CRESCO, PA (May 6, 2020) – As a result of declining enrollment and other serious challenges, the Diocese of Scranton announced today that Monsignor McHugh School will close, effective at the end of the current academic year on June 30, 2020.

Students, families, administrators, educators and pastors from the Monroe County school community have all been notified of the closure.

“This is a very difficult decision to make at an especially difficult time,” Bishop Joseph C. Bambera said to families in a video message due to the fact that an in-person gathering with the school community could not be held because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “The Diocese of Scranton remains committed to the mission of Catholic education, creating tomorrow’s faith-filled leaders, but the declining enrollment at Monsignor McHugh School has left us with no other option.”

Over the last five years, Monsignor McHugh School, which currently serves grades Pre-K through eight, has seen its enrollment decrease by 56% despite school administrators’ efforts to implement new enrollment and academic initiatives. Currently, there are only 70 students registered for the 2020-2021 school year. In addition, the number of school-age children within a 15-mile radius of the school is predicted to decline by almost five-percent by 2024 according to MissionInsite, a demographic analytic firm.

2014-15 Enrollment        2019-20 Enrollment        Percent Change

Monsignor McHugh School                                          218                                         97                                           -56%


While the current coronavirus health crisis will certainly have a financial impact on the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System, Monsignor McHugh School was already facing severe financial challenges before the pandemic began. The school’s projected budget deficit for 2019-20 was a loss of almost $450,000.

“I truly wish we did not have to make this decision because we recognize how unique and important Monsignor McHugh is to its community,” Jason Morrison, Diocesan Secretary of Catholic Education/Chief Executive Officer, said. “Our most important responsibility remains providing for the educational and spiritual care of our students. We are committed to helping our students and families transition to another Catholic school that best suits their needs.”

The Diocese will offer the families of students currently enrolled at Monsignor McHugh School the opportunity to receive a continuation grant toward their tuition at another Catholic school next year. Any one of the Diocesan Schools is prepared to welcome the Monsignor McHugh families. The closest being Notre Dame Elementary School (Pre-K through Grade 6) and Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School (Grades 7-12), located approximately 15 miles away.

“Making the decision to close a school is the most difficult, heart-breaking decision, because we know how it impacts the lives of so many people,” Kristen Donohue, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, said. “This announcement is even more gut-wrenching and complicated during the COVID-19 pandemic, while our students and families, who are so committed to Catholic education, have been working so hard to continue distance learning.”

The Diocese of Scranton Catholic Schools Office will allow educators and administrators from Monsignor McHugh to apply for any open positions throughout the educational system for the 2020-21 academic year.


About the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System

Each year, the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System provides a well-rounded education to approximately 4,500 students throughout 20 Catholic schools. Educators offer an enriching STREAM curriculum that includes the arts, foreign languages, physical education and the latest computer technology to complement the core subjects of religion, math, language arts, social studies and science.

All of our Catholic schools are accredited by the Middle States Association, and all of our teachers are state-certified educators, who inspire their students and bring amazing experiences into their classrooms. The mission of the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System is to educate students and their families in the Catholic faith. We provide a Catholic education that is spiritually sound and academically excellent. We strive to prepare our students to be faith-filled leaders and life-long leaders dedicated to serving the church and society.


“As time unfolds, people coming back into normal activities
is probably going to happen a little more slowly than some might expect.
We will do all that we can to facilitate our return to Mass,
but ultimately must provide for the safety of the people God has given to our care.”
—Bishop Joseph C. Bambera—

With the national and statewide conversation regarding the COVID-19 pan- demic now focused on “reopening” businesses, many people in the Diocese of Scranton are wondering when the suspension of public Masses will be lifted.

While thankful for the technology that has kept parishes connected for the last six weeks, the Diocese of Scranton fully recognizes the faithful’s strong desire to return to parishes and to receive the Eucharist – which is our Spiritual life-blood.

