September 13, 2020

Planning, preparation and prayer have helped Catholic school students, families, faculty, staff and administrators safely begin a brand new school year.

Many students in the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System have returned to class for in-person instruction over the last several weeks, while others are taking part in the Diocesan Virtual Academy.

“There is energy and excitement around the first day of school on any year,” Kristen Donohue, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, said. “I’m extremely proud of how our students and teachers have embraced this time, turning challenges into opportunities in many cases.”

Everyone has a role to play in helping mitigate the spread of COVID-19 this fall. Through the diocese’s “Sharing Good Health” initiative, strategies include continuing health screenings at home before going to school, wearing masks, good hygiene practices and keeping a safe physical distance in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.

“While things may look different this year, our staff has worked extremely hard to create a welcoming environment like always, so that our children can continue to achieve their God-given potential,” Jason Morrison, Chief Executive Officer and Diocesan Secretary of Education, said.



SCRANTON – The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of many events but it wasn’t enough to stop what has become an annual back-to-school tradition in North Scranton.

For the last several years, Mary, Mother of God Parish has hosted a picnic for students and families from the Bangor Heights Housing Development in late August. Due to the coronavirus, this year’s event on Aug. 27 looked different but was still able to accomplish its mission.

“It’s very important to come, just to see the children here,” parishioner Mary Lou Lozinger said. “They appreciate it and whatever we can do to help them further their schooling, we’ll do it.”

Instead of hamburgers and hot dogs served off the grill, those who turned out received pre-wrapped sandwiches. They were also provided with free school supplies and clothing.

“They don’t get a lot of what other children do, so we try our best to help out,” parishioner Nina Condella said.

The back-to-school picnic serves as evangelization tool for the parish. Parents are able to enroll or learn more about religious education classes.

“Every year that we come, we always get a few children to join the CCD classes and receive Communion and Confirmation. Some even get baptized so it’s nice, it really is,” Condella added.

Geraldine Francisco, who lives in the Bangor Heights development, learned about the parish through the event several years ago after moving to Scranton. She attended the event with her son after seeing a promotional flyer.

“I wanted to baptize my son since he was a baby and because of other things going on at the time, it felt impossible, but now I feel stable here at the parish. I’m glad that I was able to baptize him and he’s doing his First Communion so I’m really happy about that,” Francisco said.

“I did not know Geraldine before but now we do, because of this particular project and there are a lot more Geri’s. We just have to surface them and connect with them,” Mary, Mother of God pastor, Father Cyril Edwards, said.

The event is funded by a social justice grant, provided to the parish by generous donations from the Diocesan Annual Appeal.

“This is an opportunity, through the Appeal, to show that there is plenty of hope,” Father Edwards explained.

“The interaction it provides with people is priceless,” Sister Therese Mary Dougherty, I.H.M., said. “Hope never dies. We want to nurture people’s hope through the church and through their neighborhood.”

While Father Edwards used a microphone and speaker to invite families to the picnic, volunteers from the Mary, Mother of God Marian Society waited for hungry guests under two large pop-up tents.

“It is a way to reach people. You have to…We have to go to them,” Father Edwards said.

Without attending the picnic, Geraldine Francisco said she may not have become involved with the parish.

“I feel like everything happens for a reason and if it wasn’t for that, then I wouldn’t be where I am today and I’m so happy that I’m in the parish family,” she said.



Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis delayed the annual Peter’s Pence Collection from June 29, 2020, to Oct. 4.

The purpose of the Peter’s Pence Collection is to provide the Holy Father with the financial means to respond to those who are suffering as a result of war, oppression, natural disaster and disease.

It likewise provides the faithful with a tangible opportunity to not only empower the weak, defenseless and voiceless, but also sustain those who suffer.

“In view of the current health crisis, the Holy Father has decided that, for this year 2020, the Peter’s Pence Collection, which traditionally takes place around the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, on June 29, will be transferred throughout the world to the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 4, the day dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi,” Matteo Bruni, Director of the Holy See Press Office, said in making the announcement this summer.



September 3

SCRANTON – In addition to the seemingly endless interruptions the COVID-19 global pandemic has had on our world – from a direct impact on those it has affected, to fear of contracting the virus, to separation from loved ones, and an overall upheaval it has caused to our social, work and financial lives – the crisis has also taken a serious, sometimes deadly, toll on the mental health of society.

No one is more aware of that fact than Deacon Ed Shoener.

Ordained a Permanent Deacon for service in the Diocese of Scranton in 2004, Deacon Shoener in 2017 launched his Catholic Mental Health Ministry based at the Cathedral of Saint Peter, where he serves as the parish deacon. He began the support ministry following the death of his daughter Katie Shoener, who took her own life after a 12-year battle with severe depression.

Deacon Shoener is currently president and a founding member of the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers.

Since becoming the face and point person for such ministry in the Diocese, Deacon Shoener has emphasized that mental health ministry in the Catholic Church is growing because many people see the need for a ministry focused on the spiritual needs of those living with a mental illness, along with family members and others who love and support them.

Within the past six months, the need has become greater than ever.

“The pandemic has clearly led to greater isolation and anxiety for everyone,” Deacon Shoener said. “For people who are living with mental health challenges, the added isolation and stress has made their lives more difficult.”

