Father Ron Wearsch | St. Joseph, Avon Lake, OH
Submitted by: Lorene Coughlin
Fr. Ron is the only priest for our parish of nearly 2000 families. He lives at an adjoining parish, where he also served as administrator for many months after the death of their former pastor, so he is beloved by both parishes, and indeed by those in a nearby homeless shelter whom he feeds and considers family.
Because of his forward thinking, Fr. Ron had our parish in position for the March closing, and we have been, thankfully, able to livestream Mass (daily and weekend) from the very beginning of the lockdown, as well as sharing it on Facebook and YouTube. (www.stjosephavonlake.org) In fact, while our previous weekday Mass schedule had included two days when our parishioners were to attend at a nearby parish so that Fr. Ron would have a little more time to himself, he quickly determined to celebrate (and livestream) Mass every day in our parish church, offering a Mass for COVID victims before departing for his one free day each week. (He has already committed to retaining that schedule at least through Memorial Day 2021.)
We were in the midst of a parish mission when the lockdown occurred, and by the grace of God, Fr. Ron was presenting the mission himself. He was able to complete this retreat online. Not only that, but he immediately took his sadness at not being able to welcome parishioners into the church and channeled it into creative solutions. He recorded all four sets of Mysteries of the Rosary, along with the Divine Mercy Chaplet. He recorded the Divine Mercy Novena. He recorded a Holy Hour each week during the time we normally have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. He conducted Zoom meetings with parish staff and parishioners and shared them online. He celebrated all of the Holy Week and Easter liturgies online, as if the church were filled. He did all this with his open heart on his sleeve -- no one can fail to recognize the love which Fr. Ron bears for this parish, this community, and everyone he meets.
Unwilling to allow the hungry faithful to continue missing the joy of receiving Holy Communion, Fr. Ron rented a large tent, placed it in the parking lot, and began to offer "drive-thru" Communion. Once we reopened, in order to make the required social distancing possible, Fr. Ron determined to hold the largest weekend Mass outdoors, and we have people coming from many parishes in the diocese to attend this Mass, which features not only a great speaker system, but also an FM transmission so that those who are more comfortable staying away from all crowds can hear the Mass live and then drive through the tent for Communion. We are seeing literally thousands of people, all over the states and in other countries, who are watching the online Masses; many of the local faithful come for Holy Communion each weekend, and many parishioners, as well as members of surrounding parishes, join us for Communion in the "Sacraments Tent" every single day.
Our school reopened a couple of weeks ago, and our numbers are too large to hold our traditional school Masses each Friday, so Fr. Ron collaborated with our principal. The children all now participate in Friday morning Mass via livestream. Following Mass, they write in the Mass journals Fr. Ron provided for each student while they await the staff members who are Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to bring Jesus to their classrooms.
Throughout these months, Fr. Ron has answered every single sick call or request for anointing, whether in town or 25 miles away, whether he is "on duty" or taking a well-deserved and needed day away. For those in a local nursing home, he prays with them through an open window from a courtyard to their rooms. Where he is admitted, he is the hands and heart of Christ as he anoints and prays for those who are suffering, ministering to their family members with deep compassion and genuine love.
Fr. Ron has also managed to maintain contact with others by continuing to provide meals for a local homeless shelter and offering "to go" meals and/or treats -- he gave a plant to each woman for Mother's Day and had a drive-thru ice cream social for Father's Day. At his request, our staff sends birthday cards every week to all parishioners celebrating 13, 16, 18, 21, and all those 65 and older. People are thrilled and so grateful that he takes time to sign every card, as well as the cards for each of our 66 First Communicants.
I believe our parish's faith has burgeoned in these months of pandemic because of the deep love Fr. Ron lives and has shared so freely. People are coming to us in great numbers -- parishioners as well as others who have heard about the great things happening here. Fr. Ron consistently invites people, via livestream, to join us for Mass, to come for Holy Communion and confession, to spend time in the church for adoration. He is working to reopen as many ministries as possible, while being very careful to keep everyone as safe as possible.
Because of the live streaming, many, many more people than ever before are participating in the Mass, both for weekdays and weekends. Because of Fr. Ron's presence online and his continual welcoming, people feel free to join us, or just to know they are all part of our family. He has made it possible to livestream funerals and weddings so that distancing can be maintained and people can continue to share life's important moments with their loved ones.
In the midst of everything, Fr. Ron has been studying to become a certified Spiritual Director, and what he learns, he shares. I believe Fr. Ron's example of lived faith is a beautiful manifestation of Christ walking among us, and I believe our parish is stronger now than we have ever been.
Fr. Ron lives each day his personal goal of creating disciples and stewards of God's gifts. I believe he brings every soul he meets closer to God and encourages each one to be all that God creates us to be.
Fr. Ron's example is my goal, and that of the many others he has so profoundly touched in this time of global crisis.