Confessions still available as Detroit-area priests balance spiritual needs, health concerns

A man waits for confession outside the chapel at St. Bonaventure Monastery on Detroit's east side March 19. The Capuchin Franciscan friars, known for hearing dozens of confessions daily, are keeping their normal schedule, but urging people not to congregate in the waiting area. The Solanus Casey Center, adjacent to the chapel, is closed. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Many parishes keeping normal confession hours, but urge faithful to call ahead, avoid forming lines to combat spread of coronavirus

DETROIT — Public Masses have been suspended, weddings have been postponed and baptisms with the whole family present have been put on hold — but confessions are still being heard in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

With Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron suspending public Mass until April 6, and revised recommendations from the state and the Centers for Disease Control limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer, priests are getting creative in ministering to those who want to avail themselves of the sacrament of reconciliation.

The Capuchin Franciscan friars at St. Bonaventure Monastery on Detroit’s east side, who heard more than 26,000 confessions last year, are continuing to hear confessions, even while the adjacent Solanus Casey Center is closed, said Fr. David Preuss, OFM Cap., the center’s director.

“We’ve kept our schedule of hearing confessions from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday,” Fr. Preuss told Detroit Catholic. “We don’t want people to jam up waiting in line. So rather than waiting next to the confessionals, we are encouraging people to space out in the corridor.”

A sign on the door of the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit informs visitors March 19 of the suspension of public Masses, while confessions are still available. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Those going to St. Bonaventure for confession are instructed to park on Mt. Elliott Street and go through the church entrance. The Capuchins are livestreaming their daily 7:45 a.m. Mass and 9 a.m. Sunday Mass as well.

Fr. Preuss said the Capuchins heard an estimated 70 confessions on Saturday, March 14, and 26 on Monday, March 16.

“We’re keeping what we call ‘essential services,’” Fr. Preuss said. “The soup kitchens are feeding people, the service center is passing out boxes of food, and the Solanus Casey Center is continuing confessions. A lot of people are thinking about eternity, so we are getting some of the usual people who are dealing with normal problems and getting some people who know they need to go but have been putting it off.”

Parishes keep confession times

Parishes around the Archdiocese of Detroit also are opening their doors during part of the day so people can pray before the tabernacle and have their confessions heard. Parishioners are instructed to check their parish website or social media for hours, availability and health and safety protocols.

The National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak is hearing confessions during its normal schedule, at 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and weekdays at 7 a.m. The church is also open for adoration from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. Adoration is in the main church, as the smaller adoration chapel is closed.

Across town, St. Mary Parish in Royal Oak is hearing confession at its usual times, 6:30 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. on Friday and 3-4 p.m. on Saturday, along with individual appointments with Fr. Paul Snyder, the parish pastor.

Fr. Joseph Lang, associate pastor of the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak, hears a student’s confession in March 2018. During the coronavirus crisis, priests at the basilica will hear confessions during normal times, but parishioners are encouraged to call ahead and avoid lines. (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic file photo)

“Since many people are home from work, there have been a number of appointments for individual confessions during the day,” Fr. Snyder said. “I have set up an additional place to hear confessions that maintains the appropriate distance.”

Other parishes, such as St. Lawrence in Utica and Our Lady of Counsel in Plymouth, do not have posted confession times, so parishioners are advised to call ahead and schedule an appointment to prevent large crowds from gathering in a line.

St. Joseph Shrine, formerly St. Joseph Oratory on Detroit’s near east side, is hearing confessions and having perpetual adoration throughout the day, using an electronic signup sheet on its website to ensure no more than 10 people are in the church at the same time.

“Initially, that signup sheet was a maximum of 100 people per hour, then it was down to 50 people signing up for an hour time slot, and as we speak today, it's now down to 10,” said Canon Michael Stein, ICKSP, St. Joseph's rector and pastor. “We’ve been in the confessional at least during our normal times, a half-hour before what would be a scheduled public Mass or during our perpetual novena to St. Joseph, starting at 11 a.m. on Wednesday and in the evening at 6:30 p.m.”

Canon Stein said the faithful can still ring the doorbell of the rectory to have their confession heard, and the parish food pantry is still in operation.

The suspension of public Masses and devotions put a damper on St. Joseph Shrine’s plans for its scheduled St. Joseph Day of Prayer, which was to include a public procession through Eastern Market with Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron. For now, the day of prayer has been rescheduled for May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

Priests take faithful’s intentions to the altar

While many of the faithful are distraught with the suspension of public Mass, Canon Stein ensured all that priests across the Archdiocese of Detroit are still celebrating Mass for their congregations — with many parishes offering livestreams and daily devotions.

“Any time a priest offers the Mass, he takes up the world’s intentions with him,” Canon Stein said. “As the Lord’s sacrifice offered and renewed, we call upon the merit of Christ to reign down on all society, to those in communion with the Church, those in a state of grace or open to that torrent of grace that flows from the altar every time Mass is said.”

At Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, the church is still open for private prayer Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the adoration chapel will be open 24 hours a day, with a restriction of only five people in the chapel at one time.

Divine Child pastor Fr. Bob McCabe and associate pastor Fr. Matthew Hood are hearing confessions from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and 5 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays. They said they wish they could do more but need to balance people’s spiritual needs with physical health.  

Fr. David Burgard, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Monroe, hears a woman’s confession during a “Priests in the Park” event in July 2019. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

“Right now we still have confession on Tuesdays and Saturdays, but people can’t make that a habit of being a long-term thing,” Fr. Hood said. “We want to be as available as possible, but to the point of putting people at risk, we don’t want to do that.”

Fr. McCabe and Fr. Hood have been making short videos on Divine Child's social media pages to try to offer encouragement during the difficult times.

“We want to be as present to people as possible, even if it’s remotely,” Fr. Hood said. “We’re developing this concept of ‘porch ministry,’ where people are staying at their homes, especially the elderly or those more likely to catch the coronavirus. We’re setting up an online or remote a ministry where volunteers can bring people groceries or supplies, so people don’t have to leave the house.”

The suspension of public Masses and the restrictions on individual confessions add another burden in a trying time for Detroit-area Catholics, but Fr. Preuss called upon the life of Blessed Solanus Casey and the work of his fellow Capuchins to put people’s struggles into perspective, and to perhaps offer some hope.

“The Casey family had one carriage, so only half the family could go (to Mass) on a given Sunday,” Fr. Preuss said. “One of my classmates is in Panama, where he was the first priest in his area to serve in 100 years and had over 30 mission stations. We Capuchins are accustomed to being in missionary territory, to meet only occasionally with those in remote areas. 

“We (in the United States) are experiencing some of what the wider Church permanently deals with,” Fr. Preuss continued. “But we are all one Church, all one body. This is a difficult time, but Christ is still with us, and we still have a job to do in looking out for one another.”