Priests missing their parishioners and parish life find ways to continue their ministry

  • Written by Northwest Catholic
  • Published in Local
Father Gary Zender, left, pastor of St. Louise Parish in Bellevue, and Father Carlos Orozco, St. Louise’s parochial vicar, have been hosting YouTube live chats with parishioners after weekend livestreamed Masses. Photo: Courtesy St. Louise Parish YouTube Father Gary Zender, left, pastor of St. Louise Parish in Bellevue, and Father Carlos Orozco, St. Louise’s parochial vicar, have been hosting YouTube live chats with parishioners after weekend livestreamed Masses. Photo: Courtesy St. Louise Parish YouTube

While the pandemic kept priests around the Archdiocese of Seattle from celebrating public Masses, they have been busy ministering to their parishioners in many other ways.

Priests have been hearing confessions, keeping churches open for eucharistic adoration or private prayer, livestreaming Masses and devotions, posting recorded homilies and reflections, learning new technologies and calling parishioners to check on them.

Father Frank Schuster, pastor of St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Woodinville, shares a video about beating a case of the “grumpies” during COVID-19. Photo: Courtesy St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish

Rather than the “down time” some people have experienced while staying at home during COVID-19, “ironically, I have never felt busier,” said Father Frank Schuster, pastor of St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Woodinville. His youth minister taught him how to use Instagram, and “a lot of parishioners have been reaching out to me, so I spend a lot of my day returning phone calls, answering emails, getting ready for the next Zoom meeting, the list goes on.”

Jesuit Father John Whitney, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Seattle, said he feels “completely in the hands of Christ. The uncertainty of these days and the scrambling nature of our ministry at this moment makes it feel as though we are in the early church.”

Priests told Northwest Catholic they are missing the pulse of everyday parish life and being able to see their parishioners. Here are some other things priests around the archdiocese said in response to questions posed by Northwest Catholic:

What are some ways you’ve been ministering to and staying connected with your parishioners?

Father Justin Ryan

“With confessions essentially by appointment only, an unexpected blessing has been getting to take more time with penitents than would normally be possible,” said Father Justin Ryan, parochial vicar at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Tacoma. “I joined our pastor to record some video reflections … and we are A LOT more active on social media.”

To interact with parishioners, “we have a YouTube live session after each livestreamed Sunday Mass called ‘Coffee and Donuts, after Mass conversations,’ in both English and Spanish,” said Father Carlos Orozco, parochial vicar at St. Louise de Marillac Parish in Bellevue. He and Father Gary Zender, pastor of St. Louise, “hit a topic, answer questions, and have a light moment of humor.” Father Orozco is also creating video content, “some novel and fun, other evangelistic, to help families feel connected to their priests and to grow in their sense of domestic church.”

“I have brought Communion and anointing of the sick to seniors who are homebound and who are NOT sick with COVID-19,” said Father Paul Brunet, pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Lakewood.

Father Michael G. Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral, posts weekly video reflections. Photo: Courtesy St. James Cathedral

“I’ve been systematically making my way through our parish list, making phone calls, beginning with isolated seniors but moving on to just about everybody,” said Father Michael G. Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral.In addition to livestreaming Masses, I’ve done a video reflection each week, which has been a wonderful way to stay in touch and connect with people. People have expressed a lot of appreciation.”

“We have offered people the chance to help others, by collecting food for St. Martin de Porres [shelter], St. Vincent de Paul food bank and the Homelessness Project,” said Father Whitney of St Joseph’s. “We invite people to write their prayers in the comment section of the [livestreamed] daily Mass, and then keep them in a book, which we have at each day’s Mass.”

What do you miss most about ordinary parish life?

Father Dave Rogerson

“I so much miss regular contact with parishioners,” said Father Dave Rogerson, pastor of St. Barbara Parish in Black Diamond.They are at the heart of what we do and why we do it. They provide so much inspiration. Some are sewing masks for area hospitals and senior care facilities, grocery shopping for elderly neighbors, checking in on one another, reaching out with prayers and support for others.”