Diocesan leadership is currently discussing ways to safely return to sacramental life – even if on a limited basis. Relying on guidance from the state and federal governments, as well as healthcare professionals, we are committed to safely and prudently resuming worship.

While specific details of “when” and “how” public Masses will resume are still being determined, the following things will be important for parishioners to consider:

The general dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation will remain in place.

Regardless of when restrictions are lifted in a specific region of Pennsylvania, there will understandably be people, especially people in vulnerable or at-risk groups, who will feel it is safer to stay home than attend Mass. Potential limits on crowd sizes

that are allowed in parishes will also play a part. The faithful are encouraged to keep the Sabbath holy by participating in a parish livestream Mass or utilizing Catholic Television.

Livestreaming opportunities should continue due to attendance limitations

Recognizing that as regions of the Commonwealth initially transition from Governor Tom Wolf’s “red phase” to “yellow phase,” there will still be guidelines on the attend- ance numbers for any public gatherings. No one should expect to be able to attend Mass with regularity, so parishes that are currently livestreaming Masses will be encouraged to continue doing so.

Social distancing will be maintained.

Interior of St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic
Interior of St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic

Expect that the recommended social distancing guideline of six feet will need to be respected

when entering and leaving a church, as well as in regards to seating and a potential Communion procession. As required by Pennsylvania state guidelines, parishioners would be required to wear a mask and anyone who is showing any symptoms of sickness will be told to stay home. Social gatherings before or after Mass will also not be permitted.

Liturgical changes will be in place.

Just like when the coronavirus started surfacing in Pennsylvania in March, the Diocese of Scran- ton established guidelines for the distribution of Holy Communion and exchanging the Sign of Peace without physical contact. Similar guide- lines will also be established as any individual church would be allowed to begin worship again.

Safety concerns, in addition to the virus itself, will determine the timeline.

During Mass on Tuesday, April 28, 2020, Pope Francis prayed for prudence as com- munities begin lifting their lockdowns. The Holy Father said, “At this time, when we are beginning to receive instructions for coming out of quarantine, we pray that the Lord would give his people – all of us – the grace of prudence and obedience to the in- structions so that the pandemic does not return.” As this process unfolds, there will

certainly be challenges but the safety of our community will remain the benchmark. As the Diocese moves forward it requests that parishioners stay informed and stay flexible to any updates.

By working together, the Diocese of Scranton is hopeful that people will soon be able to re- turn to our churches, even if in a limited capacity, with the important understanding that things will not immediately be going back to normal.

Planificación para el futuro: qué esperar cuando se reanuden las masas públicas


“A medida que transcurra el tiempo, las personas que vuelvan a sus actividades normales probablemente sucederán un poco más lentamente de lo que algunos podrían esperar. Haremos todo lo posible para facilitar nuestro regreso a la misa, pero en última instancia debemos garantizar la seguridad de las personas que Dios ha dado a nuestro cuidado “.
—Obispo Joseph C. Bambera—

Con la conversación nacional y estatal sobre la pandemia de COVID-19 ahora centrada en “reabrir” negocios, muchas personas en la Diócesis de Scranton se preguntan cuándo se levantará la suspensión de las Misas públicas. Aunque agradecida por la tecnología que ha mantenido a las parroquias conectadas durante las últimas seis semanas, la Diócesis de Scranton reconoce plenamente el fuerte deseo de los fieles de regresar a las parroquias y recibir la Eucaristía, que es nuestra sangre espiritual. El liderazgo diocesano actualmente está discutiendo formas de regresar de manera segura a la vida sacramental, incluso de forma limitada. Confiando en la orientación de los gobiernos estatales y federales, así como de los profesionales de la salud, estamos comprometidos a reanudar la adoración de manera segura y prudente. Si bien los detalles específicos de “cuándo” y “cómo” se reanudarán las Misas públicas aún se están determinando, lo siguiente será importante para los feligreses a tener en cuenta:

