Diocese closes adoration chapels in response to coronavirus

Churches will remain open for private prayer before Blessed Sacrament

GREEN BAY — Due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, Bishop David Ricken has ordered that all perpetual adoration chapels in the diocese be closed, and all public eucharistic adoration be suspended.  This prohibition goes into effect at midnight March 20, 2020.

Ted Szymanski, a member of St. Mary/St. John Parish in Menasha, prays in the Twin Cities Perpetual Adoration Chapel at St. Margaret Mary Church in Neenah March 18. Because of a directive from Bishop David Ricken, the chapel was closed until further notice on March. 19. (Brad Birkholz | For The Compass)

Fr. John Girotti, Vicar for Canonical Services and Associate Moderator of the Curia, sent the message out to all six eucharistic chapels in the Diocese of Green Bay on March 18. Fr. Girotti also serves as Bishop Ricken’s delegate to the eucharistic chapels.

The announcement came one day after Bishop Ricken ordered the suspension of all public celebration of the Mass and most other liturgical celebrations – including Stations of the Cross, a popular Lenten prayer practice.

“The congregating of people is the problem,” Fr. Girotti told The Compass on March 18.

“There’s the problem of close quarters. Adoration chapels are very tiny,” he said. “You may have just one or two people, but they are right on top of each other. … It’s good to have a little more space.”

The coronavirus pandemic is, of course, a time when people would naturally turn to the church to gather in prayer. However, with the high risk of communication of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control are recommending that no more than 50 people gather in one place. The White House has recommended that no more than 10 gather at one time. This is why Masses have been suspended in the Diocese of Green Bay, and many other dioceses across the nation.

The closing of the eucharistic chapels came about after several pastors in the churches where these are located expressed concern.

However, while the chapels will be closed, Bishop Ricken asks that churches remain open for private prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.

Fr. Girotti acknowledged that people will express concern that “at the very time we need our Eucharistic Lord the most, we’re keeping people from him. The answer to that is we are keeping the churches open.”

On Sundays, Bishop Ricken will also celebrate a Mass at 10:30 a.m. on WFRV-TV. People are asked to make this a time of “spiritual communion.” Priests will also celebrate private Sunday Masses “pro populo” (for the people.) Additionally, several parishes will livestream Masses.

“The fidelity of the people, the love of people for eucharistic adoration is a great blessings,” Fr. Girotti said. “And it will come back. It will come back.

Reaction to adoration chapels closing

Several perpetual adoration chapel coordinators in the Diocese of Green Bay and adorers were sad to see the chapels close, but understood the reason for closing them.

Kathie Reed, coordinator of the Divine Mercy Adoration Chapel in Oshkosh, which draws on adorers from all the city’s parishes, said adorers in Oshkosh are “hoping this thing flies over fast so we can open our chapels.”

“We are sad about the whole thing, but we want everybody to be safe,” she said.

Craig Sachs, a member of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Neenah, is a frequent visitor to Neenah’s Twin Cities Perpetual Adoration Chapel. “As a long time adorer, it’s difficult to wrap my head around the fact that the Blessed Sacrament will not be available to the faithful. The cornerstone of the Catholic faith is the Eucharist and not being able to receive it or have it exposed for Adoration is a huge void.”

Ted Szymanski of St. Mary/St. John Parish in Menasha also prayers before the Blessed Sacrament at the Neenah chapel. “It’s one thing when it comes to the health care aspect but people’s spiritual health are gonna be pushed to the limits.”

“We have some very sad adorers, they are grieving,” said Mary Beth Meehl, coordinator of the Chapel of Divine Mercy at St. Pius X Church in Appleton. “This is a big loss, it’s like they lost their best friend. It’s really sad because many have been adoring since the chapel opened 16 years ago.”

After the Diocese of Green Bay discontinued public celebration of Mass on March 17, Meehl said the adoration chapel directive was another blow. “Some of them are even angry, but as I tell them, ‘Jesus isn’t taken away from you. Jesus is in your heart. No one can take that personal relationship with Jesus away from you.’”

The Chapel of Divine Mercy has about 323 adorers, said Meehl. She reminds them that “You can talk to Jesus any time of the day. He’s present in Scripture and I’m encouraging people to pray Scripture, to learn lectio divina.”

Meehl said that Fr. James Jugenheimer, pastor, is planning to have the church open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day to allow people to sit and pray before the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle, while following CDC guidelines on group gatherings and social distance.

“We certainly don’t want to do anything that will endanger anyone’s health,” she said.

Meehl said she understands Bishop David Ricken’s concerns about the tight, closed quarters of adoration chapels. “I trust the bishop and he’s made this decision,” she said. “I know how much the bishop loves the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother. He needs our prayers. This had to be difficult for him.”

Sam Lucero and Brad Birkholz contributed to this story.