“Sacraments, especially confession,” said Father Louis Cunningham, parochial vicar at St. Michael Parish in Olympia. “As a priest, confession is one of the most profound moments of my week.”

Father John Whitney S.J.

“I miss the children misbehaving in Mass and the lines of people receiving the Eucharist — often with great power,” Father Whitney said. “I miss pouring the water over the heads of the newly baptized and the fascination of children who gather around the font. I miss the vivacity — not just the function — of the sacraments.”

“I miss meeting my parishioners and parish life,” said Father Thanh Dao, pastor of Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Tukwila. “Sometimes when saying livestream Masses, I look at the congregation and try to console myself that my parishioners are here, looking at me from the television or phone screen.”

“I miss celebrating Mass in a full church,” Father Schuster said. “I miss baptisms. I miss weddings. I miss the laughter and joy. What do I miss most about ordinary parish life? Ordinary parish life!”

How has this time affected your relationship with Christ? Have you developed any new prayer habits?

Father Thanh Dao

“I have appreciated more the meaning of living closer to Jesus in the Eucharist, listening more to what Jesus tells me in the challenging time these days,” said Father Dao of Vietnamese Martyrs. “I have recognized the deep desire and thirst for the Eucharist. Gathering and sharing with priests and parishioners on phone or Zoom, I have felt the deeper bond of unity and faith, and God’s presence and guidance among ourselves.”

“As a newly ordained priest, it has really forced me, very early on, to dive into my understanding of my new role as a priest,” said Father Orozco of St. Louise. “I’ve found myself being more intentional in praying for parishioners. It is my way of being with them without being with them physically.”

Father Paul Brunet

“The seriousness of the COVID-19 virus has intensified my prayers and time before the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel in my rectory,” said Father Brunet of St. Frances Cabrini. “I am spending more time praying, reading, and studying in the chapel.”

“I think it’s deepened my relationship with Christ,” said Father Ryan of St. James Cathedral. “I’ve been able to take long walks during the day, and in a way they have been something of an Emmaus walk with the mysterious companion very much with me every step of the way. Even though I’m celebrating Mass privately, I’m more and more aware that the whole Church is there any time the Eucharist is celebrated, and I really sense that presence.”

Have you had more time to yourself than usual? If so, how have you been spending that time?

Jesuit Father Peter Henriot celebrated his birthday in April with other Jesuits in the community at Orton Hall on the Bellarmine Preparatory School campus in Tacoma. Photo: Courtesy Father Peter Henriot

“Blessed to be one of the 14 Jesuits locked up here at Orton Hall, Bellarmine, with chance for liturgies and conversations together, taking turns cooking evening meal and doing the house cleaning tasks,” said Jesuit Father Peter Henriot.

“I have been able to go out and do some running at the local trail (maintaining distance), spend more time taking care of my exotic animal collection, and getting some reading done,” said Father Orozco of St. Louise. “The extra time also allows me to work on video projects.”

Father Louis Cunningham

“Living with another priest, we have had a lot more fraternity time together to share our experiences and stories,” said Father Cunningham of St. Michael’s.

“Evenings that are usually filled by events are often free,” said Father Justin Ryan of St. Charles Borromeo. “I’ve been spending quite a bit of that time with the seminarian, Chad Hill, who lives here in the rectory. He’s taught me a few board games I’ve wanted to learn.  Also, I’ve done some overdue yardwork around the rectory, including digging out a dead rhododendron.”

Father Ron Belisle

“With time on my hands and moved by the example of Archbishop [J. Peter] Sartain, I began compiling a prayer list for each day of the week,” said Father Ron Belisle, a senior priest of the archdiocese. “This prompted telephone calls I would not ordinarily have made to former acquaintances, seminary classmates, and those good and caring people who nurtured my priesthood for the last 57 years.”

“I have spent time reading and listening to different talks on spiritual life or theology online or on YouTube,” said Father Dao of Vietnamese Martyrs.