The view from inside “Fr. Gerard’s COVID Shack” where Fr. Gerard Monaghan presides over Sunday drive-in Masses at St. Faustina Church in Cumberland, Ont. Photo courtesy St. Faustina Parish

Drive-in Mass a hit at Ottawa-area parish

By 
  • January 6, 2021

OTTAWA -- In a small parish on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, the new year is starting like 2020 ended — with a close eye on the weather forecast.

The question each week for Fr. Gerard Monaghan and the faithful of St. Faustina Parish in Cumberland is: how’s the weather and will it allow for the parish to hold an outdoor, in-person, drive-in Mass on the weekend?

“You do have to keep an eye on the weather, but so far the weather has been great,” said Monaghan of holding the outdoor Masses with proper social distancing (there’s a 50-car limit in the church parking lot with vehicle spacing of two metres. Parishioners must remain in their vehicles at all times and Communion is brought to each vehicle).

So far the weather has been cooperating and the drive-in Masses have become a hit within the community. But if it gets too cold or a nasty winter storm blows into town, drive-in Masses may have to be put on hold.

The parish community has been able to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like other parishes across the country, St. Faustina — a new parish created in 2019 when St. Edith Stein in Rockland and St. Margaret Mary in Cumberland merged — has been holding online Masses parishioners can watch on their computers at home after COVID protocols forced the suspension of in-person Masses. Parishes were able to return to socially-distanced services in June and continued until the recent lockdown imposed across Ontario to deal with the worsening second wave of the pandemic.

The parish that serves English Catholics at the eastern edge of Ottawa near Orleans had created a space outdoors in which parishioners could feel a spiritual connection to each other. It allowed for safe outdoor Masses within sight of the Ottawa River and proved to be a very popular option. But as it got colder in-person Masses moved to the church parking lot where parishioners can now sit in their car and listen to Mass over the car radio as the weekly sermon is delivered from what some have dubbed “Fr. Gerard’s COVID Shack.”

The “COVID Shack” is a replication of an altar and was designed and constructed by parishioners and built on a wagon borrowed from a local farmer.

“It is not fancy but it allows our community to come together and worship the one true God while remaining safe,” Monaghan said of the heated structure.

“Whether you call it a COVID Shack or something else, the important thing is that it has allowed us to maintain a connection to our parishioners and allowed us to continue to serve our community in a way that seems to be very popular,” said Monaghan, who’s enthusiasm for staying connected with his parishioners comes through loud and clear in the hearty laugh that peppers his speech.

St. Faustina is an exception in hosting drive-in Masses. While such services are permitted under the Ontario bishops’ WorshipSafe protocols, few churches are equipped for it and and in some dioceses, like Toronto, they are not permitted.

Monaghan has received positive feedback from the congregation, including Sheridan Brace who feared she would have to give up “real Mass” due to the cold weather but was ecstatic when the drive-in Mass was implemented.

“What it is really about is serving the needs of our community and we will continue to do that as long as we can do so safely,” Monaghan said.

Those hoping to attend a drive-in service must first register online at the parish website. The Masses have proven to be so popular that the parish added a third service for Jan. 10.

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