Photo by Joe Boyle
The Rev. Jacek Wrona, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Palos Hills, gives blessings and greets members of the church on Sunday. The blessings have drawn long lines of parishioners in vehicles each Sunday during the pandemic.
By Joe Boyle
Finding methods to remain connected has been a challenge as COVID-19 has become a way of life for now.
However, members of Sacred Heart Parish in Palos Hills discovered that emotional ties can be rediscovered even when that was not the initial plan.
Since Easter Sunday, traffic has been extending bumper to bumper along 111th Street to enter the parking lot of Sacred Heart Church, 8245 W. 111th St. Parishioners wait patiently to enter the parking lot and pull up near the Rev. Jacek Wrona, pastor of Sacred Heart, who gives them a blessing.
This occurs throughout most of the morning and into the afternoon. The pastor, who wears a mask and keeps proper social distancing, gives his blessing while talking to members of the parish.
Beth Mikula, who has been working for the parish in various capacities for nearly 30 years, said the blessing has become a weekly ritual for people and children who want to stay in touch during the pandemic.
"Well, ironically this just kind of happened on Easter Sunday," said Mikula, who currently serves as the director of Religious Education at the parish. "This really started a few days before. Everyone is home and feeling isolated and one day I was texting with four of my friends from the parish. We decided to drive by the house of one of our friends because her son, Nicholas, was turning 9 years old.
"We drove by and wished him a happy birthday and my friend, Carmella Baniewicz, was so appreciative," Mikula recalled. "She was so happy and then brought up the idea that we should drive through the parking lot on Easter to say hi to Father (Wrona)."
Mikula said that is how it all got started. Mikula and her friends, along with a small group, drove through the parking lot to greet the pastor and wave to him. They believed it would brighten his spirits since Masses have not been held at the church since mid-March.
"He was so touched by this that he had tears in his eyes," Mikula said. "He then told us he would like to do this every week as a way to keep in touch with the parishioners."
Wrona does celebrate Masses with online services but the opportunity to see everyone each week is something he wants to keep up.
"This is just so wonderful," Wrona said.
Mikula said it was supposed to be a onetime greeting to the pastor on Easter. Now it occurs each week with more people participating every Sunday.
The line of motorists hit record numbers on Sunday, May 3 as vehicles lined up as far west as 88th Avenue to eventually enter the Sacred Heart parking lot. Mikula estimated that there were about 500 vehicles that passed by that day, aided by sunny skies and warm weather.
The traffic was reduced this past Sunday due to the off again and on again drizzle with brisk temperatures. However, drivers were steadily pulling up in the parking lot and slowly departing early Sunday afternoon, which was Mother's Day.
Wrona blessed and greeted parishioners dressed in his white vestments holding the Blessed Sacrament. He was accompanied by the Rev. Dave Straub, the associate pastor who was dressed in his black clerics.
While the amount of vehicles were less than the previous week, the parking lot was still over half full. During these weekly blessings, the parish has been accepting monetary and non-perishable donations for families in need during these difficult times.
On Sunday, the Albertine Sisters from the St. Blase Catholic Charities Food Pantry in Summit were on hand to accept the donations. The Sisters have been at most of the blessings. They were accompanied by parishioners Mike and Michelle Pizur and their two children, Audrey and Marshall, who assisted in accepting the donations.
During previous weeks, the Rev. Robert McGinnity, the pastor emeritus for Sacred Heart, has also attended the blessings, waving to parishioners from his lawn chair. He had learned of the large crowds that attend the blessings and wanted to be on hand to greet the parishioners.
"This is an amazing thing," Mikula said. "Something that was so spontaneous has turned into this. The spirit of the Sacred Heart Parish community is certainly alive and well even in these unusual times.