Parishes celebrate sacraments delayed by COVID-19


By Kathy Kuhl
For The Catholic Messenger

Four months later than she expected to, Ella Houseman made her first Communion with two other children on Sept. 13 at Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine.
In a post-first Communion glow, masked and veiled, she said having more time to learn what she needed made her feel “kinda relieved…. I was nervous about it,” she said. Her mother, Stephanie Houseman, pointed out that Ella hit a turning point this summer. Ella nodded, saying, “I was anxious to go now.”

Ella Houseman made her first Communion Sept. 13 at Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine.

Late summer and early fall are not typically the time of year for youths to receive their first Communion or the sacrament of confirmation, but as with so many events, COVID-19 caused a delay. Now that most parishes have at least partly reopened, many are celebrating the sacraments of initiation a few parishioners at a time. This keeps parishioners safe by reducing the numbers gathered and the time spent congregating.

Sister Cheryl Demmer, PBVM, is director of religious education for both Ss. Mary & Mathias, Muscatine, and St. Mary Parish-Wilton. She said six children celebrated their first Communion Sept. 27 at St. Mary and 35 children celebrated their first Communion at separate Masses throughout September at Ss. Mary & Mathias.

“The families signed up in advance, and I let the parish office know by the Thursday before,” she said, noting that the parish is seating in every third pew to keep parishioners socially distanced.

The shift in celebration dates meant the first Communicants needed to review what they had learned in the months beforehand. “They and the parents had assignments, and I sent some written materials, also,” she said. “We had to have parents review with them how to receive Communion with a mask,” she noted.

Sister Cheryl said the confirmation candidates and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) candidates had similar refresher information to study. The 45 confirmation candidates for Ss. Mary & Mathias will celebrate the sacrament over a period of three Wednesdays in October — 7, 14 and 28. “These celebrations will include the adults — the RCIA (candidates) who need to be confirmed.” The Wilton parish celebrates confirmation every two years, so its six candidates anticipate confirmation in 2021.

Sister Cheryl said the celebration of the sacraments of initiation with the RCIA participants is more complicated, “so we will celebrate one family at a time. One family has a lot more members coming in from out of state.”

At Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf, first Communion celebrations were scheduled for April 20 and 21. Instead, the 28 first Communicants celebrated over eight Masses between July 25 and Aug. 2. Emily Andes, the parish’s director of faith formation, said she made sure to communicate in advance the diocesan and parish guidelines for families with children receiving their first Communion.

“Well-trained hospitality ministers and reserved pews were also key in helping our community worship together safely, especially at these milestone celebrations when we have extended family and friends visiting our Masses,” Andes said. “We also have a team of volunteers who helped us to livestream the celebrations so that family members can participate.”

Our Lady of Lourdes first scheduled confirmation for May 9, but because of the pandemic, the candidates received the sacrament Aug. 29, 30 or Sept. 13. Brett Adams, the parish’s coordinator of youth evangelization and youth ministry, said choosing new dates required several considerations.

“We were trying to strike a balance between the urgency to complete the candidates’ initiation and waiting long enough to be able to celebrate (with) our congregation, recognizing the communal aspect of the sacrament,” he said.

With 24 candidates and multiple Mass options, the parish kept its numbers to a reasonable level for each celebration. Adams said the seating arrangement was thoroughly thought out, with candidate/sponsor pairs one per pew, and the next pair at the opposite end of the next pew. To keep people from having to cross in front of each other, celebrant Father Jason Crossen, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, moved to them.

Adams held a mini-retreat with the confirmation candidates on Aug. 23 via Zoom video conference. He revisited the meaning of the sacrament, assessed the candidates’ feelings and expectations, and encouraged them to think about how they will continue to grow in faith after receiving the sacrament.

At Sacred Heart Church in Melcher-Dallas, the original date for first Communion was May 3 but rescheduled to June 28. The parish planned to celebrate confirmation April 26 but moved the date to July 12, said Shari Schneider, director of religious education. Three children received their first reconciliation and first Communion, and eight were confirmed.

“We were about done with faith formation for 2019-20 when the church closed down because of COVID-19,” she said, noting that for their smaller celebrations of the sacraments of initiation, the parish practiced diocesan guidelines to guard against transmission of the virus. She is now focusing on how the 2020-21 faith formation year needs to be different to keep everyone safe and healthy.

“When we start on Sept. 20, I am dividing the kids into two groups alternating every other Sunday,” she said. “This keeps the number of kids down so they are able to social distance and we can keep areas clean and maintained.”

She said on the alternating Sundays, students will have paper packets and workbooks that go home to be completed and returned.
Making these changes is a team effort, Schneider said.

“I have a good group of teachers and a lot of support at Sacred Heart.” she said.

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Iowa’s bishops encourage mask wearing

Lindsay Steele
Father Bernie Weir, left, greets mask-wearing parishioners at St. James Parish in Washington in June. Iowa’s bishops are encouraging Catholics throughout the state to wear their masks.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Iowa’s bishops encourage Catholics throughout the state to wear their masks. The four recorded a video at that addresses the celebration of faith and keeping everyone healthy.

Bishop Thomas Zinkula of the Diocese of Davenport begins the video saying the decision in all four Iowa dioceses to suspend Mass in person (in March) was not an easy one. “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. The good news is that across the state, we are back to celebrating public Masses once again — but in a little different way for now. We encourage you to begin attending Mass.”

