Sister Linda Mary DeLonais knows the value of mittens. The Minnesota native and former forestry worker understands innately what science has proven: mittens keep your hands warmer because they keep your fingers together and because mittens have less surface area exposed to the cold.
This knowledge has come in “handy” this winter because Sister Linda Mary, a Dominican Sister of Springfield for 24 years, often serves as a greeter at the door of St. Jerome Church in Troy, Ill., where she is pastoral associate for faith formation.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck last spring, St. Jerome was one of the earliest adapters to the new reality. Since then the parish has instituted several options for parishioners who have varying levels of need for a safe way to participate in Sunday celebrations.
“We looked at a variety of ways to engage the parish and keep families feeling safe,” Sister Linda Mary said.
The pre-COVID schedule included three weekend Masses. Once the lock down began, they live-streamed one Sunday service and posted it on their Facebook page for parishioners to watch from home at their convenience.
“Since mid-June we’ve re-opened to the public with two masses, using the distancing and safety measures that are familiar to most church-goers by now,” she said. The parish continues to live-stream services for those choosing to be most safe at home. And they offer a third option, which is how it happened that Sister Linda Mary came to have her very own Bernie Sanders mitten meme.
“Now we provide an option for those who miss receiving Holy Communion yet don’t feel comfortable entering the church,” she explained. Between 10-11 a.m. on Sundays a minister of Holy Communion stands at the door of the church for individuals or family groups to come for a brief scripture reading, an Our Father, and reception of Communion and a closing prayer and blessing.
“A ministry I enjoy with this option is to chat with those coming for communion,” she says. “I stay on the edge of the parking lot, simply visiting with the families as they stop by. It has been a blessing to be able to stay in contact.”
With cooler weather, this Minnesotan has been layering up in order to stay outside making sure there are only a couple of people in the narthex receiving communion and being socially distant from each other.
“I have always loved my Minnesota double knit mittens;” she says. “Bernie has nothing on me when it comes to mittens!”
“I was amused when a parishioner took a photo of me, ala ‘Bernie Sanders.’ It didn’t occur to me that I’d end up with a Bernie meme of my very own,” she laughed.
[In the event that you’ve missed this latest social media craze, Senator Sanders appeared at the presidential inauguration bundled up like any sensible Vermonter would be. The image of him in his puffy-coat and mittens has been a source of joy for social media users around the globe. The senator and others have parlayed the popular image into a fundraising juggernaut for Meals on Wheels.]
In addition to helping people stay connected to the Eucharist, Sister Linda Mary helps parishioners stay connected to each other, too.
The St. Jerome Tuesday Faith Sharing Group has been using video conferencing technology throughout the pandemic. The meetings involve an opening prayer including the participants’ special intentions, then conversation about a faith-related video or book they’ve agreed upon.
“With the onset of COVID the ladies have missed being together and joining one another for lunch after the meetings, as they used to do, so now they’ve added a Friday morning video conference to their lives for some social time together, too,” Sister Linda Mary said.