  1. La dispensación general de la obligación de la misa dominical permanecerá en su lugar. Independientemente de cuándo se levanten las restricciones en una región específica de Pensilvania, es comprensible que haya personas, especialmente personas en grupos vulnerables o en riesgo, que sientan que es más seguro quedarse en casa que asistir a misa. Límites potenciales en el tamaño de la multitud que están permitidos En las parroquias también jugará un papel importante. Se alienta a los fieles a santificar el sábado participando en una misa en vivo en la parroquia o utilizando la televisión católica.
  2. Las oportunidades de transmisión en vivo deben continuar debido a las limitaciones de asistencia. Reconociendo que a medida que las regiones de la Commonwealth inicialmente pasan de la “fase roja” al “fase amarilla” del gobernador Tom Wolf, todavía habrá pautas sobre los números de asistencia para cualquier reunión pública. Nadie debería esperar poder asistir a misa con regularidad, por lo que se animará a las parroquias que actualmente transmiten en vivo misas a que continúen haciéndolo.
  3. Se mantendrá el distanciamiento social. Espere que la guía de distancia social recomendada de seis pies deba respetarse al entrar y salir de una iglesia, así como en lo que respecta a los asientos y una posible procesión de comunión. Como lo exigen las pautas estatales de Pensilvania, los feligreses deberán usar una máscara y cualquier persona que muestre algún síntoma de enfermedad tendrá que quedarse en casa. Las reuniones sociales antes o después de la misa tampoco serán permitidas.
  4. Los cambios litúrgicos estarán en su lugar. Al igual que cuando el coronavirus comenzó a aparecer en Pensilvania en marzo, la Diócesis de Scranton estableció pautas para la distribución de la Sagrada Comunión y el intercambio del Signo de la Paz sin contacto físico. También se establecerán pautas similares, ya que cualquier iglesia individual podría comenzar a adorar nuevamente.
  5. Las preocupaciones de seguridad, además del virus en sí, determinarán la línea de tiempo. Durante la misa del martes 28 de abril de 2020, el Papa Francisco oró por prudencia a medida que las comunidades comienzan a levantar sus bloqueos. El Santo Padre dijo: “En este momento, cuando comenzamos a recibir instrucciones para salir de la cuarentena, oramos para que el Señor le dé a su pueblo, a todos nosotros, la gracia de la prudencia y la obediencia a las instrucciones para que la pandemia no vuelve “. A medida que se desarrolle este proceso, sin duda habrá desafíos, pero la seguridad de nuestra comunidad seguirá siendo el punto de referencia. A medida que la Diócesis avanza, solicita que los feligreses se mantengan informados y sean flexibles a cualquier actualización.

Al trabajar juntos, la Diócesis de Scranton tiene la esperanza de que las personas pronto puedan regresar a nuestras iglesias, incluso si tienen una capacidad limitada, con el importante entendimiento de que las cosas no volverán a la normalidad de inmediato.



The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference today lamented Governor Wolf’s veto of the Telemedicine Bill that had passed the House and Senate.

“This is very distressing,” said Eric Failing, the Executive Director of the PCC. “Governor Wolf has chosen politics over the health and safety of the citizens of Pennsylvania. Telemedicine figured to be a major boost to healthcare across the state, especially now in the current crisis we are fighting through. The Governor vetoed the bill because it contained protections against dangerous drugs identified by the FDA, including a drug used for abortions.”

Failing had called the Telemedicine bill the premier pro-life vote of the entire session. He pointed out that a third of all abortions being done now are done so chemically. “If our pro-life prohibitions would be stripped out of the Telemedicine bill, the number of abortions in Pennsylvania would increase dramatically. Using Telemedicine for abortions is a stated goal for Planned Parenthood because they can do more chemical abortions with fewer doctors and less overhead costs.”

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is based in Harrisburg and is the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops.



