Outreach offers hope in trying times

Confessions, adoration accessible from vehicles to Catholics at Manitowoc parish

MANITOWOC — Despite the national mood of fear and uncertainty due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, a feeling of hope permeated the Life Teen House at St. Francis of Assisi Parish March 22.

A monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament sits near a second-floor window of St. Francis of Assisi School in Manitowoc as people sitting in cars in the school parking lot spend time in prayer. When the parish’s Sacred Heart Adoration Chapel was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Fr. Doug LeCaptain, pastor, decided to continue the parish’s “Come and Adore” event in a new way. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

For 90 minutes, area Catholics, sitting in cars around the St. Francis of Assisi School parking lot, were able to participate in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the sacrament of reconciliation. Both opportunities were offered in a way that followed Bishop David Ricken’s directives issued March 20. The directives call for no public gatherings of 10 or more people, in compliance with federal and state recommendations.

According to Fr. Doug LeCaptain, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, his parish team leaders wanted to find innovative ways to keep parishioners upbeat and feel close to God.

“We were looking at different ideas,” he told The Compass, while helping to organize the evening activities. He said parishioners were disappointed when they learned that the Sacred Heart Adoration Chapel would be closed. “So it was like, ‘How can we do it?’ We were thinking about the living room window, but the street is a dead end because of road construction.

Fr. Jose Lopez, parochial vicar of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Manitowoc, peers from his makeshift confessional as he prepares to offer drive-through and walk-up confessions on Sunday evening, March 22. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“I said, ‘How about this window?’” Fr. LeCaptain added, pointing to the second-floor window at St. Francis of Assisi School. “It faces the parking lot. So it was a great idea to continue our adoration time — and then the idea of a drive-up window for a confessional came along with it.”

Fr. Jose Lopez and Fr. Bill Evans, parochial vicars at the parish, offered to provide the sacrament of reconciliation from inside the Life Teen House. From separate rooms that included screened windows, they were able to create makeshift confessionals where people could drive up or walk up to one of two windows: one covered with paper for private confession and the other not covered.

Arriving early, Fr. Lopez, keeping his distance from several volunteers, stood outside of the Life Teen House and used chalk to mark lines for drivers to park. He and Fr. Evans then entered the adoration chapel, located across the street from the Life Teen House. In a solemn procession they returned, with Fr. Lopez carrying two red sanctuary candles and Fr. Evans holding the consecrated host.

The priests walked across the parking lot and into the school building, up the stairs and Fr. Evans placed the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance that sat on a table next to a window. A flashlight was used to help make the monstrance easier to see from the parking lot below.

During adoration, Michelle Bishop, religious education coordinator, sat inside the school with the Blessed Sacrament and the priests walked to the confessional sites to begin hearing confessions.

A man and woman receive the sacrament of reconciliation from Fr. Jose Lopez and Fr. Bill Evans on March 22. The parish provided drive-through and walk-up confessions as well as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for local Catholics. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Several people seated in cars said the opportunity to attend adoration was a blessing and honor.

“I think it’s a real good idea,” said Paul Tebo, who sat with his wife Linda. “It gives us a chance to still come and celebrate when we can’t go into our regular adoration chapel.”

“We all need to be careful about the COVID-19, but we still need that community and this seems to be the prudent balance between the two,” said Brian Karman, who said his reason for attending adoration was because “I love being around Jesus.”

Jacque Welsh, a member of St. Mary Parish in Greenville, drove one hour to attend the adoration. “This is one of the few places that I could actually find that still has adoration,” she said. “I found it through friends who are part of the young adult ministry here. They mentioned that this was going to be happening, so I drove out here just for this event.”

Being able to attend adoration, even though an hour away, was important to Welsh, she said. “It means everything. Doing it online and the webcams and everything is good, but with us not being able to take the Eucharist, even this much, it’s just everything.”

Fr. LeCaptain said the parish is doing whatever it can to stay connected to the faithful. “We’ve started streaming our daily Masses and we are getting good hits on that. We streamed two Masses this weekend on Facebook.”

The parish traditionally holds a “Come and Adore” evening after the 6:30 p.m. Mass on the fourth Sunday of each month, said Fr. LeCaptain. “This Sunday we would normally have adoration and confessions after Mass, so that’s why we wanted to do something to connect with that,” he said. “This is the first time to try this. If the turnout is good, we will consider it again. If not, we will keep looking for new and creative ways to have Jesus present in our community.”