By Patty Osorio, Youth Minister St. Lucy Parish
When I saw on the news that construction would no longer be deemed as “essential” the second time around of the shelter-in-place order, my heart just sank. I closed my eyes as I cringed to imagine what the next couple of weeks would be like for my workaholic husband. You have to understand, he’s the type of guy who doesn’t get “office people.” To sit on a chair in the same room all day would be cruel and usual punishment for a guy who’s been working with his hands since he was a teen. The first couple of days were okay, but slowly I could see he was looking for excuses to get out of the house. I had asked him to fix a few things around the house, but there was only so much he could do. Then my prayers were answered one sweet Monday.
It was during one of our usual staff meetings that someone brought up the fact that a few priests were doing “drive-by confessions.” Since this was a virtual meeting, she shared with us a photo of a priest sitting on a chair in an empty parking lot with a piece of cloth hanging between him and a passing car. At first, our pastor, Father Mark Arnzen, worried that this could be perceived as enticing people to disobey the Shelter-at-Home order. He didn’t want to encourage anyone to be out and about on any non-essential errands. After less than a minute of discussion, though, the entire staff and priests agreed that if the order were to continue until further notice, then it might be a good idea to be prepared.
This is where the Holy Spirit called me to volunteer my husband to make what I had described as simply a wood wall, which would give our priest better protection than a piece of cloth. Saint Lucy Parish had been under renovation since January, so our confessionals had been out of order way before the Shelter-at-Home started. Our priests had been giving the Sacrament of Reconciliation by appointment only, and the whole community was eager to have this back.
My husband wasn’t too happy when I told him I had volunteered him for something, but he quickly changed his tune when he heard it involved construction. Normally, he’d hate the idea, as he builds things for a living and doesn’t like to spend his free time doing what he does at work. But seeing as though he hadn’t worked for a while, he was delighted, especially because it meant a trip to his favorite home improvement store! After showing him the photo from our meeting and suggesting he replace the cloth with wood, he said, “That’s it? I’m not doing that, that’s too easy.”
I told him maybe something with three walls would be nice, and maybe even a roof in case it rained. It couldn’t be too big or heavy because the priests would have to drag it in and out by themselves. The simpler, the better. He sat to think about it for a while and came back with and sketched this:
The design looked great to me, but I told him: “That’s more complicated than what I had volunteered you for.” Here I was worried he would be angry about giving him more work, but he reminded me that, when it comes to God, we have to offer him our best, as humble as that might be.
It was truly a blessing for him to get started because it got him out of the house… well, to the backyard at least! Our two-year-old by now had gotten used to the idea of daddy being home, so he followed him around like a shadow. I suppose that’s why it took him so long to finish – three days – since every time he used a power tool, our son would jump up and down screaming, “my turn, my turn!.”
Father Mark posted a video on the parish’s Facebook page, featuring what he called “our new outdoor confessional.” He announced that parishioners could stop by during our regular times (3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m) on Fridays and Saturdays and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation in a way that followed social distancing guidelines. Right away, one of our faithful had already commented, “Essential services to the max!” And I remember thinking, “Praise God, essential indeed!”
Father Mark is grateful for the confessional. While it is a walk-up experience and not a drive-by as we had originally intended, he found that it works better for us. Father Steve Kim said he felt that “it gave it a more formal and comfortable feel.” I know that my family and the entire Saint Lucy staff are all so happy that anyone who wants to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation can now come to this “beautiful house” of God’s healing mercy and receive His peace and joy during this time of uncertainty.