In the midst of rising unemployment numbers and essential workers who are putting their lives on the line to battle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this Friday, May 1, will take on added significance with two different events in the Diocese of Scranton.

First, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera will celebrate the 12:10 p.m. daily Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter for the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker. The bishop will pray for all workers – including essential workers, the unemployed and those seeking work.

In 1955, Pope Pius XII established May 1 as the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, a day to celebrate labor and working people as well as Saint Joseph, a carpenter and the foster father of Jesus.

The Mass will be broadcast on CTV: Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton, in addition to the Diocese of Scranton’s website, YouTube channel and social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Also on May 1, at 3:00 p.m., Bishop Bambera will join other bishops from across the United States and Canada in renewing the consecrations of the two nations to the care of our Blessed Mother. Through a collective dedication or entrustment of a nation to Mary, an act of consecration is meant to be a reminder to the faithful of the Blessed Mother’s witness to the Gospel and to ask for her effective intercession before her Son on behalf of those in need.

The consecration on May 1 follows a similar action of the bishops’ conference of Latin America and the Caribbean, who consecrated their nations to Our Lady of Guadalupe on Easter Sunday.

The local prayer service, led by Bishop Bambera, will also be broadcast at 3:00 p.m. on CTV: Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton, in addition to being available on the Diocese of Scranton’s website, YouTube channel and social media platforms.


I begin this message with a wish for continued safety and good health. In these incredible times we are obligated to focus on this immediate crisis. But with God’s help we will slowly resume some sense of normalcy.

Child abuse prevention month, an annual event in April, has understandably been eclipsed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the emphasis has been diminished, the significance remains of the utmost importance. According to the 2018 Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Annual Report, there were more than 44,000 reports of abuse and more than 5,000 of those were designated as substantiated abuse cases. The category with the highest number of substantiated cases remains sexual abuse, a sad commentary on the status of our society. Each of those numbers represents a child experiencing unimaginable trauma.

We must all do our part to prevent the continued abuse of children. Training is critical. Although public gatherings are not possible at this time, you can complete both VIRTUS and mandated reporter trainings online. To access VIRTUS online, please go to the website and register at Once you create an account, select the online module. The University of Pittsburgh offers mandated reporter training online at

There is no question that we pray for the conclusion of this pandemic. But once we’ve resumed our former routines, let us not proceed with complacency. We must move into the future with renewed purpose and appreciation of life. By joining the fight against child abuse, we affirm the value of those who are most vulnerable. Will you enlist in the battle to protect children?

By Kathleen Bolinski
Safe Environment Coordinator


Ava Riley, 7, a first grade student at Holy Rosary School in Duryea does a distance learning assignment from her Pittston home.

PITTSTON – Sticking to a routine has helped the Riley family adjust to distance learning within the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System.

“I have been really astounded at how the process has gone,” mother Anita Riley said. Riley’s daughter, Ava, 7, is currently a first grade student at Holy Rosary School in Duryea. “We were immediately prepared. We started that Monday after the closure and we were doing school work, which for my daughter allowed her to continue that routine,” Riley said.

“I’ve been really proud to be a Catholic school parent!” Constant communication from school administration has helped ease fear and concern and facilitated a smooth transition. “We still feel like a community even though we are apart,” Riley added. The Riley family also credits the hard work and dedication of teachers, many of whom are available to answer questions about assignments at any time.

“The teachers have been nothing short of amazing,” Riley said. “The passion, how much they care about the students and how sad they are to not be teaching has been relayed to us and felt genuinely from day one.” The Nealon family in Archbald agrees with those sentiments regarding the transition to distance learning and the dedication of the Catholic school faculty.

“I can’t be more impressed with the way they handled it,” father Jack Nealon said. “You can plan for fire drills and snow days, I can’t imagine how they planned for this. But the way they executed it was very well-prepared and very deliberate.” The Nealon family has two boys, Riley and Brayden, who are students at La Salle Academy in Jessup. Riley is an eighth grade student and Brayden is in fourth grade.

