GOULDSBORO — The letter bearing good news from clear across the country couldn’t have come at a better time.

In early September, the small Parish of Saint Rita in Gouldsboro received word they were selectively chosen for a prestigious grant award from Oregon Catholic Press (OCP) in Portland.

For the intimate Pocono faith community, the $1,000 grant came on the heels of a summer season that was wreaked havoc by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

According to Tony Butel, Parish Life Coordinator who splits his time and administrative efforts between Saint Rita’s and Saint Elizabeth Parish in Bear Creek, both rural parishes nestled in the northeast foothills of the Scranton Diocese rely heavily on in-pew financial contributions from summer vacationers and visitors. However, with strict social distancing guidelines in place due to COVID-19, Saint Rita’s was greatly hampered by the sparse number of the transient churchgoers.

“We are a small parish with a very small church,” Butel said, indicating seating capacity under normal circumstances at the Gouldsboro worship site can accommodate just 110 faithful.

“When I received notice that (OCP) was offering grants up to $1,000, we applied,” he continued.

The grant application indicated that grants were to be used to aid parishes with their liturgical services. Butel noted that his appeal to be among the grant recipients included Saint Rita’s lack of size and that any assistance would help them, especially with their worship needs.

“Shortly after we had sent in the application,” Butel explained, “we experienced the shut down due to the coronavirus.”

When allowed to reopen, social distancing restrictions would limit the church’s capacity to a maximum of 25 to 27 people. However, as Butel indicated, single worshippers and couples comprise most of Saint Rita’s Mass attendance.

“We are more likely to have only 12 to 18 people attending any particular Mass,” he said, “and that presents a challenge financially in only that many are (making contributions) on a weekly basis.”

Butel concluded that the Pocono church has been able to weather the pandemic fairly well financially, due to a parish fundraiser and the generosity of members of Saint Rita’s and summer guests who forwarded contributions otherwise.

“To get the grant from OCP to help us with our liturgical expenses is a huge assist,” he commented.

In his letter to Bishop Bambera announcing the approval of the grant to the Scranton Diocesan parish, OCP Publisher Wade Wisler stated Saint Rita’s was chosen for the award from hundreds of applications from parishes “large and small” across the United States.

“It is our sincere hope that the grant will help Saint Rita Parish meet the needs they so clearly presented in their grant application,” Wisler wrote. “Every application was of remarkable merit and each parish’s needs were worthy of assistance. We take great satisfaction in knowing that so many parishes are committed to fulfilling the needs of their communities.”

Although some minor restrictions apply, OCP sponsors the program yearly with varying award amounts. Applications for the OCP Parish Grants Program may be submitted online at ocp.org/grants in early 2021.