By Father Matthew Mauriello –
As the chaplain of St. Camillus nursing home in Stamford, Conn., I have been reflecting on my ministry during this Covid19 situation.
I was ordained in January 1988 and served as a priest in Ponce, P.R., before arriving in the Diocese of Bridgeport in 1991. After service at St. Joseph in Danbury, I came to Stamford in 1997 as the administrator at Our Lady of Montserrat and then as parochial vicar at St. Mary from 1999-2002. I then became a pastor at Holy Rosary in Bridgeport for seven years until 2009, and then at St. Roch in Greenwich until 2016.
In the back of my mind some years back, I was impressed when Msgr. Peter D. and Fr. Steve D. both “downsized” the administrative duties of serving as a pastor and both subsequently served as hospital chaplains. I was praying about this option and hoping to have that opportunity some day in my “later years.”
Therefore, in 2016, when the position of chaplain of St. Camillus nursing home was offered to me, I saw it as a blessing from the Lord. I am assisted by one full-time sister and another part-time person in the Pastoral Care department. They are wonderful, kind and dedicated women, and I am very happy to work with them!
In fact, since being there, I have truly felt as the “spiritual father of the family.” My service in Stamford has actually come full circle, because I have known some of the residents since the 1990’s, as well as their families. So, there is a comfort zone for both them and me. I now keep in touch with their families regularly, either by phone or texting, since my ministry extends to both them and the staff who regularly stop by the chapel for a prayer or a word of encouragement. Having worked in Puerto Rico, I speak to the Hispanic employees in Spanish and have a bit of knowledge of French to speak with the Haitian employees in their creole language as well.
Due to the coronavirus situation, the families of our residents have not been able to visit their loved ones. Because of this, I have felt myself even more so a “spiritual father” since our visits are the only ones that the residents have been receiving, besides their medicine and meals. With that, knowing that Easter was coming, I purchased little treats, such as packages of foil-covered chocolate eggs, and gave them to the residents on Easter Sunday, knowing that they would not be getting Easter “goodies” from their families.
It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve Our Lord and His Church as a priest. However, I consider my current assignment at St. Camillus to be a wonderful privilege, especially during this pandemic. So, if you are looking for the “poster guy” of a very fulfilled priest, I am he! By the Good Lord’s abundant mercy, more than I ever expected or deserved, I have been there when most needed at a time of great difficulty. I have never felt more priestly and a “dispenser of the Mysteries of God” (I Cor. 4:1) than at this juncture, with the salvation of those souls in my charge so dramatically present.
It is the Lord’s timing, for sure, when many times I am just arriving at the nursing home and the ambulance is there. When I inquire who is being brought to the hospital and it is one of our Catholic residents, I have gone right away to the room to give them “the Triple Crown” (with no disrespect), that is: Absolution from their sins, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, and finally, the Plenary Indulgence, also called the Apostolic Blessing or Pardon. I also call it the “farewell package!” Each time I do so, it is my interior hope that there will be a priest to give that to me when my own earthly pilgrimage ends. Since my childhood, (and now I am 63), I have prayed every day to St. Joseph for a happy and prepared death so am confident that he will not let me down!
I am grateful to have a semblance of a schedule and priestly ministry. I typically arrive at the nursing home by 8 am, unlock the chapel door, put on the lights and a tape of Gregorian chant to set a prayerful atmosphere for the staff, since the residents are currently not allowed out of their rooms. Then I set up for Mass, pray my breviary and offer Mass about 9:45. Even if just for the staff, I was happy to decorate the chapel with lilies and hyacinths for a festive atmosphere for those who visit.
Thereafter, I get on my “astronaut outfit”, which is the protective gear to visit the residents: a gown, mask, eye shield and gloves. At first, we were allowed to bring Holy Communion to the residents. Since many have motor skills issues, they are unable to receive communion in the hand. So, I would give them Holy Communion in the mouth and then sanitize my hands with sanitizing gel between each resident. However, due to the concern of any contamination, now I can only go to the door and offer them a few words of encouragement, what I call a “spiritual pep talk”, and a prayer together and a blessing. Those residents who are Covid-positive receive the farewell package just in case they take a turn for the worse.
Sadly, we have had 19 of our residents pass away. Of course, they previously were members of a parish before their arrival at the nursing home, and their services are there, but several of the families have invited me to offer the wake and graveside services, so I have been honored to do so and help them through their time of loss.
All in all, I am “just doing my job,” that which is expected of me, but trying to do it with extra caring at this difficult time for our dear residents and families. Christ would want us to give our all as He did for us and still does so for us at every Mass.
Father Matthew Mauriello is an award-winning writer for Soul magazine, an author, and frequent speaker at the National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.