“You can really tell that the kids were the first priority; the safety of the kids, the normalcy for the kids and the academics, there was really no lapse in that,” Nealon added. While certainly not the ideal way to learn, the Nealon family is thankful for technology that allows students and teachers to stay connected, including Google Classroom. Preparing for each school day actually starts the night before.

Brayden Nealon, left, and his brother, Riley Nealon, right, both students at La Salle Academy in Jessup, work on distance learning activities from their home in Archbald.

“The evening before, my wife will get emails from all the boys’ teachers. It’s not just math and English, but it’s also the music teacher and the gym teacher. It is the full curriculum!” Nealon said. “They couldn’t have planned for it, they couldn’t have seen this coming, but they were on top of it.” La Salle Academy principal, Ellen Murphy, said the entire educational team works together to provide children the continuity of skills and opportunity for academic growth. “It was an extraordinary challenge that was met by extraordinary people,” Murphy remarked.

“They immediately went to the mode of ‘we can do this.’ There was some fear and concern but they supported each other and they worked together. I can’t say enough about how well the faculty works with each other and they support each other.” Murphy believes a lot of the credit for the success of distance learning also belongs to parents.

“I think the parents have shown incredible strength. This is very difficult to assume this role in their children’s lives. They’re partnering with the teachers to do what they can to make life a little more normal,” she said. Murphy personally sees all of the lessons of educators and has been added as a co-teacher in many video conferences. That gives her the unique perspective of being able to see all the online lesson plans in action.

“I watched a teacher’s lesson. She had a white board in her parlor and she filmed herself explaining a math concept to the students. It was just amazing and she was available for them via the Google Classroom for questions as she was explaining this lesson and they were beginning to work the concept,” Murphy said. La Salle Academy currently has 200 students ranging from pre-school to eighth grade. While the educational process has been turned upsidedown in many regards, Murphy said one important thing remains constant. “The most important part of every lesson plan is that every teacher begins with a prayer and encouragement,” Murphy said.

“To keep that prayer consistent and to remind each other of the need for prayer, that’s the most important part of every lesson that we’re doing every day.” Kristen Donohue, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, said all 20 schools within the Diocese of Scranton have now moved into the fourth marking period. After initially reviewing information, teachers are now introducing new concepts and students are completing assignments that are graded.

“We feel very confident going into the fourth marking period that we’re able to provide a quality education for our students,” Donohue said. Since March 16, 2020, when distance learning began, Donohue said educators have been constantly refining the process to make it the best it can be. They have been sharing best practices to make the virtual educational experience the best it can be.

“We’re extremely proud of how our principals and teachers have transitioned overnight and planned to prepare for our students in the most compassionate and strategic way to be able to continue that education and know that was the most important priority for students to continue education even though we weren’t able to access our buildings,” she added. M o v i n g f o r w a r d , administrators are now working to plan for milestone events like graduations, especially in the high schools, to give seniors the recognition they deserve.

“Nothing has been formalized yet but these students have worked so hard and our families have sacrificed so much to make this happen. We just want to make sure we give our seniors the recognition they deserve, in a genuine, authentic and creative way,” Donohue added.


Annie Reilly, 12, a sixth grade student at Saint Clare/Saint Paul School in Scranton has made more than 50 masks for her community during the ongoing health crisis.

They may attend different Diocesan schools, but Annie Reilly and Julia Mazur have something in common, they are sewing hope in their community. Reilly, a sixth grade student at Saint Clare/Saint Paul School in Scranton and Mazur, a junior at Holy Cross High School in Dunmore, have each spent the last several weeks making masks for family, friends and members of the community amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“I decided to make masks the Sunday after getting out of school,” Reilly said. After the 12-year-old’s mother saw a pattern on Facebook, Reilly’s instincts kicked in. “I took a sewing class since I was in second grade but I stopped when I was in fourth grade,” Reilly joked.

