Straight from anointing training to a COVID-19 bedside, North St. Paul priest says ‘Christ was there’

| Jonathan Liedl | May 11, 2020 | 0 Comments

Dave Harris, left, a parishioner of Christ the King in Minneapolis, and members of his family, pose at Christmas 2019 for a photo with his grandmother Jane Trusty, in red, who died May 5, hours after receiving anointing of the sick. She was the first COVID-19 patient to be anointed by the newly formed Anointing Corps, a group of priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis trained to provide anointing of the sick to people dying of COVID-19. Courtesy Dave Harris

When Dave Harris learned that his 91-year old grandmother, Jane Trusty, had contracted COVID-19, he immediately talked to his mother about how they could ensure Trusty had a prayerful and peaceful passing.

If times had been typical, they would’ve sought the anointing of the sick, a sacrament of the Church that communicates grace by uniting the recipient to Christ in his passion, and, to those who can’t make a confession, confers absolution of sin. But given the pandemic and increasingly stringent restrictions of healthcare centers, their expectations were tempered.

“Honestly, I was expecting something only via iPad,” said Harris, 42, a parishioner of Christ the King in Minneapolis.

Instead, on Monday, May 4, Jane Trusty was anointed by a priest and received the apostolic pardon, an indulgence offered to a dying Catholic in a state of grace that remits the temporal punishment of sin. Father Daniele Scoranno, the anointing priest, was even able to pray with Trusty’s family at her bedside via FaceTime, telling them that she was now “a saint,” only hours before she passed away the next day.

“It was the happiest and saddest I’ve been in my whole life,” recalled Harris. “Sad knowing her passing was imminent, but happy knowing that she was able to receive the sacrament.”

It’s an experience that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis hopes other families losing loved ones to coronavirus might also be able to share. Trusty’s anointing was the first performed by a member of the newly established COVID Anointing Corps, a group of 12 local priests who completed training to ensure that they can administer the sacrament of anointing to people sick with the virus, in a way that follows health protocols and mitigates the risk of them contracting and spreading the disease.

“It was really beautiful how it all came together,” said Father Joseph Bambenek, the archdiocesan priest who is overseeing the Anointing Corps.  “It made it feel like all the work was worthwhile.”

Father Bambenek says that several other anointings have been made since Trusty’s, and those wishing to request the sacrament for a loved one can do so by reaching out to their parish, from where they’ll be directed to the appropriate archdiocesan personnel.

Harris’ request for his grandmother’s anointing began, of all places, on Facebook. After hearing about his grandmother’s diagnosis on May 1, he came across a story from The Catholic Spirit detailing the establishment of the Anointing Corps. He reached out to the archdiocese and was put in contact with Father Bambenek, who stayed in touch to make sure they could send a priest as soon as training was finished on May 4.

While they waited, Harris and his family prayed with Trusty via FaceTime. They listened to a Mass prerecorded by Relevant Radio, and prayed the rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet until Trusty fell asleep.

Father Scoranno arrived around 8 p.m. at the Hopkins senior center where Trusty, who had been a parishioner at St. Gabriel the Archangel in Hopkins, was being cared for. He headed to the senior center directly from the archdiocesan Catholic Center in St. Paul, immediately after his training was completed. As he drove, he offered prayers for those sick with COVID-19 for whom anointing had been requested, but had passed away before the priests were able to come.

The priest, a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo serving at St. Peter in North St. Paul, admitted that he was anxious on his way over, wanting to make sure he followed the proper procedures he’d only just learned.

“But it doesn’t matter, because it’s not about me,” he said. “It was about the objectivity of the sacrament. Christ was there, and the anointing was made.”

Upon arrival, a nurse at Chapel View greeted him and helped him prepare to enter the room. When he spoke via FaceTime to Harris and his family at Trusty’s bedside, Father Scoranno said he was moved by their “gratitude for the Church.” He’s experienced something similar through his role in the anointing.

“It expresses why I wanted to say ‘yes’ to this vocation in the first place, and the ultimate aim of the Church: to bring the closeness of God to people, especially those who are poor, suffering and dying,” he said. “[The sacrament of anointing] says you are not alone, even in your solitude. Even in death. This is not the last word.”

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