When the coronavirus pandemic led to church closures beginning in March, parishioners around the Diocese of St. Cloud had to find other ways to celebrate their faith at home.
Families in Father Michael Wolfbauer’s parishes — St. John in Foley and St. Patrick in Duelm — are being creative, sharing their experiences and those of others they know in their parish bulletin and on their website.
Katey Maurer, editor of the bulletin, said the May 3 edition that she has “attended” Mass in places she would never even have known about had she not been searching for online Masses.
“I can virtually travel all over the country and celebrate the Mass in churches and with priests who I would never have been able to join before,” she said in an email. “I have listened to some amazing homilies and visited some beautiful churches.”
During this unprecedented time, Father Wolfbauer wanted to be encouraging for his parishioners, especially during Holy Week and Easter.
He wrote a letter to families for the Triduum and suggested that they maintain the specialness of the days, including by getting dressed up for Easter even if it was just at home.
“While connecting with families during those weeks, I noted two specific sentiments,” Father Wolfbauer said. “The first was that people kept expressing that they really missed connecting with others in our parish family. Second, when given the opportunity, they wanted to share with me what was going on in their homes.”
He felt blessed to hear their stories, he said, and thought others in his parishes would benefit from hearing them, too. He asked Maurer to reach out to families and include their stories in the bulletin.
“When Father Michael mentioned highlighting family celebrations in the bulletin, I thought it would be fun and interesting to hear what others are doing,” Maurer said. “What I didn’t realize was the impact that it would have on people.”
Since the stories have been appearing in the bulletin, people have shared how they are struggling to stay connected.
“They feel disconnected from the world, from others, from the Church, from their faith,” Maurer said. “Reading about how their fellow parishioners are celebrating brought them joy and helped to make them feel connected to each other. These stories offered support and encouragement and a comradery of sorts in knowing that they weren’t the only one feeling disconnected or struggling.”
Maurer also shared a story in the bulletin from her sister Brenda True, a member of St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud.
The True family has designated a space in their living room for prayer. They created an altar using a bookcase and placing a crucifix on it, statues of Mary and Joseph, candles, a bell and art created by their sons, ages 6, 4 and 2.
They use the in-home Celebration of the Word, available online, and the boys help by ringing the bells and lighting candles.
She shared with me that they don’t watch the Mass, that it’s too difficult for the boys to pay attention at home where there are distractions, Maurer said. “I had no idea of what it was like for others, especially those with young children.
“If my sister was struggling, then other parents must be, too,” Maurer said. “It was then that I realized that these stories, while already offering a moral support, could provide physical, tangible support, too,” Maurer said.
The stories in the bulletin may offer ideas and tools to help other parents or anyone at home. With True’s story, Maurer included the websites True used to find art project ideas, the in-home Celebration of the Word her family uses, and how to create a home altar.
Father Wolfbauer said he knows this may not be a unique idea, but “it came from a notice of the hearts of the faithful, and the desire of a pastor to minister in multiple ways during these times of distance.”