“Some people might call it frustrating but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy.”

To date, Reilly has created roughly 50 masks. She typically makes five or six a day, in between balancing regular school assignments.

“I was a little slow at first because I forgot how to turn on corners but then I watched a video and I remembered how to do it. It’s kind of easy once you know. You kind of hop right back into it,” Reilly added. Any money that Reilly makes from sewing and selling her masks is being donated to Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen in Scranton.

“Our family has always been involved with Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen. We always do a ‘Day of Service’ there in honor of my aunt. When she (Annie) saw all these people are hungry and without food, she wanted to give back and that is where she wanted to donate to,” mother Alyson Reilly said. In a time of such uncertainty, Annie Reilly said she simply wants to spread a little bit of kindness.

“I’m hoping that when we spread this kindness, it will filter and more people will start doing more acts of kindness to help us get through this time,” she added. Julia Mazur, 17, started her mask-making effort for similar reasons.

Julia Mazur, 17, a junior at Holy Cross High School in Dunmore has made more than 350 masks for her community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I started because my grandmother has a compromised immune system,” Mazur said. While her first requests for masks came from family and friends, Mazur said associates of her mother who work in a local nursing home and prison quickly followed. “It makes me feel great to know the places that couldn’t get them are being able to get them and use them,” Mazur said.

“I’m doing my best to do something that protects people and keeps them safe.” To date, Mazur has already made more than 350 masks. She averages 20 per day. “It’s crazy at this point,” Mazur joked. “I had never made one before. I actually saw a Facebook post on how to make one and I just went off of that. It was based on the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines.” The Holy Cross student has now enlisted her mother to help her cut fabric. She had some of the material already around the house but other people are now donating it to her.

Normally, Mazur wouldn’t have a lot of free time on her hands to make masks. But since she works for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who have had games postponed, she has more time to fulfill requests. “I can’t go to work right now. This is another thing to do to keep me busy!” Mazur added.


A volunteer from the Saint Joseph the Worker Food Pantry in Williamsport is ready to distribute bread and fruit to the community on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. (Photo/Makenzie Conner)

ASHLEY – Volunteers at the Ashley Food Pantry, which is hosted at Saint Leo’s/ Holy Rosary Parish, were expecting a larger than normal turnout for their April food distribution but even they were surprised by the number of new faces that showed up.

“Normally in a month, we’ll get four new clients,” Thomas Hooper, Ashley Food Pantry volunteer, said. “Thursday (April 16), we got 32 new clients. In one month, we got almost as many new clients as we do in a year.” Just like larger community organizations, many parishes across the Diocese of Scranton host food pantries at their facilities. They are also seeing an increased need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was the one parking the cars. The majority of them (clients) were younger people, not retirees, which was not surprising in a sense,” Hooper said. “A lot of younger people are being affected now.” The Ashley Food Pantry opens its doors once a month, the second Thursday of every month, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and again from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. It serves residents in the 18706 zip code, which includes Ashley, Hanover Township, Sugar Notch and Warrior Run. The next food distribution is scheduled for Thursday, May 14, 2020.

“Everybody puts a lot of time and effort into it because they know it’s a good cause,” Hooper added. The Ashley Food Pantry gets a majority of its food from CEO/Weinberg Northeast Regional Food Bank. The rest of the food donations come from individuals and parishioners at Saint Leo’s/Holy Rosary Parish. Volunteers who help distribute the food come from three area churches. While the coronavirus forced changes to normal distribution methods, the process now includes pre-bagging food and enforcing social distancing guidelines. Hooper believes it is worth it to serve the community.

“If you were in that situation of needing food, you’d want someone out there doing it for you. I think that is the motive behind it,” he added. For several decades, volunteers from the Saint Joseph the Worker Parish Food Pantry in Williamsport have also been stepping up to help their community. “We get new people every week,” Margaret Harpster, Food Pantry Coordinator, said. The pantry, which is open every Wednesday from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. has served 150 families in the last four weeks. That is an increase from the normal 100 to 125 families.

