Year in Review: Catholics persevere through pandemic challenges

Lindsay Steele
Adele Mesongolo, right, makes sure everyone is spread out before leading a decade of the rosary May 31 in the parking lot of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

The COVID-19 pandemic cast a shadow on most of 2020. As the pandemic continued to extend its stay, with no checkout date in sight, Catholics learned to live with social distancing and other safety measures, slowly but surely finding light in the darkness.

Life as it was

January was a memorable month for Bishop Thomas Zinkula, who facilitated a discussion with Pope Francis at the Vatican in Rome. Pope Francis appeared “at ease, affable, warm, friendly and hospitable” in a Jan. 16 meeting with 15 bishops from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, said Bishop Zinkula. Their 2-1/2-hour audience with Pope Francis topped five highlights of Bishop Zinkula’s first “ad limina” visit to the Vatican as Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport to report on the diocese’s status. The Holy Father “invited us to ask anything we wanted. We discussed a couple of very serious issues; he was incredibly honest and transparent.” The other four highlights: celebrating Mass at the four major basilicas in Rome, praying at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, meeting with officials of governing offices (dicasteries) and the fraternity of his fellow bishops.


Diocesan Catholics looked forward to events that were to occur later in the year, including a Vision 2020 celebration and a Catholic Messenger pilgrimage to Ireland with Bishop Zinkula. Both events had to be postponed.

A pandemic hits Europe, then U.S.

In late February, a highly contagious coronavirus, known as COVID-19, began to spread throughout Europe, having first hit China at the end of 2019. In response to the virus, European nations began enacting stay-at-home measures in an attempt to control the spread of the virus. Father John Lamansky, who was studying in Rome when the pandemic struck Italy, wrote of his quarantine experience for The Catholic Messenger. The coronavirus began to appear in the United States, which in mid-March enacted similar measures to slow the spread of the virus.

Churches temporarily closed

The Diocese of Davenport took a “be prepared, don’t panic” approach in the early days of the pandemic, implementing its influenza plan to take steps such as emptying holy water fonts and dispensing older and at-risk Catholics from the obligation to attend Mass. Meanwhile, the diocese developed an in-depth pandemic plan and on March 16 required all parishes to close temporarily. “We are well aware that the time to act is now if we are to have a significant impact on how fast the virus spreads in our communities,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula said, dispensing all Catholics in the diocese from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass until further notice.

A virtual world

When churches closed, priests began turning to livestreaming and video recordings to celebrate Mass with the faithful. To feel more connected, some priests taped photographs of parishioners to the pews. The diocese broadcast Triduum Masses and the Chrism Mass online. Zoom became the virtual conference room for parish and diocesan staff, as well as a classroom for Catholic schoolteachers and students. Drive-up events became popular as parishes developed new ways of reaching out. Priests in Des Moines County hosted a radio show, “Two Priests in a Car,” and many parishes established calling trees to reach out and check in with parishioners, especially homebound individuals. In some parishes, priests visited the homes of the faithful to offer outdoor, socially distanced blessings.


Usually, ordinations take place at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. However, due to the pandemic, Bishop Zinkula traveled to the home parishes of the ordinands June 6. James Flattery was ordained to the priesthood at Immaculate Con­ception Parish in Colfax and Andrew Rauenbuehler was ordained to the diaconate at Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine. Attendance was limited to 10 people, and the ordinations were livestreamed.

Reopening with precautions

On June 22, after a decline in coronavirus cases, public Masses in the Diocese of Davenport resumed, with restrictions. Bishop Zinkula asked parishes to limit seating to every third pew and horizontally six feet apart from other households. He instructed parishes to omit singing to reduce airborne pathogens and asked the faithful to wear masks during Mass. Social distancing restrictions remained in place throughout 2020 as COVID-19 cases spiked. To accommodate more people, some parishes turned to outdoor Masses, parking lot Masses, and setting up sound systems and TVs in other areas of the church. Bishop Zinkula urged those who are at a greater risk of severe infection due to age and/or health condition to stay home. All Catholics in the Diocese of Dav­enport remained dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass.

New assignments and retirements

Father Thom Hennen assumed the role of Vicar General for the Diocese of Davenport on July 1. He succeeded Father Tony Herold in the top leadership position for a priest to assist the bishop in governance of the diocese. Father Hennen remains chaplain of St. Ambrose University in Davenport and continues to assist the diocese with vocations.

Three priests retired in 2020: Father William Reynolds, Msgr. Drake Schafer and Father John Spiegel. Shirley Van Dee, parish life coordinator of Ss. Joseph and Cabrini Parish, Richland, also retired.
150-year-old parish merges

On July 1, St. Mary Parish in Davenport merged with St. Anthony Parish, also in Davenport. Former St. Mary parishioners celebrated the 150-year history of the parish in October with an organ concert, outdoor Mass and a procession to St. Anthony Church. Humility Homes and Services Inc., based in Davenport, purchased the St. Mary property with plans to serve homeless individuals in the west end.

Multicultural Ministry

The Office of Multicultural Ministry looked forward to hosting a new Ministry Formation Program in 2020, but the pandemic delayed that initiative. To engage Spanish speakers in the diocese, Miguel Moreno-Iberico, director of Multicultural Ministry, facilitated a series of EvangeliZOOM events with guest speakers from throughout the Spanish-speaking world. His office also hosted a virtual Las Posadas event in December. The Catholic Messenger continues to work with the Office of Multicultural Ministry to produce a monthly Spanish page.

Seminarians reach milestones

Duoc “Dominic” Nguyen, Isaac Doucette and Cameron Costello, seminarians for the Diocese of Davenport, received the ministries of lector and acolyte this year as they continue their discernment and studies at Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois.

In memory

These clergy and women religious with ties to the Davenport Diocese died in 2020: Msgr. Robert Schmidt; Father Thomas Parlette; Father Philip Amidon, SJ; Father Martin Stillmock, C.Ss.R.; Deacon Dennis Duff; Deacon Tony Mouzon; Sister Mary Jane Wallace, O.S.B.; Sister Philomena Husak, RSM; Sister Lucille Feehan, CHM; Sister Marie Clare Vittetoe, CHM; Sister Carolyn Farrell, BVM; Sister Rosemary Murphy, O.S.B.; Sister Theresa Ann Spitz, RSM; Sister Maribeth Takes, CHM; Sister Marianne Nehus, CHM; Sister Anne Newcomer, O.S.B.; and Sister Carla Takes, CHM.

Messenger awards

The Catholic Messenger received five awards in this year’s Catholic Press Association Awards competition. Results were announced July 2 during the Catholic Media Conference, which took place virtually this year.
Editor Barb Arland-Fye took first place in the “Best Coverage of Ecumenical and Interfaith Issues — Diocesan Newspaper” category for her series on Bishop Zinkula’s trip to India to present the Pacem in Terris award to the Dalai Lama. Arland-Fye and Diocesan Reporter Lindsay Steele earned first-place honors for a series of stories in the “Best Explanation of Marriage” category. Arland-Fye and Steele earned second-place honors for “Best Coverage — Local Politics.” Arland-Fye, Steele and Assistant Editor Anne Marie Amacher earned third place for “Best Front Page — Broadsheet” and Arland-Fye received third place in “Best Reporting of Social Justice Issues — Life and Dignity of the Human Person” for her story “Nourish the Caregivers.”

Support The Catholic Messenger’s mission to inform, educate and inspire the faithful of the Diocese of Davenport – and beyond! Subscribe to the print and/or e-edition, or make a one-time donation, today!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on