The deacon noted that during the height of the COVID restrictions in the spring, the mental health ministry support group gatherings in Scranton transitioned to online ZOOM meetings, but have returned to in-person sessions requiring facial masks and social distancing.

Support ministry for those suffering from mental illness continues to meet on the second and fourth Saturday of the month from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Saint Peter Cathedral Rectory. For family and friends who support those living with mental illness, meetings are held on the first Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. in the rectory.

In a recent homily Deacon Shoener preached at the Cathedral, following Matthew’s Gospel account of the terrified disciples being tossed in a boat during a raging storm only to encounter Jesus walking on the water towards them, he equated the apostles’ plight with the feelings of helplessness so many are wrestling with at this time.

“The pandemic is not only causing physical, social and economic strains, it is also heaping pressure on the mental health of many people in ways that are hard to see,” he said. “Like the disciples in today’s Gospel, we are shaken by a vast storm that we have no control over.”

Noting that many struggling with the effects of the global health crisis are overwhelmed by its impact on all aspects of life, the deacon remarked, “For others, the pandemic may be manageable, but it may be some other part of life, perhaps a relationship, that is in chaos.”

Following the example of the disciples, who “cried out in fear,” said Deacon Shoener, there is a need to cry out for Jesus.

“You are struggling with the loneliness brought on by the pandemic, you are struggling with the fear brought on by the pandemic — Cry out for Jesus,” he said. “You lost a job and your debt is a burden you don’t think you can bear — Cry out for Jesus.”

“We may fall, we may begin to sink beneath the waves, but He will pick us up,” the deacon continued. “Our faith may be weak, yet His mercy is strong.”

“During these uncertain and chaotic times, we all need to cry out for Jesus,” Deacon Shoener said. “We all need to spend time with Him in prayer. He will speak to us in the quiet moments. We all need to be with Him in His Church. Jesus will pour out countless graces on us to calm the storm.”



WILLIAMSPORT – During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been looking for signs of hope. On Sunday, Aug. 16, they didn’t need to look any further than the front lawn of UPMC Susquehanna.

More than 100 people came together for a “Prayer Vigil of Light and Hope” at the hospital organized by Saint Joseph the Worker parish.

“The one thing that we wanted to do was pray for our doctors, our nurses, our firefighters, police and first responders, all those people who have been battling COVID on the front lines ever since the beginning,” Father Brian Van Fossen, pastor, said.

Attendees prayed a rosary on the hospital’s front lawn, lighting candles that ultimately spelled out the word “HOPE” in large letters.

“It was really, really nice. We even had people in the windows of the hospital looking down and being with us, even though they were in the hospital working,” Father Van Fossen said. “There was even a couple people who came out of the emergency room, who were able to stand and pray at a distance.”

The parish worked with the hospital to make the event a success. People who attended wore face masks and were easily able to maintain proper social distancing.

The event was planned for the weekend that the Church celebrates the Assumption of Mary. The rosary focused on the Glorious Mysteries: Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, Assumption and Coronation of Mary.

“All you have to do is look at the Glorious Mysteries of the Church and you see how the Cross is overcome by the triumph of faithfulness and hope and love and people proclaiming the Gospel,” Father Van Fossen added.

The Williamsport pastor says even after the prayers were over, many people wanted to stick around, caught up in the awe-inspiring moment. In the days following the event, he added that the parish has received numerous notes of appreciation from doctors and nurses who witnessed the prayer vigil.

“It really formulated a sense of community with those who are on the front lines,” he added.

The prayer vigil at UPMC Susquehanna was the final event in a weekend of activities for members of Saint Joseph the Worker parish.

On Saturday, volunteers took to the street to clean up litter as a community service project. Normally in mid-August, the parish would be immersed in festivities for the Little League World Series, but since the games were canceled this year, parishioners decided to give back in other ways.

“We knew with a few hours and a few hands we could clean it up,” Makenzie Conner, director of youth ministry, said. “It was a great morning after Mass, walking the streets and cleaning up trash, taking the young out and learning about our city.”

On Sunday, before the prayer vigil at UPMC Susquehanna, the parish held Mass and a meal at a local park right behind a baseball field that would have normally been a welcoming site for thousands during the Little League World Series.

“There is something about sharing a meal together with a parish family that we all really missed,” Conner added, emphasizing that safety measures remained in place.

The parish is already working on its next big community events.

“One of the things we’re looking at doing with the Knights of Columbus is the National Rosary Rally in October. Our Knights of Columbus have taken up the mantel and we’ve placed five strategic locations throughout the city of Williamsport and we just got approval that we can do this,” Father Van Fossen said. “We’re going to go to city hall where our police department is located, we’re going to go to the food pantry and family promise for the homeless and those who are in need, especially in light of our world today, we’re going to go over to the hospital and pray a decade of the rosary there, and then we’re going to come to the fire hall and pray a decade of the rosary there and finally finish here at the church with the decade of the rosary as well.”




Eric M. Deabill

Secretary for Communications

Editor-in-Chief, The Catholic Light

Diocese of Scranton

300 Wyoming Avenue

Scranton, PA 18503

Direct Office Line: (570) 591-5001

Catholic Light Office: (570) 207-2229

Cell: (570) 237-6508




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