“We know we’re serving a need. You know you are helping them. You are forming a relationship with them as well,” Harpster said. In addition to parishioners from Saint Joseph the Worker Parish, the pantry also gets assistance from parishioners at Saint Boniface, Saint Lawrence and Saint Ann parishes. Since the coronavirus crisis started, volunteers say they’ve also seen a big increase in people looking to help.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of donations, people wanting to help which has been amazing,” Harpster said. “We have grocery stores that donate to us every week. The Weis store in Montoursville gives us bakery items and the meat department will give us frozen meat. Aldi’s will also give us a variety of things.”

Volunteers begin the distribution of food outside the Nativity Place Food Pantry during an event in late March. (Photo/Dan Gallagher)

As local, statewide and national unemployment rates climb and families find their incomes slashed, food pantries operated by Catholic Human/ Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton are seeing an influx of new faces seeking help. From Hazleton to Carbondale, large numbers of first-time visitors have reached out for assistance as they find themselves out of work.

“People are coming out in droves,” Stephanie Miller, Director, Catholic Social Services Scranton and Carbondale, said. At the Nativity Place Food Pantry in South Scranton, Miller said, “we served more than 90 people in one day. Normally, an average for us is 40 so we are more than double.” In addition to new faces seeking assistance, Miller said many seniors are also now asking for help.

“We’re here to help the community. We want to be there for the community,” Miller added. In Hazleton, where the number of COVID-19 cases is reported to be particularly high, the need is just as great. “During the first three weeks in March, we saw about 550-560 families. Normally for a month, the average is about 425 families,” Neil Oberto, Director, Catholic Social Services Hazleton, said. While the Catholic Social Services food pantry in Hazleton scaled back its operating schedule to two days per week for the sake of volunteers, it is still committed to providing help and hope.

“This is part and parcel of our mission. I think folks recognize that,” Oberto said. In the city of Wilkes-Barre, the Saint Vincent de Paul Food Pantry has seen its numbers remain relatively consistent over the last month. “We have seen newer faces. I think it is people who are scared. Some are getting it (food) because they’re scared,” Mike Cianciotta, Director of Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen, said. The Wilkes-Barre food pantry remains open weekly on Tuesday and Thursday.

“ Usually they’re only supposed to come once a month but right now I’m not keeping track. People can come whenever they need food,” Cianciotta added. While food pantry operators have seen an increase in need, they have also seen an increase in public support for their operations. “We’re very grateful for the support from the community,” Oberto said.

Oberto said he has received numerous calls from businesses and individuals offering support, donations and outreach.

One of the most recent donations came from the Lackawanna College Hazleton Center, which donated toilet paper, cleaning supplies and non-perishable items to the Catholic Social Services facility in Hazleton.

“As a part of the Hazleton community, our faculty, staff and students are honored to donate what we are able to during this unprecedented time. We are committed to the success of our city and will do whatever we can to help individuals in need,” April Harris-Snyder, Director of the Lackawanna College Hazleton Center, said.

That community support has become apparent in all areas where Catholic Social Services operates pantries. “We just had Giant Food Mart reach out to us and offer to donate to our pantry twice a week so our community has been very supportive,” Miller added about the situation in Scranton.

“The Scranton Federation of Teachers has been sending us money for the pantry. Everyone is realizing this is an issue and they want to help.” Miller adds that even though public Masses have been temporarily suspended, the Church of Saint Gregory in Clarks Green is still holding its regular collection for Catholic Social Services’ food pantries.

“People are aware of what is going on and they really see what we do at this time,” Cianciotta added. During the coronavirus pandemic, operators of each food pantry said it is humbling to see the important work of serving others continue at the time it is needed most. “This is God’s love through people who step up and help,” Oberto said.


