Parishioners relieved of Mass obligation, churches to remain open; schools, religious education programs and Chancery to close
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., announced a series of measures March 12 and 13 aimed at mitigating the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the parishes and schools of the four-county Diocese of Trenton.
On March 12, the Bishop issued a dispensation from the obligation of attending weekend/Sunday Mass for the members of his flock in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties. He stipulated, however, that the churches will still be open; weekend Masses will be celebrated as regularly scheduled, and the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) should also remain available.
The following day, Bishop O’Connell announced that the 35 Catholic schools and nearly 100 religious education programs in the Diocese will shut down from March 16 through 27 to prevent the spread of the virus among the students and teachers, and to allow for a cleaning and disinfecting process to be conducted in all facilities.
According to diocesan officials, the decision to close will keep more than 14,000 students and nearly 1,500 faculty and staff members home from all diocesan and parish-run schools, as well as several independent Catholic schools. Provisions have been made for students to participate in online learning during the closures.
Some 42,000 children will be impacted by the suspension of parish religious education classes, along with 3,200 of their mostly volunteer catechists. Parish efforts are underway to provide home-based learning for these children, particularly those in a sacramental preparation year.
The Diocese also announced March 13 that the Chancery will suspend normal operations in its Lawrenceville site, migrating most of its 85 staff members to a work-from-home status from March 16 to 20. A message sent to all staff by diocesan officials stated, “It is important to note that there are no reported cases of COVID-19 among the Chancery staff.”
However, the message noted, that the decision to close the Chancery was “in support of the efforts to limit large gatherings, and out of an abundance of caution.” A return to the office is slated for March 23, unless circumstances dictate otherwise.
On March 13, 2020, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., announced the following appointments, effective immediately:
Father Joseph G. Hlubik, from priest-in-residence, Sacred Heart Parish, Bay Head, to pastor, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Lavallette, and Sacred Heart Parish, Bay Head.
Father Douglas Freer, from pastor, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Lavallette, and Sacred Heart Parish, Bay Head, to medical leave.