Diocese to celebrate Mass honoring essential workers


PROVIDENCE — During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic the concept of what it means to be an essential worker became very clear for many people who suddenly found themselves on the front lines in helping their communities maintain normal day-to-day services in a time of crisis.
While first responders in the field, along with doctors and nurses in the hospitals and clinics, are the professions that usually first come to mind as being essential workers, the public quickly realized that their local clergy, letter carriers, schoolteachers and workers in the neighborhood local grocery store were also among those they depended on to provide essential services each day.
Throughout the month of May, the Diocese of Providence, for the second year in a row, is honoring the extraordinary efforts of all essential workers.
On Sunday, May 15 at 8:45 a.m., at Our Lady of the Rosary Church, 21 Traverse St. Providence, the diocesan Office of Health Care Ministry will celebrate its second annual Mass of Prayer and Thanksgiving for Essential Workers. Father Joseph A. Escobar, pastor, will be the celebrant, and Father John A. Kiley, Ecumenical Officer for the Diocese of Providence, will deliver the homily.
Essential workers are encouraged to wear their respective uniforms to be recognized for their service.
All are welcome to attend in person, or to view a livestream of the Mass on Facebook at www.facebook.com/joe.escobar.71.
Father Christopher J. Murphy, Rector of the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence, and director of Pre-Ordination Formation, said that during the first part of the pandemic, with public Masses suspended, churches closed and people huddled inside their homes or nursing facilities without fellowship from visitors, a common feeling articulated in conversations he had with brother priests was a sense of “helplessness.”
“It was difficult, especially early on, to know what to do,” Father Murphy said.
“When I was given the opportunity to receive special training so that I could assist with hospital ministry at the height of the pandemic, I jumped at the opportunity because it meant being useful to Christ and His Church at a time when so much was restricted.”
He suddenly found himself on the front lines of the crisis, learning how to keep himself as safe as possible as he answered the call to provide the sacrament of the sick to those who lay dying in hospitals from COVID-19, many unable to breathe on their own. Although those visits put him and his fellow priests at great risk, they also provided great comfort to the families of their loved ones who were not allowed to be at their bedside.
“There was a weight that was simultaneously experienced as a privilege when on call during the pandemic,” Father Murphy said.
“I was keenly aware each time I entered a hospital room that I was physically present to another human being who could not enjoy the presence of their closest loved ones. I took this responsibility seriously and I did my best to remain mindful of that fact, so as to communicate the best care and attention possible through the Church’s prayers.”
Father Murphy said that while he played a “modest role,” in these visits to comfort the sick and dying as he supplemented the efforts of the overworked full-time chaplains, he was happy to join them on the front lines in providing a reprieve to his brother priests.
He continues to see that people who are homebound or in hospitals and nursing facilities often express their regret and even sometimes guilt about not being able to attend Mass.
Father Murphy usually reassures these individuals by sharing his strong belief with them that when they are unable to come to Church, the Church comes to them.
“We read about the early Church providing this ministry in the Scriptures,” he said. “It continues today through hospital ministry. Christ, especially in the sacraments, reaches out to the most isolated.”
Father Murphy said he’s found the old adage. “I believe that I received more than I gave,” to be true in chaplaincy work, especially when priests are called to be at a hospital bedside, which he identifies as a “sacred place,” at late hours of the night or early hours of the morning.
“I’ve encountered God powerfully on several occasions when ‘on call.’ It is a privileged ministry,” he said.
Deacon Scott Brown, a retired member of the Navy Fire Department with 26 years of service, discovered during the pandemic that members of the clergy are indispensable essential workers, even when the churches were closed.
“In the beginning of the pandemic, I would go to the Veterans Home every Sunday morning. Although I was not allowed to visit with the veterans, I would meet in the chapel and would do the readings and the prayers of the day along with the administrator, General Rick Backus,” Deacon Brown said.
He said that the only conditions in which he was allowed to visit with a veteran was if they were at the end of their life. He would don layers of personal protection equipment (PPE) and would offer prayers and viaticum to the dying.
Once there, he would take the opportunity to walk around the individual cottage he was called to, where the veterans sat in the doorway of their rooms, and distribute Holy Communion to the faithful.
“Many of the veterans who were used to Sunday Mass were in tears to know that I had Holy Communion,” he recalled. “What an honor and privilege to the Lord are these men and women who risk their lives to protect democracy and our rights to freedom of religion.”
Ordained by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin on the Feast of the Presentation in 2013, Deacon Brown, who is married with two grown children, was assigned to serve as chaplain to the RI Veterans Home and as deacon assistant at Immaculate Conception Church, Cranston. He accepted an appointment as chaplain to the Cranston Fire Department in 2016.
Serving the public as an essential worker is literally in Deacon Brown’s DNA. His mother was a registered nurse and his father was a volunteer firefighter and a former Army medic in Korea on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir. He also served as a Boy Scout camp ranger.