Directors of Religious Education and youth ministers from around the Diocese of Scranton are coming together weekly by video conference technology during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Pennsylvania schools now closed for the rest of the academic year, many parishes across the Diocese of Scranton have worked to transition their religious education and faith formation programs to an online learning platform.

During this unprecedented time, the Diocese of Scranton Office for Parish Life has been working to bring Directors of Religious Education and youth ministers together on a regular basis.

Jacki Douglas, Director for WORD and Lifelong Faith Formation and Shannon Kowalski, Coordinator for Youth/Young Adult Ministry, have started to offer weekly video conference chats for parish faith formation leaders.

“We’re in a forum where you don’t have to speak. You can just be there to listen to what is going on and get filled up,” Douglas said. On Wednesday, April 15, 2020, a total of 26 religious education leaders from across the Diocese joined in the weekly discussion. They reflected on scripture and talked about the challenges and opportunities that the COVID-19 pandemic brings.

Kathy Stocki, Faith Formation Director for Saint Ann Basilica Parish in West Scranton, was one of the participants in the conversation.

“In so many ways, we as catechists have lamented that our reach was somewhat specific to the students who were enrolled in our programs and throughout this experience, our reach has become greater,” Stocki said.

Using the REMIND App, Saint Ann Basilica Parish has put out religious education resources to families to support not just children in their faith experience, but everyone, during the coronavirus crisis.

“The extension of the catechesis, I think, has been a blessing in some ways because it has extended our reach,” Stocki added. “Where they are, Church is.”

Sandy Czyczyk, Director of Religious Education at Saint Catherine of Siena Parish in Moscow, said her parish also uses the REMIND App to communicate with parents.

“I used the catechetical Sunday theme, ‘Jesus, Stay with Us,’ as an introduction to our first weekend of Gospel readings and letting parents know that information would be coming from the teachers for lessons each week,” Czyczyk said.

Without having students filling classrooms on a weekly basis, Czyczyk said she has spent her time researching videos that best explain the Gospel message for her different grade levels and coming up with questions for families to reflect on together.

“We are directing it to the family and I think it is really exciting that I’m putting the reading in the hands of the parents,” she added.

During Holy Week, Saint Catherine of Siena Parish encouraged families to make an “Alleluia banner” for their homes.

“We’re trying to continue formation in more creative ways. It is more challenging doing it online but parents are receptive to whatever they’re getting,” Czyczyk said.

Sue Burke, Director of Faith Formation at Our Lady of the Snows Parish and the Church of Saint Benedict, said she has been working to make sure her students, especially those involved in youth ministry, are supported at this time.

“We have a group FaceTime we try to do two times a week and we just try to stay in touch with them and stay positive for them,” Burke said.

In terms of seizing this moment as an opportunity, Burke said, “it has taken me back to the basics.”

The struggle of young adults is also being felt at Saint Joseph the Worker Parish in Williamsport, where youth ministry members typically met on Sunday night before the coronavirus.

“They’re longing for the Eucharist…They don’t know when this will end,” Makenzie Conner, Director of Youth Ministry, said. “That has been the hardest part, hearing how students are upset over not being able to go to Mass or confession. Holy Week was rough.”

At the Lycoming County parish, young adults are being encouraged to take part in online programming. One student has even started a Catholic teen blog during this uneasy time period.

“We’re really trying to push the domestic church, what are you doing as a family together? What does your home life look like every Sunday? People are posting pictures of how they watch Mass or posting what they did as a family. There has been a lot of great stories,” Conner added.

While there are a lot of uncertainties over the current health situation, including when things will get back to normal, Directors of Religious Education and youth ministers say every challenge presents an opportunity.

“I think it’s a wonderful time to really encourage all of our families to be united with our priests and our bishop and all those who are serving us in the faith and doing such a wonderful job bringing so many of these virtual and electronic resources to us in our homes,” Stocki said.

Any Director of Religious Education or youth minister who would like to join the weekly video conference discussion can email for the weekly link.