For those feeling safe to attend Mass in person, Bishop Zinkula says to do so with social distancing, not spiritual distancing. “And one more thing —remember to wear your mask.”

Bishop R. Walker Nickless of the Diocese of Sioux City said when churches were closed the bishops had to look for new opportunities for prayer, spiritual growth and comfort. “The COVID-19 situation has given us an opportunity to be more intentional about the practice of our faith.” Even though churches are now open, he said, “We shouldn’t give up looking for new opportunities to invite others to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.” He encourages Catholics to foster growth in their faith in the Lord and to find ways to help support the Catholic community. “And one more thing. Wear your mask.”

Bishop William Joensen of the Diocese of Des Moines said the pandemic “upended our lives” and led to various opportunities for shared presence and celebration, compulsory staycations and familiar forms of faith participation. He said live-streaming Masses, Zoom video conferencing and FaceTime encounters with loved ones are far from satisfying. The spirit of the risen Jesus seeks us out where we are.

He said, “Our ultimate respect is for the authority of God, the Lord of the living.” Mitigation measures and practices in churches, wearing clean face coverings, social distancing and thorough cleaning “reflect our awareness that there are both sacred and human friendly spaces.” “Might I add,” he said, “when you’re out and about, wear your mask.”

Archbishop Michael Jackels of the Archdiocese of Dubuque said, “There are smart people on both sides of wearing a mask. So how do we know what is right? I would recommend asking the following questions. ‘Am I acting for the common good, focusing on we, you and ours and not on I, me and mine?’ ‘Am I inspired by the readiness to serve, sacrifice, even suffer in order to benefit others?’ No one likes to wear a mask. It involves suffering — they are hot. They make your nose run. It’s hard to hear what the mask wearer is saying. And no one can see how good looking you are,” he said, in good humor. “But this is a suffering that comes from the cross that Jesus asks us to shoulder.” The archbishop said, “We wear masks to protect others from sickness and for health professionals from being overwhelmed. We wear a mask to enable schools and the workforce to do their thing.”

He advised people to stay home if sick, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, cough into your elbow, wear a mask, and keep a six-foot distance from others. Receive Eucharist in the hand and do not exchange the sign of peace. “Thank you for doing your part in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

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Sixth-grader made masks to protect teachers, classmates – Persons, Places and Things

Julia Gilbert of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport makes masks for faculty, staff and students at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School.

By Barb Arland-Fye

DAVENPORT — Teachers at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School received an unusual gift from a student when they returned to school to prepare for the new academic year during the ongoing pandemic.

Sixth-grader Julia Gilbert presented the teachers with 30 fabric face masks that she and her mother, Rachel, made. They created another 180 masks for the school to distribute to Julia’s schoolmates as needed.

“She wrote us a sweet note with instructions on how to wear them,” said Octavia Houtekier-Boyd, the school’s assistant principal, referring to the masks for teachers. “She also delivered masks the next day, this time in student sizes so that if one of her schoolmates forgot a mask they could have a fun homemade one, instead of a disposable mask from the office. We just love how she was thinking of others (us) while she was away from school.”

“I wanted everyone at school to have a comfortable mask with a tie instead of elastic so it wouldn’t hurt their ears,” Julia said. “It’s important to wear a mask to protect others and to wear it over your mouth and your nose because your mouth and nose are connected,” added Julia, the daughter of parents who work as emergency room nurses.

Sewing face masks has provided Julia with an opportunity to help protect others, spend quality time with her mom and reduce worries about her parents, Rachel said.

Julia’s dad, John, works full-time in the emergency room of UnityPoint Health Trinity campuses in the Quad-Cities and is a sidelines cheerleader for the mask project. Her mom works part-time while attending grad school. Colleagues working in an emergency room become like family because of their experiences dealing with trauma, Rachel said. In the early weeks of the pandemic, hospitals put out calls for face masks. She and Julia wanted their friends in the emergency room to be protected. So they decided to learn how to make face masks.

First, they had to get a sewing machine and learn how to sew. They purchased a used one from a friend for $100. “Julia paid for half of it and I paid the other half,” Rachel said. They watched YouTube videos for tutorials.

Their project involved trial and error and adjustments based on people’s needs, face size and facial hair. They decided on the Olson Mask because it includes a nose piece and fits the face of the wearer. They found that ties made from T-shirt strips work better for comfort than elastic. The masks prevent eyeglasses from fogging and ears from being irritated.

Julia selected fabrics printed with things she likes such as fruits, sparkles, dogs and dinosaurs. Parishioners with boys provided guidance on selecting patterns boys might prefer, Rachel said. Another member of their parish, Tom Brooke, secured a donation through Thrivent Financial to purchase materials. Other friends donated T-shirts when the cost of purchasing new ones ate into funds for making masks.

“I got interested in making masks after I saw all the other masks that people were making,” Julia told The Catholic Messenger. She also wanted to learn how to sew. “It’s fun. Every once in a while I need a break,” she said.

“It was an activity for us to do together in the evening,” Rachel said. They often watched a video on demand subscription service while working in assembly line style — cutting and sewing pieces together. Rachel estimates they have created 500 masks to date. Production has slowed down considerably because people have easy access to masks now and mother and daughter have school work to do. Besides, Julia is ready to move on to new sewing projects: making scrunchies (hair bands), aprons, a skirt and pajama pants.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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