lot and visit with Jesus in the tabernacle, which is visible through the glass doors of the Church entrance.

“For those in the Elmhurst area, we have made the Eucharist available for prayer here at IC,” Deacon Michael posted on social media. “We moved our tabernacle to the entrance on York Road so that our Eucharistic Lord can be available to you during these times. Maintaining proper social distancing, we invite and welcome you to pray from the sidewalk or from your cars parked in the parking lot.”

Parking Lot Masses

Father Shaun Whittington (Indianapolis, ’13) has introduced the “Parking Lot Mass,” featuring an FM transmitter that broadcasts to people in their cars. Communion is brought to people at their cars so they can stay the recommended distance apart. He is also an EMT and certified in emergency/crisis management. Follow him on Twitter to learn more.

Daily Musical Reflections

Father Bradley Zamora (Chicago, ’14), Mundelein Seminary’s director of liturgy and international students, is posting a musical reflection to his YouTube channel each day. “In this time when we will not be gathering for Mass, I offer these daily musical reflections to unite us all in prayers to Christ, the Divine Physician,” he said. “We pray for the sick, the fearful, and those who have died. Remember, God never abandons his people.” See all the videos on his YouTube channel.

Livestreaming Masses

Many parishes across the country are livestreaming daily and Sunday Masses for Catholics who can no longer attend Mass.

Front Porch Confessions

Father Jacob Rouse (Dubuque, ’18) is livestreaming Masses and reflections on his YouTube channel, as well as offering front porch confessions at the rectory.

In a social media post, Father Jacob wrote, “Catholic Priests are AVAILABLE. Be not afraid…I will be wearing a mask and gloves and will be 5 feet away from you in the two rocking chairs I have on the porch. I will also offer confessions through the mail slot should you desire an anonymous confession.”

A Reflection on “Free Time”

In light of the ongoing pandemic news, first-year theologian Dan Korenchan (Chicago) recently shared the following reflection.

I’ve been praying and reflecting over the past 24 hours as the news continues to flow in with cancellations, postponements and other preventative measures, and I think it’s not overly presumptive to assume that over the next month or so, we will likely have a lot more free time on our hands that used to be spent on extra-curriculars, sports, school, and work. And I think that’s an amazing gift we shouldn’t waste!

One of the things we talk about in seminary is how “free time” is often spent not actually resting, relaxing, or re-creating ourselves (hence the word ‘recreation’) but distracting and/or isolating ourselves. Binging Netflix, playing hours of video games, aimlessly perusing YouTube/social media/other internet sites for hours…these things don’t truly give us rest or rejuvenation nearly as much as they distract us from, perhaps, relationships in need of growth or problems we see in our lives that we just want to avoid addressing. And when we’re finished distracting ourselves, the problems are still there. This is the reason why it’s so typical to not feel any more rested or rejuvenated after a whole lot of time merely distracting ourselves.

The next few weeks are going to be a great time for us to reinvest in our relationships with friends and family (hopefully without spreading the virus of course) and most importantly with God. Maybe we’ll even have the ability to repair broken relationships…perhaps that’s also with God. In addition, it is also an opportunity for us to take courage and address some big life questions or issues. Where am I at right now? Am I satisfied with my life? Do I live more for myself or for others? What should I be striving to change? My goal over the next few weeks is to reflect on these questions and spend more time in prayer, so that I can more fully dispose myself to God’s will and be aware of the needs of those around me. Lent is definitely a great time to do that!

I’m not sure how relevant this is to your personal situation, but if you find it helpful, I encourage you to pray about it on your own and do some self-examining. I’ll be doing so right along with you! God bless you all, stay healthy, and be sure to take care of those around you!

Mundelein Seminary Podcast

If you have extra free time and are looking for some encouraging stories and thoughtful reflections, subscribe to Formation, the new podcast from Mundelein Seminary. It offers an inside look at life at the seminary, stories from our alumni priests and reflections from our rector Father John Kartje, including a few recent Lenten missions he led at local parishes. You can listen online or subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.

Bringing Jesus to the Neighborhood

Father Edson Elizarrarás (Diocese of Tucson, ’16) recently brought Jesus to his parishioners by driving around his community with the Blessed Sacrament, invoking God’s Divine Protection on families, his parish, the city and world. See photos and video on the St. Christopher Catholic Church Facebook page.

Alumni Priests Provide Last Rites to Coronavirus Patients

Staff and Faculty of University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary

Printing Out a Solution for the COVID-19 Problem

In a news story from CBS Chicago, a local network of volunteers on the North Side of Chicago, coordinated by Deborah Beien and her son Richard Beien, are using a 3D printer to make protective masks for hospital workers. Deborah helped with the design of the headband and coordinates the volunteers who tie elastic and snap the plastic shield onto the headband. Others, who have 3D printers, print the headband, and still others do the pickups and deliveries. They have donated 750 face shields to Swedish Covenant Hospital, but have been approached by other hospitals and medical groups to provide PPEs, as well. WATCH