Drive through confessions offered by some parishes as Holy Week approaches

Among the priests of the Diocese of Peoria offering drive through confessions is Father Peter Zorjan, right, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Colona and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Silvis. At left, a penitent (foreground car) pulls up beside Father Zorjan's car outside of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church last Saturday. (Photos by Brian Wellner and provided)

By Brian Wellner / For The Catholic Post

SILVIS — Parking lot confessions are the new normal in the Diocese of Peoria as more parishes take the private, intensely personal sacrament outside in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last Saturday, Father Peter Zorjan heard confessions for the first time in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Silvis, where he is pastor. Despite dark skies threatening storms and even tornadoes, at least a dozen cars lined up.

“I come from two parishes,” said Father Zorjan, who is also pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Colona. “My people are used to confessions six days a week. We’ve had numerous requests for the sacrament. Unfortunately, I cannot provide this in the way I used to provide it, but something is better than nothing.”

The penitents pulled up, one-by-one, alongside the driver-side of Father Zorjan’s Nissan. The pastor sat inside his car, wearing a face mask with his window rolled a quarter of the way down. Roughly six feet separated the two vehicles.

The directives from the Diocese of Peoria in these weeks of pandemic precautions read that “priests may hear confessions outdoors if they can do so in a way that provides for six feet of social distancing, and provides for the safety and privacy of the priest and penitent.”

Father Zorjan anticipates more parishioners will take him up on his offer to hear confessions outside as he spreads the word on social media.

“CONFESSION IS OPEN”

Father Joseph Dondanville, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Kickapoo and St. Patrick Parish, Elmwood, noticed an uptick each time since he started hearing confessions outside a couple of weeks ago. He’s hearing confessions outside at the Kickapoo church over the lunch hour, Monday through Friday.

“I’ll be parked out front in my car,” Father Dondanville said. “If you’re out and about and see my car parked in the lot, confession is open.”

Other parishes in the Diocese of Peoria that have made their drive through confession schedule known to The Catholic Post as Holy Week approaches include:

  • BLOOMINGTON: St. Patrick Church of Merna, 1001 N. Towanda Barnes Road, the next two Fridays — April 3, from noon to 4 p.m., and April 10, from 8 a.m. to noon.
  • PEORIA:  In the parking lot of the Spalding Pastoral Center, 419 N.E. Monroe, Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; at St. Philomena Church, 1000 W. Albany, Monday through Saturday from 5 to 6 p.m.
  • PERU: At St. Joseph Church, 829 Schuyler St., from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday (until Wednesday, April 8) and Saturday from 2:30 to 4 p.m. at both St. Joseph Church and St. Valentine Church, 1109 Pulaski St.  At St. Joseph, penitents should drive up with the driver toward the rectory office door. If there are multiple penitents, the car should stay in that place with the radio on while the first penitent goes to the chair or kneeler near the grotto and waits for the priest, maintaining proper social distance. Honk your horn if the priest does not come to the door when you arrive. There will be no confessions if it is raining.

(Parishes wishing to add their confession hours to this list may email tdermody@cdop.org.)

INCREASED DAILY PRAYER LIFE

Priests are finding creative ways to administer sacraments in the wake of a disease that has spread to more than 200 countries and caused at least 42,000 deaths as of Wednesday.

A penitent takes part in the sacrament of reconciliation with Father Dustin Schultz (in the car) beneath the overhang of St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington last Friday. (Provided photo / Richard Sealy)

With the number of confirmed cases in the United States continuing to rise, parishes are following diocesan guidelines and state directives during the stay-at-home mandate.

“My greatest worry is that people lose their faith because of this, especially when it comes to the sacramental life,” said Father Zorjan. But he holds to the hope that the Catholic faithful in this time of anxiety will turn to the sacraments with as much zeal as priests have administering them.

Dan Hintzke of Colona, a member of the Colona faith community, said that although he cannot attend Mass in person, he wants to use the opportunity while sheltered at home to intensify his daily prayer life.

“I always told myself that if only I had more time, I’d have a better spiritual life,” said Hintzke, who helped Father Zorjan during Saturday’s confession by directing vehicles. “Now I have more time. Am I going to rise to that commitment? It’s a beautiful challenge.”

KEEPING PARISH LIFE ALIVE

More people seem to be tuning in for a live streamed daily Mass than used to turn out in person.

Father Dondanville’s Monday morning daily Mass posted on Facebook had more than 100 views. He said that in-person daily Mass attendance typically ranges from 15 to 25 people.

“I’m busy now, if not more so, coming up with new ways to evangelize. It’s been a challenge, but a fruitful one. It’s getting me to do things I wasn’t comfortable with doing.” — Father Joseph Dondanville

“I’m busy now, if not more so, coming up with new ways to evangelize,” Father Dondanville said. “It’s been a challenge, but a fruitful one. It’s getting me to do things I wasn’t comfortable with doing.”

Father Zorjan, who said he leans more “tech savvy,” has also had success streaming his Masses. About 1,400 households tuned in the first time he celebrated Mass online.

“We try to keep parish life alive the best way we can,” Father Zorjan said, adding he’s also had fun with online streaming, including a “Stump the Priest” question-and-answer challenge that attracted 295 people.

Father Zorjan has also mailed letters to his parishioners on a regular basis, hoping to keep those without internet access in the loop as well.

“I’m going out of my way to reassure people in this difficult time,” he said. “A lot of our people have no internet.”

Online communities of priests looking for solutions through the pandemic have popped up in recent weeks. Priests in the Peoria diocese are also being given instructions from the chancery on a regular basis.

“We had zero training in the seminary for situations like this,” Father Zorjan said. “We were never prepared for something of this magnitude.”

Father Dondanville likened the worry and fear brought on by the coronavirus pandemic to Sunday’s Gospel about Lazarus.

“We’re all Lazarus,” he said. “We’re in that tomb of darkness. Christ will call us out of that and into the light of his love.”

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