Denny Holzinger has been an usher at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Huntington for nearly 50 years. Holzinger recently stepped back from ushering, however, to avoid potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
“He’ll come back when things get better,” pastor Father Tony Steinacker said.
Thankfully for the parish, Holzinger’s son, Greg, and grandson, Adam, have stepped up to fill the ushering roles of Denny and other older adults at the parish. Sons and daughters of older parish members also have assumed some of their parents’ responsibilities in ministries such as Open Door, Father Steinacker said. That program, which is a collaboration with nearby St. Mary Parish in Huntington, delivers a meal each Sunday to more than 400 older adults and people in need.
A spirit of charity has moved throughout the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend as younger people become temporary replacements for older-adult volunteers who are staying home to protect themselves from COVID-19. The virus had killed more than 100,000 Americans and more than 370,000 people worldwide as of May 31.
Following health officials’ recommendations, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades has urged people ages 65 and older and those who have health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, to stay home for now and to watch Mass on television or the internet. They are the groups most at risk for serious complications or death from COVID-19.
At many Catholic parishes, however, older adults fill many volunteer roles. Those range from assisting at Masses with ushering, readings, Communion and music to helping with mailings and parish programs and events.
The initial test of how COVID-19 may affect volunteering by older adults came May 23-24, the first weekend public Masses could be celebrated in the diocese. Churches and many businesses in Indiana had been shut down since a state stay-at-home order issued March 23.
“We definitely had a number of older ushers who decided to step aside for a little bit,” said Father Chris Lapp, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Mishawaka. The parish’s 700 families are a mix of older couples and younger parents with children.
The parish had called all of its regular ushers in advance to determine how many would resume their service beginning May 23-24, Father Lapp said. When they learned some planned to stay home, the parish posted the need on social media and younger parishioners responded.
As a preventive measure, Father Lapp also temporarily suspended certain ministries often done by older adults, such as serving as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and providing dinner to family and mourners after a funeral.
At SS. Peter and Paul, staff and volunteers phoned each of the parish’s 740 families at least once during the past several weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, Father Steinacker said. Along with checking on the person’s well-being, they asked if the parishioner would like to continue the volunteering he or she had been doing before the stay-at-home order. In anticipation of churches reopening, they also asked younger parishioners if they would like to help with ushering or cleaning the church between Masses, and some said yes.
To better protect cleaning volunteers, the parish purchased a sanitizing spray so volunteers can spray the disinfectant on pews and surfaces after each Mass without the need to touch anything, Father Steinacker said.
People have shown similar volunteer spirit at Immaculate Conception Parish in Kendallville and Blessed Sacrament Parish in Albion, said Father J. Steele, CSC, who serves as pastor of both parishes. Immaculate Conception’s 210 families include older adults and young Hispanic parents with children. Blessed Sacrament has many young parents with children among its 150 families.
“We’ve had younger people who have stepped up and helped with cleaning and as greeters,” Father Steele said.
He also asked one older-adult greeter to stay home to protect the parishioner from the virus.
Other parishes haven’t experienced much impact from older adults delaying their return to volunteer roles. At Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and Diocesan Shrine in Warsaw, a majority of the 250 member families are people ages 50 and younger and their children, said Leo Patiño, a parish member who serves as young adult ministries leader and media coordinator.
Pastor Father Constantino Rocha Garcia has asked the parish’s older adults to stay home until it’s safe for them to attend Mass, Patiño said. Younger members have volunteered to clean the church after each Mass so older adults don’t feel they need to provide that help.
At St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Wayne, members of the parish’s Knights of Columbus council and younger parishioners filled in for older ushers and volunteers who are staying home right now, said Father Jay Horning, one of parish’s parochial vicars. “They were a huge help.”
Priests are distributing Communion at Masses, so they haven’t needed volunteer eucharistic ministers, Father Horning said. St. Vincent, which has about 3,400 families, also uses its maintenance staff to clean and disinfect the church between Masses.
“We’ve been really blessed,” Father Horning said. “We haven’t had anything like, ‘We don’t have anyone to help us.’
“We just want to continue to encourage good decision-making in regard to going out in public and participating in activities,” he said. “We encourage people who are not feeling well to stay at home.”
Good decision-making also includes accepting the diocese’s requirement that people wear a mask during Mass to prevent them from possibly spreading COVID-19 to someone else.
“We have to do things that are hard,” Father Horning said, “because they are charitable acts of love for other people.”
Pastors and parish members shared these ideas for ministering to older adults and people with health conditions while keeping those parishioners safe from the COVID-19 virus:
— During weekend Masses, SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Huntington sets aside a room in the church basement for people ages 65 and older and those with health conditions so they can watch a livestream of the Mass upstairs in the sanctuary without exposure to the rest of the congregation. They also can receive Communion in that room.
— SS. Peter and Paul and St. Pius X Parish in Granger offer special times where people who watch Mass on TV or online can come to church to receive Communion without attending a public Mass. The special times for Communion are 9:30-9:45 a.m. Sundays at SS. Peter and Paul and 6-6:15 p.m. Saturdays and 1-1:15 p.m. Sundays at St. Pius X.
— Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and Diocesan Shrine has added an extra Mass at 5 p.m. Saturdays to spread out attendance from the normal Masses at noon and 6 p.m. Sundays. Other parishes also have added extra weekend Masses to allow smaller crowds and social distancing at each Mass.
— At St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Wayne, some eucharistic ministers take Communion to older parish members so those parishioners can watch an internet livestream of Mass at home but still receive the Eucharist.
— At Immaculate Conception Parish in Kendallville and Blessed Sacrament Parish in Albion, people ages 65 and older are encouraged to attend each parish’s Saturday evening Mass because the churches have been relatively unused during the week. Younger people, many of whom are out in the work world during the week, are asked to attend a Sunday Mass. Bible studies take place using the Zoom video-conferencing system.
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