With new rules in place, parishes reopen for Masses

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, June 17, 2020

With new rules in place, parishes reopen for Masses

St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Orland Hills welcomes people for Mass June 13, 2020. A team of volunteers sanitized the church between Masses and helped maintain other regulations like taking temperatures of parishioners upon entry and safe social distancing during the service. Volunteers also distributed Communion to parishioners in their pews. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Carl Grebenor takes the temperature of a woman coming for Mass on June 13 at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Orland Hills. His father, Thomas Grebenor, stands to the left checking people in. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Those attending Mass are spaced at least 6 feet from those not in their households. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A volunteer gives a parishioner hand sanitizer prior to Communion. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A parishioner wearing a face shield and gloves distributes Communion to a man also wearing a mask during Mass at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Orland Hills June 14. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Parishioners exit the church following directional guides on the floor or the church. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Meghan Connelly disinfects a pew following Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When Doug and Bernice Benker learned that their parish, St. Elizabeth Seton in Orland Hills, was going to open its doors for Masses the weekend of June 6-7, they were among the first to register.

But they did so with trepidation, said Doug Benker, who is 73 and president of the Seniors of Seton group.

“I was scared,” he said. “I wanted to go back, but I was worried about going back. Receiving the Eucharist spiritually was just not really hitting it for me.”

The Benkers were among the 50 people who attended St. Elizabeth Seton’s 7:30 a.m. Mass June 7, and both said they were moved by the occasion.

“It really hit me when I did go back to Sunday Mass how much I missed hearing the readings and having the homily and then receiving the Eucharist,” Doug Benker said.

“And it was good to see some familiar faces,” said Bernice Benker, 72. “We’re meant to worship as a community.”

Father William Corcoran, St. Elizabeth Seton’s pastor, couldn’t agree more.

“When we started our first Mass with the people back, I said ‘Welcome, welcome, welcome,’” Corcoran said. “It felt weird celebrating Mass with four people there.”

Corcoran said St. Elizabeth Seton would not have been able to open so quickly without the help of its volunteers.

“The key is I have an excellent committee and an excellent team,” Corcoran said. “They work well together. The team made the success.”

He also said the people had little trouble following the procedures called for by the archdiocesan task force.

“It looks and sounds very complex, but when you start doing it, it’s more simple than you’d think,” Corcoran said. “The congregation knew there would be a procedure and they learned it very quickly. People commented that it felt safe, it felt well thought out.”

St. Elizabeth Seton is among more than 100 archdiocesan parishes that certified to open for Masses under Phase 2 guidelines as of June 9. For information on the guidelines and certification process, visit

One parish, St. Joseph in Libertyville, planned a drive-in parking lot Mass June 14 for people who didn’t want to risk being in the church.

Corcoran said St. Elizabeth Seton is blessed to have a large church that, in normal times, can seat 1,000 people, as well as a large narthex and outdoor plaza. Volunteers set up the church for the first weekend with green bows on the pews that people were permitted to sit in and red on the pews to be left empty.

For the first week, they left three empty pews between the occupied pews. For the following week, when the parish expanded permitted attendance to 200 people, or 20% of capacity, they left two empty pews between occupied pews. They also left the entire section closest to the cantor empty.

In addition, Corcoran said, the parish invested in three infrared thermometers so that volunteers can scan people’s temperatures when they check in. Eucharistic minsters and the volunteers that distribute hand sanitizer before Communion, priests and deacons have plastic face shields.

“I tell people, if they don’t think we feel weird and stupid wearing these, we do,” Corcoran said. “But it’s for all of our own safety. People are just glad to come back to Mass, to see some movement.”

Parishioners at St. Hyacinth Basilica, 3635 W. George St., were also thrilled to come back, said Kate Wietrzak. The parish held its full schedule of two Saturday vigil Masses and seven Sunday Masses beginning June 6 and 7, according to Kate Wietrzak, the financial secretary.

“I couldn’t sleep the night before, I was so excited,” said Constance Lauerman, usually a daily Mass attendee who had not been able to attend since March 14. “It was like being in the desert and water was brought to me.”

Lauerman said she has been praying at home, but it’s not the same. She attended the 10:45 a.m. Mass June 7, after signing up as soon as the registration form went up on the parish website.

She also went back to daily Mass the following week.

Being without Mass for so long was “totally unprecedented,” said Lauerman, recalling how going to church provided solace in other hard and frightening times, including the aftermaths of the 9/11 attacks and the assassination of JFK.

“I understand why,” she said. “But it was hard.”

She said she thought all the new procedures and safety measures, from masks and hand sanitizers to marked pews, might be distracting, but they weren’t.

“I just kept my eyes on the altar,” Lauerman said.

Parishioners may only enter through a side door, which has a ramp for accessibility. One volunteer at the bottom of the ramp checks their name against the list of people who have registered and another volunteer at the top of the ramp provides hand sanitizer and checks that they are wearing their masks properly. Inside the church, they are directed to seats marked by painter’s tape.

The parish used the posters with instructions for guests as a template and made their own in English and Polish, Wietrzak said.

“Everyone was cooperative because they were just happy to be back at church,” she said.

Mary Slota, a parish council member who went to Mass at St. Hyacinth with her family on June 7, said all the changes were a bit distracting, especially since  some businesses don’t have the same restrictions, but it was worth it.

“The music, the parishioners, just being there, praying together,” Slota said of the things she missed about going to Mass. “Everything. The smell. The sights. It’s beautiful.”


  • coronavirus
  • covid-19
  • parishes reopen

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