Priests on the Front Lines of COVID-19

When the call went out from the Archdiocese’s COVID Response Team for volunteer priests to be trained to safely administer the Sacrament of the Sick in area hospitals, the response was remarkable.

MC Sullivan, RN MTS JD, Chief Healthcare Ethicist for the Archdiocese of Boston, was instrumental in not only training and preparing the team of priests for this new duty, but also in working with health care leaders to coordinate the effort. MC shares her thoughts on how the work of our Church continues on the front lines of this public health pandemic:

Healthcare providers and leaders have long acknowledged the significant place Spiritual Care plays in the comprehensive delivery of patient-centered care. For this reason, the Archdiocese worked with health care leaders to ensure that those suffering with COVID-19 in area hospitals would be able to safely receive the Sacrament of the Sick. Given the potential risk, volunteer priests would need to be under the age of 60, have no pre-existing medical conditions, be willing to live in separate housing, and be available to undergo specialized safety training. 87 priests stepped forward, eager to help in a way that only they could. As one volunteer beautifully put it, “priests administering the Sacrament of the Sick are extending the healing hand of Christ to those critically ill. Christ cannot be stopped. Even in a pandemic.”

The reception of our priests by hospital staff has been extraordinary. On his first call to a local hospital, a priest was asked by a nurse if he would offer her a blessing when finished with patients. When he stepped back into the hallway, 25 hospital staff members had gathered to receive his blessing. The work of our priests has not only offered tremendous comfort and care for patients and families, but also has been a morale boost and an amazing sign of solidarity for staff at our hospitals.

Another wonderful aspect of this ministry is that the community has stepped forward to support these priests on the front lines. Other priests and members of the community have been picking up food and supplies for the volunteers. These “shoppers and droppers” are incredibly helpful and another sign of how the faithful support and serve one another in times of crisis.

Even in the midst of a global pandemic we move forward as a Church to take care of each other.

MC Sullivan, Chief Healthcare Ethicist for the Archdiocese of Boston