CANTON — In the library of St. Mary’s School on Powers Street, Father Bryan D. Stitt sat inside Saturday, looking out through a window draped in violet and gold.
He’s hosted confessions all over the world, at airports and lake shores.
But the drive-through confessional at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 66 Court St., is a first.
“The pope is all about taking people to the periphery in their faith and meeting people where they’re at,” Father Stitt said. “And this is where they’re at these days.”
During the parish’s St. Patrick’s Day Mass on Tuesday, Father Stitt announced confession times would be offered in a drive-through setup starting Friday, with regular hours at 5:45 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, and 3:45 p.m. Saturdays, continuing in the socially-distanced format until further notice.
People can now drive into the St. Mary’s parking lot from Powers Street and pull between the school and the church, stopping at the purple-veiled window.
Beep once for a priest, and twice to have a face-to-face confession through the window with the purple veil tied back.
The adjustment follows Diocese of Ogdensburg Bishop Terry R. LaValley’s Tuesday notice to cancel on-premises masses and events at all parishes and move services to virtual platforms to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“Care and concern for everyone’s health — spiritual, emotional and physical — especially elderly persons, those with underlying health issues, our clergy and liturgical ministers necessitates this extraordinary measure,” Bishop LaValley wrote in a letter to the diocesan community.
COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, which is part of a large family of coronaviruses, had not been detected in humans before the outbreak began in December 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 spreads by person-to-person contact and through respiratory droplets emitted when a person with the virus coughs or sneezes, the CDC reports.
Updated directives from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state Department of Health have prompted nonessential services employees to work from home, with thousands of New Yorkers continuing to report for work as providers of essential services.
Hospitals, health care facilities, agricultural operations, grocery stores, airports, utility companies, emergency response services, gas stations, child care, homeless shelters and food banks are all included on the governor’s “essential” list under the New York State on PAUSE executive order taking effect at 8 p.m. Sunday, which will close in-house functions for all nonessential businesses statewide.
Though places of worship have not been directed to close, the PAUSE order recommends “no congregate services be held and social distance maintained.”
“I saw on the movie theater, ‘We shall return,’” Father Stitt said, referring to the marquee of Canton’s American Theater, 98 Main St. “We don’t have that sign out because we’re still here.”
St. Mary’s, like many Diocese of Ogdensburg parishes, will live stream its Sunday masses on Facebook and upload the videos to its website.
With staff cleaning the public sanctuary spaces daily, St. Mary’s doors will remain unlocked during the day for those wanting a place to pray.
“Good prayer doesn’t just happen,” Father Stitt said. “We have to be intentional about it. With prayer, just as any other loving relationship, it requires our undivided attention.”
Parishioners can also request a “COVID-19 care package,” complete with a rosary, prayer cards, hand sanitizer and a bottle of holy water, which was pulled from masses last Sunday as a precautionary measure.
The permanent closing of St. Mary’s nursery-through-sixth-grade elementary at the end of this school year — its 90th year — was announced in December, after nearly a decade of declining enrollment. So the school’s temporary closure due to COVID-19, which began last week, is an especially heavy reality in the school’s final year, Father Stitt said.
“There’s a lot of sadness among our families and students,” he said. “But we’re hopeful we’ll be able to come together before the end of the school year.”
As the library clock read 3:35 p.m. Saturday, 10 minutes before the drive-through opened for business, a car pulled into the parking lot.
“We want to be a sign of light in the darkness, which is what we’re always about,” Father Stitt said. “We want to be a sign of hope.”