Father Daniel O’Mullane, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Boonton, NJ
Submitted by: Susanne Billeter
I don’t know if I can adequately reveal the full extent of the creativity and industriousness that our Pastor, Father Daniel O’Mullane, of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Boonton, NJ has exhibited during the pandemic in order to fulfill his priestly calling and mission to bring Jesus and His Kingdom to life in the world. Since the imposition of heavy restrictions to our communal life and the shutting of church buildings across the state in mid-March to stem the tide of the pandemic, Fr. Daniel has refused to take a day off, stating, “I am committed to you, my friends...We walk this way together...” And he has kept his promise without wavering or compromise since then, devising effective, delightful, and amazing means of communicating God’s presence and proximity which have all resulted in our feeling closer to God, to our pastor, and to one another at a time when this pandemic has physically, psychologically, and spiritually exiled us from one another. If anyone embodies the Gospel of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, this particular priest certainly does.
Only a few days after in-person worship was indefinitely suspended, Fr. Daniel found a way to live-Stream Masses from the rectory chapel on three different live video platforms to make sure that everyone had access. Yet, live-streaming wasn’t enough for Fr. Daniel—he wanted to communicate his love and care for his people, so in addition to offering live-streamed Masses, he also offered both Pre- and Post- impromptu interactions with his viewers so that we could enjoy his spontaneous presence and teaching beyond the Mass. It wasn’t enough for Fr. Daniel to just provide a live-streamed Mass—he wanted to offer himself and the opportunities we would normally have in interacting with him both before and after Mass, also. Besides Masses, Fr. Daniel kept in constant contact with the members of his parish through church mailings, parish-wide telephone calls, the church website, and regular blogs and other communiques. All of these can be viewed in our parish’s “Mission Hub” on our website.
However, that wasn’t enough, Fr. Daniel was not content just to offer live-streamed Masses and electronic interactions from a safe distance. He wanted to be with his people in whatever form he could provide, so, soon after the Masses began, he found a way to safely provide the in-person Sacrament of Reconciliation, which cannot be live-streamed, by creating an “Outdoor Confessional” on the front steps of the church building using a plastic garden shed from Home Depot. This Outdoor Confessional received much attention in the local and even national news (https://www.wsj.com/articles/church-is-closed-but-you-still-can-confess-at-the-shed-11586456744) (https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/local/2020/04/17/coronavirus-nj-morris-county-priest-offers-drive-thru-confession/2980311001/) (https://www.nj.com/coronavirus/2020/05/finding-faith-through-forgiveness-nj-priest-hears-socially-distanced-confessions.html)(https://wcbs880.radio.com/articles/news/new-jersey-priest-brings-confessional-to-the-street)(https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2020/05/07/coronavirus-confessional-booth-shed-new-jersey/)(https://rcdop.org/news/being-faithful-during-pandemic) etc. What people may not know is that Fr. Daniel wasn’t just content sitting in this shed for an hour or two on a Saturday morning. No. In all weather, without interruption, and never missing a day, he offered Reconciliation three times per week, twice per day, for one and a half hours at a time, “until everyone’s confession was heard”, sometimes staying in the Outdoor Confessional for up to fifteen hours or more per week. Due to the publicity, people drove from miles around to go to confession at “The Shed” or even just to receive person-to- person pastoral care when there wasn’t a line.
Yet, Fr. Daniel didn’t just hang out constantly at the church, or the rectory, or in “The Shed”. He wasn’t focused on self-preservation. He knew that there were people that had no access to live-streaming and who were also house-bound due to the virus, so he found other means to interact with them. I’m aware that Fr. Daniel did not hesitate to make himself available to visit, in-person, the home of any family who requested the Anointing of the Sick for an individual. On top of that, Fr. Daniel even went above-and-beyond to reach out to the members of his parish when he and his intrepid seminarian and other compatriot went on a 14-hour car ride odyssey on Palm Sunday throughout NJ to personally bless and individually visit almost 200 homes of parishioners who had requested that he bless the “palms” that each family had left on their doorsteps. This both profound and hilarious trek has been permanently chronicled through videos posted on the parish’s FaceBook page .
Yet, Fr. Daniel’s understanding of the mission of the church includes in-person community, so as soon as the opportunity presented itself, Fr. Daniel collaborated with members of the parish and the local authorities to offer an outdoor drive-in Mass in the large parking lot of a local shopping center so that we could be connected to one another while maintaining safe social distancing. Using a dial-in audio live-streaming format, he offered two regular Sunday drive-in Masses which were attended by hundreds of people who wanted to come together, in-person to worship God. And, as soon as we were given permission to distribute Communion, Fr. Daniel found a safe way for us to receive Communion at this Mass both the hand and on the tongue. I heard repeatedly that people also drove hours to attend this drive-in Mass when this in-person opportunity wasn’t made available in their own parishes. Even though indoor Masses have now resumed at lower capacity, Fr. Daniel continues to brave the weather in order to provide this drive-in Mass for those who still do not feel safe to attend church indoors. There are countless testimonies of how this Mass positively impacted people who were otherwise feeling alienated from God and one another and how meaningful it was for them to finally be able to receive Communion again located on Fr. Daniel’s Facebook page (just go there and do a search on “Walmart”).
In summary, Fr. Daniel’s ingenuity and persistence in fulfilling Christ’s mission during the pandemic has been is absolutely outstanding and continues to this day. I can not recommend him enough as one who is a “hero priest” during the pandemic. And I’m not alone. Just read the accolades that he receives in most of the commentary on his FaceBook page. However, knowing him, if you ever told him to his face that he was a “hero”, he’d most likely deny it saying that he was only doing his job. Right. Yes, we agree; but we also know that heroes are the ordinary people who do their jobs and rise to the occasion whenever there is extraordinary adversity or suffering. The love of God compels us to do so and Fr. Daniel is just one of those people who is committed to making the love of Jesus a reality in this world and we love him for doing so.
I wish that I could broadcast the myriad comments and testimonies of those whom Fr. Daniel has blessed and allow them to declare how Fr. Daniel’s tireless efforts to connect us with God, with each other, and with him through a wide array of means during a very difficult time has positively impacted our lives with love and hope and an increase of opportunities to grow in faith and community. At a time when people were submerged in a deep trial of faith filled with anxiety and suffering, Father Daniel never took a break from finding ways to minister to us and to everyone whom God enabled to discover the resources that he made available through our parish website and sacramental opportunities. Ultimately, Father Daniel made God’s love real and available and palpable to us, as he continues to do so to this day.
At a time when many parishes were shutting down and severely limiting contact with their parishioners, Fr. Daniel O’Mullane relentlessly found ways to re-establish contact with the members of his parish and effective ways of doing mission both locally and beyond which touched countless lives above and beyond what he might even have accomplished if the pandemic had not taken place.