Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Parish and school openings: a report

August 19, 2020

To read this column in Spanish, click here.

While our parishes and schools closed quickly in March in response to rising rates of COVID-19 infection in Illinois, reopening has been a painstaking and well-monitored process. Following the reopening of our parishes for liturgical services in June, we closely tracked the effectiveness of the safety measures we put in place.

As you recall, parishes that chose to reopen had to be certified by the archdiocese to ensure they had a sufficient number of trained staff and volunteers to welcome parishioners and abide by the COVID protocols. Those protocols include pre-registration for attendance to ensure capacity limits set by the state are observed, seating arrangements and Communion procedures to maintain social distancing, and contact tracing in the event of an exposure.

Sanitizing the church after each use is also occurring. We provided specific COVID protocols for weddings, funerals and baptisms and for celebrations of the sacrament of penance. And, to the delight of not a few, we asked homilists to keep it short!

Our parishes opened in stages over several weeks starting with daily Masses, baptisms, funerals and weddings. Once pastors were comfortable with the implementation of the COVID protocols, they could choose to begin to offer Sunday Mass for larger groups by obtaining certification for them.

Most of our churches were certified for all the stages, but some were not, either because the pastor did not have a sufficient number of trained volunteers or other logistical concerns. However, we made sure that even in such cases, parishioners would have access to a church near their neighborhood.

While we have received reports of about 25 people who attended a service at one of our churches later testing positive for COVID-19 infection, we have not seen spread to others who attended the same services.

In other words, our approach seems to be working. This is promising on a number of fronts. First, it validates the value and need to observe public health recommendations designed to curb the contagion. Second, it forces us to be humble and be prepared to make improvements as new information is learned about COVID-19. Third, it demonstrates the value of everyone working together with a commitment to care for one another. 

We have used what we’ve learned from reopening parishes to inform our plan for reopening schools and religious education classes. Given that there are other variables when it comes to school settings, the plan was developed over the course of several months with the input from a diverse group, including public health officials, parents, principals and a panel of medical experts in the fields of infectious disease and epidemiology.

While our plan for reopening schools is on our website at (, the following information is worth noting.

First, safety of our staff, students and families is our top priority. Our plan is consistent with the guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education,  the Illinois Department of Public Health  and the Chicago Department of Public Health. Students will remain with a designated group or cohort to minimize potential spread of COVID-19 among students, faculty and staff if it is introduced in a school environment. Masks are mandatory, and student desks are spaced at appropriate social distances (according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “evidence suggests that spacing as close as 3 feet may approach the benefits of 6 feet of space,” when students are masked and asymptomatic).

Parents self-certify that their child is not ill or displaying any COVID symptoms before sending her or him to school, and upon arrival students’ wellness and temperature are checked before they enter a school building. We have implemented increased hygiene and disinfecting practices and will take measures to increase ventilation. Where possible, there will be liberal use of outdoor spaces, and we have quarantine protocols to limit spread, if they become necessary.

 Second, we are convinced that students learn best by in-person instruction. The American Academy of Pediatrics “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” We are confident in our ability to deliver top-quality, faith-based education in a safe environment for our students and staff as our school re-opening plan adheres to guidance published by federal, state and local health departments and has been reviewed by a panel of medical experts.

The success of our plan depends on a strong partnership with our parents. Together, we are committed to providing a safe learning and work environment for our children and staff.

No plan can eliminate the possibility of COVID-19 being introduced into a school environment, but we have taken well-informed measures to keep our students, families, teachers and staff safe and reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 being introduced and have procedures in place to limit the spread, which allows us to attend to the holistic educational needs of our children.

I am especially grateful for all those who have helped and especially our principals and teachers as they prepare to welcome our students. Please include in your prayers all those involved in educating our children in our schools and religious education programs. We are all in this together.


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