Nurseries, cry rooms, gathering spaces offer options for families during Mass

Parents entertain their children in the gathering space at the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City. Some parishes offer cry rooms, others their gathering space for parents who think their children need to be out of the worship area. Another option offered is nurseries.

By Anne Marie Amacher

After Father John Spiegel read an article on kid-friendly parishes and the use of cry rooms, he asked his parish’s family life commission to look at  the parish’s facilities for possible improvements.

So the commission has been examining the space that St. Mary Parish in Iowa City provides for families as a cry room/reconciliation room and the environment within it.

“Our church was built in 1869,” Fr. Spiegel, its pastor, said. “There are limitations as to what we can do, but I look forward to (the commission’s) suggestions.”


At St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, parishioners decided to offer a nursery for children during Mass after they built their new church in 2009. Parishioner Julie Jensen said the old church did not have a cry room or designated nursery. “However, for a period of time, a group of parents did run a nursery across the street from our old church in the basement of the parish hall.”

Although building plans may not have specifically included a nursery, Jensen said the new church has a room “definitely intended for use with small children.” The nursery is open during the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass and occasionally for other events when childcare is needed. A group of Hispanic women is organizing volunteers to work in the nursery during the Spanish Mass at noon on Sundays, she noted. Anywhere from seven to 13 young children — infants to 3-year-olds — are in the nursery each Sunday. The parish has assigned at least three volunteers to work there and parishioners have donated items to help furnish it.

“My children are older now,” Jensen said, “but I remember what it was like to take small children to church, and leave Mass feeling like I couldn’t fully participate in Mass because I was so busy keeping my children content. I would have definitely used a nursery if our church had one when (my children) were young. I think it is great to offer a service where parents know that their children are happy, safe and content while (the parents) are able to fully participate in the Mass.”

Colleen Haberkorn oversees the nursery at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf, which is available during the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass from September through April. The nursery is closed during the summer due to a lack of volunteers, she noted. Children ages 1-3 may attend the nursery. Parents fill out a card with basic information and tips for comforting the child if distressed. Parents also receive a vibrating pager in case they are needed back in the nursery. Anywhere from eight to 18 children attend the nursery each week. Nicky Stevenson, the parish’s  director of religious education, recruits the adult volunteers. Youth Minister Jan Stevenson recruits high school confirmation students.

Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City offers the gathering space outside its chapel for parents to walk around with their children, said Father Ed Fitzpatrick, the center’s director. Across the gathering space is a lounge that parents and their children can also utilize. Sound from the chapel can be heard in those areas. Although the center doesn’t have a designated cry room, Fr. Fitzpatrick said the spaces serve families well.

Ali Schroeder, mother of Charlie, 3, and Henry, 19 months, said her family utilizes the gathering space every Sunday. “It’s a closed-off area and I don’t worry about disturbing others during Mass,” she said. “It also gives us the opportunity to go to Mass as a family. Our kids are young and do not sit still for long. The gathering space gives us a place to deal with energy while integrating them into the parish.”

Schroeder said the gathering space has allowed her family to meet other families with small children.

St. Mary Parish in Davenport has a cry room with a large picture window and a speaker so families can see and listen to the Mass, said Father Ed O’Melia, St. Mary’s pastor. He said the room is primarily used during the Spanish Mass and during adoration on Wednesdays.

St. Peter Parish in Cosgrove and St. Mary Parish in Oxford have cry rooms that double as confessionals at other times. Curt Barkalow of the Cosgrove parish said the cry room was added in the 1980s. “There were several opponents to the cry room, still to this day, but overall most feel it was a good addition.”

He said it isn’t used frequently. The room features a large window and speaker. Cosgrove parishioner Jack Ruth said the room has seating and a wood rocker that was donated in memory of a child who died.

Even adults without children use the room, such as people recovering from knee surgery or who may have difficulty walking to the front of the church. “It serves as overflow for Christmas Eve or large funerals,” Ruth said. “Yes, it is an asset.”

St. Alphonsus Parish in Davenport has a cry room in the back of the church. St. Peter Parish in Buffalo offers its parishioners the gathering space, which was added in recent years.

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