WARWICK — For Father Robert Marciano, KHS, the daffodils blooming outside St. Kevin Church are more than a sure sign of spring, they are a sign of Easter and the hope for eternal life that the season brings.
The pastor of St. Kevin and St. Benedict Churches said this year’s celebration of Holy Week will have added meaning, given the COVID-19 pandemic that is affecting nearly all countries around the globe, including several dozen members of his parish community in particular.
Last week, Father Marciano emerged from a Rhode Island Department of Health-imposed quarantine that began two weeks earlier, on Tuesday, March 10, after a Penance Service held for schoolchildren at St. Kevin Church.
“On Thursday, one of the children told her teacher that her mom was sick with the virus, so we reported it to the principal and the Health Department, and sure enough, she tested positive so they quarantined everybody at the service,” Father Marciano said.
About 60 people were in attendance at the service, including parents, a religious education teacher, Father Marciano and two brother priests. All had to enter a period of quarantine in their homes for the next two weeks. Luckily, none developed any symptoms of the virus.
The Department of Health reached out by text to each person in quarantine every morning to ask if they were running a fever or coughing.
What was the quarantine experience like for the active pastor, who also serves as president of Bishop Hendricken High School and chaplain of the Warwick Police and Fire departments, and who has also previously served as a U.S. Air Force and R.I. National Guard chaplain?
Father Marciano repeated the response he gave to Bishop Thomas J. Tobin when he called the pastor earlier to see how he was doing at the end of his quarantine.
“I really like spending time by myself, but two weeks with just me was even too much for me,” Father Marciano joked.
He noted that while it was very quiet for him as the sole occupant of his rectory, the experience most resembled the two-week solitary retreats he has taken part in as a priest.
The pastor passed the time by taking walks, offering Mass and reading. He was surprised to learn that he could also leave the house, taking rides in his car, as long as he remained isolated in his vehicle in doing so.
“I just wasn’t used to the non-activity. My life is pretty full and I like it that way,” Father Marciano said.
In this unique and deadly crisis, unlike in others when residents hunker down in their homes during a hurricane or blizzard, access to power, phone service and the amenities we’ve grown accustomed to have been largely unaffected.
“I was able to get food delivered to me. The parishioners were very generous, as were the police and fire departments to make sure I was well-fed,” Father Marciano said.
“I didn’t like being alone without family and friends, but now I’m working. I head over to Bishop Hendricken every day to do some work in my office.”
At Bishop Hendricken, from which he graduated, Father Marciano is among the few staff members working through the crisis in the physical plant to keep things moving along until everyone can return at some point.
Teachers are running virtual lessons from home, an exercise which has been working well, with the students logging in at 8 a.m. to receive online instruction just as they would on a normal school day.
For those who may have connectivity or equipment issues, provisions are made to supply these students with hard copies of the material so they can continue to learn while at home.
What gives him great inspiration in such sullen times is the way the faithful have become hyper-engaged in following Masses online.
“We’re live-streaming Masses from the Hendricken Chapel, and all Holy Week services will be filmed and posted on our website from the parish for viewing,” Father Marciano said.
He said he has received hundreds of comments from people expressing their appreciation in having access to the continued services, even though they can’t be there in person.
“People are very happy. They say, ‘Thank you Father, it was good to hear your message.’”
“It allows us to make contact and keep people hopeful.”
The Diocese of Providence’s Office of Communications has compiled a list on the diocesan website of televised and live-streamed Masses available for viewing across different platforms. The list can be viewed by visiting: https://www.dioceseofprovidence.org/news/fyi-television-masses.
Bishop Tobin has also recorded an Easter Message that can be viewed by visiting the diocesan main page at www.dioceseofprovidence.org.
On Easter Sunday, April 12, at 11 a.m., Bishop Tobin will celebrate a Mass at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul that will be broadcast live by local NBC affiliate WJAR TV on Channel 10, as well as on its website: www.turnto10.com.
Since March 17, all Masses in the Diocese of Providence have been closed to the public in accordance with social distancing protocols as outlined by state and federal officials amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am greatly looking forward to sharing the televised Mass with the faithful on Easter Sunday morning,” Bishop said Bishop Tobin.
“Although the cathedral will be empty, our hearts will be full – with the joy and peace and confident hope that the Resurrection of Christ inspires in us.”
Bishop Tobin’s request that parishes begin ringing their bells at 9 a.m. last Sunday and continue to do so until the novel coronavirus pandemic is over also inspires hope, as it speaks to the whole community of the presence of God, reminding them that churches are still there and eager to welcome them home in the very near future.
Father Marciano rang his church’s bells, not once, but twice last Sunday, after receiving a call from one parishioner who missed the initial ringing.
In addition, he has also sought to keep parishioners positive and inspired by ringing the bells each day with some uplifting music.
“Once a day we ring the bells with wedding songs,” he said. “We have a set of wedding songs on our bells that are very nice, happy pieces. People have been calling and commenting on that.”
Between ringing the bells and live-streaming Masses and Benedictions, people in this digital age have the means to stay connected to their faith at a time when a safe separation between individuals can mean the difference between life and death.
That connection has been forged into a strong bond.
“I think it’s a sign that we’re here,” the pastor said.
“We’re in their homes; people can see us. I think they feel assured. It’s a big change.”
Father Marciano likes to remind everyone he communicates with that in heaven, social distancing is not practiced.
“It’s all about hugs and we’ll get back there,” he tells people. “We’ll get through it. The coronavirus is strong, but our faith is stronger.”
He is especially glad that those daffodils outside St. Kevin Church did not receive the advisory on social distancing.
“They’re all coming out beautiful. It’s a sign of Easter.”