Archdiocese, parishes beef up outreach to homebound via livestreams, TV Masses

A woman watches the Mass for Shut Ins, which is broadcast weekly from the studios of Fox 2 Detroit in Southfield. In addition to the long-running Mass, the Archdiocese of Detroit and its parishes have invested heavily into improving livestreaming capabilities since the pandemic began. (Joe Pelletier | Detroit Catholic)

Myriad options exist for those who can’t attend Mass in person, from Facebook Live to Mass for Shut-ins, including new

DETROIT — Madeline Schornak doesn’t drive much anymore. She has some difficulty walking, and her health precludes her from being able to attend Mass as regularly as she’d like to.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 81-year-old Schornak, a member of St. Blase Parish in Sterling Heights, has relied on technology to bring her the sights, sounds and messages of the Gospel on a weekly basis.

“It makes me feel good,” Schornak said. “It helps my faith to know that I can still watch the Mass and know that God is with me.”

For Schornak and others who either can’t attend Mass or are hesitant to return because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Archdiocese of Detroit and its 217 parishes have invested countless hours and energy over the past 17 months into improving livestreams, broadcasting liturgies and bringing other forms of devotion into living rooms and nursing homes across Metro Detroit and beyond.

Several parishes, including St. Hugo of the Hills in Bloomfield Hills and St. Thomas a’Becket in Canton, are working with local nursing homes to ensure Catholic residents have access to their livestreamed Masses. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Since the very first Mass was broadcast from the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in March 2020, the archdiocese and a majority of its parishes have continued to livestream Masses on a daily or weekly basis, as well as rosaries, retreats, conferences and seminars.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have seen tens of thousands of Catholics in southeast Michigan pray together on our livestreams on Facebook, YouTube, and more,” said Emily Mentock, associate director of strategy for the archdiocese’s communications department. “It has been an inspiring example of how media can be used for good in the Church.”

At first, the archdiocese kept a running list of livestream Masses across the diocese, and has since developed an easy-to-use website,, which filters Masses, confessions, adoration times and services — including virtual Masses — by time, date and location.

The easy-to-use service is just one resource to help those who can’t attend Mass — or even those who can — stay connected to the sacraments and their parishes when it’s otherwise difficult to do so.

For homebound parishioners like Schornak, who tunes in to the weekly Mass for Shut Ins broadcast on Fox 2 Detroit, the options are a godsend.

Fr. Mario Amore of St. Aloysius Parish in Detroit gives a homily during a taping of the Mass for Shut Ins in 2019 at the Fox 2 Detroit studios in Southfield. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

“It's just a short Mass, but it’s just comforting knowing that if I can't get out, it’s a super alternative,” Schornak said. “The homilies are good.”

The Mass for Shut Ins predates the pandemic — it’s been running since 1921 as a radio program and since 1948 on local television — with local priests celebrating a recorded Mass at the Fox 2 studios in Southfield on a rotating basis.

But it’s no longer the only option for homebound Detroit-area parishioners.

St. Thomas a’Becket Parish in Canton began filming Masses using two parishioners’ cellphones in March 2020, and today offers a weekly broadcast on its website and Facebook page, along with funerals, first Communions and the occasional devotional series.

“People are still using it,” said Lisa Bittner, pastoral minister at St. Thomas a’Becket. “Some people just don’t feel comfortable coming back yet with the (COVID-19) delta variant. Even when people come back, we’re probably going to continue to do this for a long time.”

Fr. Mark Prill celebrates Mass at St. Joseph Parish in Erie, which livestreams its liturgies to its Facebook page every week. (Courtesy photo)

While broadcast and televised Masses have existed for some time, Bittner said homebound parishioners appreciate being able to watch their own parish, rather than a church with which they’re unfamiliar.

“We have several senior communities nearby, Waltonwood and Glen Arbor, where seniors live who aren’t able to come to Mass,” Bittner said. “The staff will bring them to a common area, and they’ll watch our Mass on the TV screen. I think people are just more comfortable watching their own parish.”

Since the pandemic started, St. Thomas has learned quite a bit about what makes a good livestream, Bittner said.

“We’re updating our system soon,” Bittner said. “We’ll have three cameras and get different angles, and sound will be picked up right through the (church’s) sound system.”

St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish in Sterling Heights also continues to broadcast its Saturday evening Masses live on Facebook, uploading the recorded Mass to YouTube the next day for homebound parishioners to watch.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron gives a homily during a livestreamed Mass from the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit. (Detroit Catholic file photo)

Lucas Jeffrey, communications manager for St. Jane Frances de Chantal, said it was a learning curve at first — for parish staff and for older parishioners who had trouble finding the livestreams online — but it’s become easier as time has gone on.

“I’ve answered a lot of phone calls and emails from people asking me how to access the livestreams,” Jeffrey said. “I’ve even had people approach me after Mass, hand me their phone and say, ‘Show me how to get to the Mass.’”

Jeffrey said the success of the livestreams at St. Jane Frances de Chantal has spurred the parish to branch out into other forms of video content, including a fledgling catechetical series called “The Way of Faith.”

“The biggest reason we continue to do it is because it’s such a wonderful tool for evangelization,” said Jeffrey, who produces the series with the help of the parish’s pastor, Fr. Tony Sulkowski, and others. A recent video, on the Assumption of Mary, was published this week.

While parishes are encouraging people to attend Mass in person if they are able, for those who can't drive or who are concerned about COVID-19, livestreaming offers a way to stay connected, parish leaders say. 

St. Hugo of the Hills Parish in Bloomfield Hills was among the first parishes in the archdiocese to offer livestreaming as a regular option, having started a weekly stream in late 2018.

Brian Bartkowiak, business manager for the parish, said the parish works with a nearby senior community to ensure its Catholic residents — many of whom are St. Hugo parishioners — can access St. Hugo’s Masses.

“We’ve worked with them so they can broadcast it on their internal closed circuit TV network so residents can watch it on their own TV in their own apartments,” Bartkowiak said.

Bartkowiak said many families have expressed gratitude at being able to access funeral services online, especially for out-of-state family members who aren’t able to travel.

While the number of weekly viewers has declined — which is to be expected, given the number of people returning to Mass — the archdiocese will continue to livestream special Masses and feast days, and rebroadcasts a stream each week from the cathedral. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

“People are very happy we have that because their extended family members can participate in the funeral from far away, even from other countries,” Bartkowiak said. “From a mission standpoint, that’s been a great way to reach people.”

As livestreaming improves, parishes don’t expect to leave the technology behind anytime soon. The Archdiocese of Detroit continues to broadcast professional quality streams from the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament during the most important liturgical celebrations of the year, and many parish leaders say upgrading their capabilities is high on the priority list.

Mentock added that while livestream viewership declined as the general dispensation expired and people began returning to Mass at their parishes, the archdiocese is “glad to continue livestream production for certain feast days and other special Masses moving forward.”

Even as parishes cautiously urge parishioners to return to in-person Masses, livestreaming and technology will retain a place going forward, said Patricia Radacsy, pastoral associate at St. Kieran Parish in Shelby Township.

“Fr. Joe (Mallia) very often reiterates the need to be together as a community, to pray together, to celebrate and receive the Eucharist together,” Radacsy said. “He reminds people that if you’re out and about, you can come to church. But for those who can’t, there are many ways to participate with us in the liturgy.”

To find a Mass time near you — livestreamed or in person — in southeast Michigan, visit the Archdiocese of Detroit’s new website,