The COVID-19 virus pandemic and the measures being taken to protect our safety have changed the way we are doing things. Restaurants are limited to take out or delivery, gatherings are limited to less than 10 people and non-essential businesses are either closed or by appointment only. Folks are urged to keep social distancing when out or just stay home.
For the faithful around the Alma Center area, nothing hit harder than the cancellation of Mass. Now that Sunday worship is absent, the impact of this loss has never been more deeply felt, even if it’s only temporary and being done for the health and safety of the people. Yes, there are ways to keep the Faith and bring comfort to churchgoers. Modern technology enabled pastors to celebrate Mass and live stream via social media even without a full church. Other church activities are managed with voice chats, conference calls and other ways of communicating.
To Father Dan Thelen, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Alma Center, St. Joseph Parish in Fairview and St. John Cantius Parish in Fairchild, the isolation of his parishioners was a real concern. He wanted to do more for them while still keeping to the guidelines of safety. He came up with a plan involving something not done by too many people – bicycling around the perimeters of his parishes, praying for his parishioners and blessing the land.
His parishioners live in Alma Center, Hixton, Merrillan, Fairchild, Hatfield, Osseo and Humbird. It was a good 100 mile ride. He knew this would be a way to bless them and make them feel like they were not alone.
“We’ve been through a lot of upheaval these past few weeks,” said Father Thelen. “As a pastor, I worried about how I would keep our parishioners connected. I also wanted to do what I could to ask for our Lord’s blessing upon our communities. Then, about a week ago, the idea emerged to bless the perimeter of our parish cluster. Archbishop Listecki in Milwaukee did a similar thing some weeks prior by driving the perimeter of his archdiocese and blessing as he went. I love to bicycle and thought I could do something similar. Though I love bicycling, it is also a lot of work. I wanted to offer this ‘suffering’ for our parish and unite it with prayer by extending blessings wherever I went.
“I started at a parishioner’s home south of Merrillan. From there I went west, cutting across back roads, till reaching Green Acres Road and Sechlerville. From there, I headed north to FF. Then I continued on FF through Northfield, taking Hwy. G north to Augusta. From Augusta, I headed to the WAXX/WEAU tower, then down to Fairchild. From Fairchild, I headed east to the Highground Veterans Memorial. Then, the back roads along the Black River led me to Hatfield, where I was blessed with a delicious meal waiting for me on a parishioner’s porch. Here I caught up with the latest news while keeping a safe 15-foot distance before leaving for the final miles back to the parishioner’s home south of Merrillan, where I started from.”
During his 100-mile trek, Father Thelen stopped and blessed most intersections he passed on his trip. “With a holy water bottle, I simply sprinkled holy water on the ground and made a sign of the cross over the spot,” He said. “I also combined this with the prayer of the Precious Blood Litany at these major ‘corners’ of our parish cluster:
1) At the parishioner’s home south of Merrillan
2) Charcoal Rd and County Road A by BRF (Here I also blessed I-94)
3) At Green Acres and Sechlerville Rd
4) At Northfield
5) On G south of 10 by Osseo
6) At the old St Anthony Catholic Church (now a home) in Augusta
7) At the WAXX/WEAU tower north of Fairchild
8) In Fairchild
9) High Ground Veterans Memorial – Here I said a prayer of thanks for our military men and women
10) Hwy 95 and Sherwood Rd northeast of Hatfield
11) Hwys. 12/27 and Kenny Road south of Hatfield
“Although parishes no longer have defined borders, all of these spots roughly mark the Southern, Western, Northern and Eastern edges of my parishes,” said Father Thelen.
Father Thelen spent the hours on his bike offering prayers for protection and blessings. He asked our Lord to protect his parishioners and communities and prayed for the gift of Faith for everyone. He also offered thanks for the teams of doctors, other medical staff and all who are heroes during this difficult time.
There might have been little social interaction during this day long trip but at the end, his parishioners knew they had been given a special gift and were more than grateful for Father Thelen’s efforts, according to the appreciative comments he later received.
“It was a very welcome blessing. Thanks much.” “You are amazing! Thank you for all that you do for our parishes. We are so lucky to have you! Hope you feel OK tomorrow!” “You are a blessing, Father. What a wonderful gift!” “Wow … amazing … we are so blessed … you are an inspiration to us all.” “Thank you Father Dan! Your endurance of suffering and commitment to the parish and humankind is a light in the darkness.” “What a wonderful blessing! Ride on Fr. Dan – we are here with you in prayer.” “You are my inspiration to stay positive in these days of dismay. God bless you.” “Bless you, Father Dan. You are and do amazing things. Thank you for caring so much. I’ll say prayers for you to stay safe. You’re the best. Thank you again.” “You are so thoughtful, Father Dan. We all need this right now. God be with you and everyone else in the world.”
The world needs inspiration, hope, and positive thinking right now and after Father Thelen’s bicycle blessings trip, there were many who were heartened by his actions and, felt they were not alone.
Father Thelen commented, “I was happy to be able to do this. It was a great way to feel connected with people while keeping to the health guidelines. We might feel isolated and distant, but at the same time, moments like this bring us closer together in spirit. God be praised! He gave me energy to do this and it was a beautiful day for a bike ride.”
By Lori Johnson