Fr. Maxy D’Costa is still hearing confessions, “creative confessions,” as pastoral assistant Corinne Welters describes the drive-through set-up at the church. (Kristen Hannum/Catholic Sentinel)
Fr. Maxy D’Costa is still hearing confessions, “creative confessions,” as pastoral assistant Corinne Welters describes the drive-through set-up at the church. (Kristen Hannum/Catholic Sentinel)
For Father Maxy D’Costa, pastor of St. John the Apostle Parish in Oregon City, photos of his parishioners made him feel better about their absence at Masses.

“It’s lonely,” he says. “But this is better than without them.”

Father D’Costa celebrated Mass Sunday, March 22, with an audience of photos of his parishioners arrayed before him, carefully taped to the pew seat backs.

The Mass that Father D’Costa celebrated reached parishioners digitally. In his homily, he reminded them to digitally reach out to others. “Even though the virus distances us, the virtues unite us in faith, hope, love and the Eucharist,” he said in the homily. “We are the body of Christ.”

At the other end of the spectrum, for the cloistered Carmelite Sisters of the Carmel of Maria Regina in Eugene, the past weeks have been life as usual.

“It hasn’t changed our lives at all,” said Mother Elizabeth Mary, prioress.

Mother Elizabeth Mary and the sisters have been praying “a lot” — but then they always pray a lot.

For nearly everyone else, from Father D’Costa to lay Catholics, life has been turned upside down.

Gabriella Maertens, a retired teacher and member of St. Therese Parish in Northeast Portland, had planned to travel in mid-March. But her daughter’s surgery in New York was postponed, meaning that Maertens did not make the trip. It had become too dangerous to fly.

“It’s hard to be so far away,” said Maertens, the octogenarian president of the Catholic group Solo Seniors and usually active with myriad other organizations.

Maertens, a born organizer, is the person who becomes the glue who keeps social groups on track. Now, she she’s determined to stay positive even if she is physically isolated.

“Looking out the window, I realize it needs cleaning — and look at those spider webs!” she said. “I look at my cassettes and CDs and realize they haven’t been organized in years. I’m looking at this as found time.”

Maertens said not watching too much news is key to keeping her equilibrium. “I watched the White House briefing the other day,” she said. “It was too much.”

Limiting news intake is the experienced wisdom from individuals like Maertens and the professional advice from experts like Patricia Mackie, a counselor with Everyday Counseling.

Mackie said people need to limit their news consumption to once or twice a day and to give that consumption a purpose — like checking the weather to see if it will be a good day to get out of the house for a walk or bike ride.

Mackie, who is still working from home through tele-health with her patients, says the anxiety created through a constant diet of news would overwhelm anyone’s stability.

Anxiety, she said, is a survival necessity. “It’s there for good.”

That unsettling grip on our hearts and stomachs tells us that there may be danger out there. “Its purpose is to get us to stop what we’re doing and look around, to challenge our assumptions and change our behavior if it’s called for,” Mackie said. “We want to trust our anxiety now. At the same time, we need to remember that the danger, while real, isn’t a constant danger.”

Joanna Mullett, on the pastoral council at Holy Family Parish in Southeast Portland and a Providence employee, said her parish’s livestreamed Mass was a big hit with her children, age 6 and 9. The family usually attends the 8:30 a.m. Sunday Mass, and so that’s what time they watched the YouTube link.

“The kids loved it because they got to wear their pajamas and their stuffed animals could come,” said Mullett.

She said that Father Rodel de Mesa, pastor, was looking for help to improve the video. “But I thought it was good,” she said.

Mullett, a physical therapist, and her husband, a contractor, are juggling work with childcare. “It’s hard for us to keep them on track,” she said.

Because physical therapy is cancelled for most patients, Mullett, a salaried employee, expects to fill in at the hospital, in part doing jobs that volunteers once did. That might include taking temperatures of the limited number of visitors allowed, helping with patient transport or delivering meals to patients.

Mullett is impressed with the way Providence is pushing to keep ahead of the curve, freeing up beds for the crush they know is coming, for example, and scrambling for ways to keep their staff safe even as personal protective equipment is dwindling.

Sister Charlene Herinckx, superior general of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, said her community was holding up. The dozens of sisters who live in community at the order’s Beaverton motherhouse make up one large household, so the isolation that most Catholics feel isn’t as strong a factor there.

Sister Charlene has stressed the need to limit news consumption to the community. “And instead of our table conversations at meals being about the disease, we try to report on what we may have heard about people’s amazing responses to people in need,” she said.

The courtesy she’s seen throughout the region — groceries instituting special hours for elderly shoppers, for instance — has astounded her. “This could get us back to basics, to realizing how important some things are and how superfluous other things are. I hope this ends soon, but that we don’t forget the lessons learned.”

Geri Ethen, a musician who plays organ at several parishes, including All Saints in Northeast Portland, said her calendar was erased in a matter of hours when Masses and performances were canceled. “Everyone’s feeling the loss of community, including the priests,” she said, noting in particular a letter that Father Paul Jeyamani, pastor of All Saints, sent to parishioners about his first-time experience of celebrating Mass by himself. “We’re one big tribe,” she said. “We’re in this together.’

Father Jeyamani wrote that the sense of being alone was intense as he began to celebrate that Mass alone. However, as he read the first reading and proceeded to the responsorial psalm, “I began to experience an overwhelming sense of community. …[e]ven as I stood behind the altar of the daily chapel, facing the empty pews…”

Retired priests like Holy Cross Father Dick Berg aren’t bound to the bustle of parish life — but they’re still missing their community and routines. “My problem is Mary’s Woods, with no Eucharist,” said Father Berg, who is the chaplain of that retirement community. He misses the people. “This is the first time in my life that I’ve felt retired,” he explained. “It’s not a good feeling.”

Father Berg is sending cards to his Marylhurst community and others. “Everyone has an activity they’re passionate about,” he said. “I make greeting cards. For good mental health it’s important to find something.”

The Sisters of Reparation are usually some of the busiest Catholic leaders in the archdiocese. They organize Masses, volunteer at parishes and give spiritual direction to the lay affiliates of their order. They are now confined to their motherhouse in Southeast Portland, “We’re laying low, being obedient,” said Mother Mary of the Angels Bunty, superior general. “These are terrible times but also times of spiritual opportunity. We see it as a time of reparation. God is giving us an opportunity, and we should use it — this is what he has always done. Whenever there is conflict or sorrow, there is also the opportunity for spiritual growth.”

The sisters are also praying for those in the medical community.

The Trappist guesthouse in Lafayette has closed, cancelling scheduled retreats. Mount Angel Abbey retreats also are suspended.

Catholic Sentinel Facebook readers commenting on the stay-at-home experience focused on praying the rosary. “Grateful for the Holy Father’s leadership in this call to prayer,” wrote Rachel Weldon.

Theodore Seeber and Lynett LaRosa also said they were praying the rosary, Seeber with Archbishop Sample and LaRosa with the pope. She was also following the Benedictine monks at Mount Angel’s Masses and times of prayer online.

“Trying to stay healthy!” LaRosa wrote of her temporal condition.

Bill Vandehey succinctly advised on both the temporal and spiritual: “Just wash your hands really well and use common sense and pray.”