COLORADO SPRINGS. With new cases of coronavirus on the rise in Colorado, it could be another six months before long-term care facilities — including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, senior residences and rehabilitation centers — will be open to outside visitors. When that does finally happen, however, the Diocese of Colorado Springs will have a plan in place to better reach Catholics who are unable to regularly attend Mass.
“Bishop Sheridan was concerned that this was an underserved population — that there was need for a ministry to meet the sacramental needs of Catholics who are hindered in some way from attending church to receive Communion and the sacrament of reconciliation,” said Deacon Dan Tomich, who is currently assigned to St. Dominic Parish in Security. Of the 19 men ordained to the permanent diaconate in June, six of the new deacons — Mark Thuli, Andrew Berry, Michael Crocker, Dustin Duncan, John Riley and Gordon Brenner — were assigned by Bishop Sheridan to nursing home ministry.
It’s a concern that Deacon Tomich himself has long shared. While deacons have been holding regular weekly Communion services at some of the nursing homes in the diocese for many years, he also knew that there were others where Catholic residents had little or no access to the sacraments.
Since 2018, Deacon Tomich has been compiling a database of the roughly 160 care facilities in the Pikes Peak Region in an effort to determine how many lie within each parish’s boundaries and what services for Catholics are being provided. All told, he estimates that there are roughly 200 such facilities throughout the diocese.
Together with Deacon Cliff Donnelly, Deacon Dave Illingworth and the six newly-ordained deacons, he is part of a task force that is working to help pastors come up with a plan to serve all of the facilities within their parish boundaries. Eventually, it is hoped that each parish will have its own ministry comprised of priests, deacons and lay people who are trained as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHCs).
“We’re going to divide the diocese into different areas, and we’re going to figure out how to meet the needs of those in each of those areas,” said Deacon Donnelly. “Developing a ministry within the parish made up of deacons and laity — that’s a really key component.”
Another goal of their efforts is to develop better working relationships with the staff at each facility so that they will know who to contact whenever there is a Catholic resident who requests services, Deacon Tomich said.
Nonetheless, it’s still important for family members to let their parish know when a loved one enters a long-term care facility, he said, because it’s the parishes that are best equipped to meet the sacramental needs of people who can’t come to church.
For more information on the diocesan ministry to people in long-term care facilities, contact Deacon Tomich at email@example.com or Deacon Donnelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.