As winter gave way to spring last year and the realities of a global pandemic set in, the Vincentians of the Western Province had to re-think church services and a whole range of programs that rely on a closeness and presence that was no longer possible.

Fr. David Nations, C.M., pastor of St. Vincent’s Parish in Los Angeles, said in-person services were shut down with very little notice.“We switched to live-streaming Mass, which we did until Labor Day, when we were allowed to have some liturgies outside,” Fr. Nations said. “All prayer group meetings were streamed online as well.”

Once outdoor services were allowed, the school parking lot became the venue for drive-in services. They built a stage, and parishioners attended in their cars, honking their horns in lieu of handshakes during the sign of peace.

At St. Vincent’s Parish in St. Louis, Fr. Dan Thiess, C.M., said he and his group had to completely transform their robust food programs.

“St. Vincent urged Vincentians to, ‘Be creative to infi nity,’” Fr. Thiess said.

The usual sources of volunteers were no longer available, and demand for the food pantry and other food programs increased by 300 percent over normal levels. The pantry and soup kitchen went to a drive-up and walk-up model, and a lunch window served 400 homeless customers every day. Businesses like Anheuser-Busch, Schnucks grocery stores, and the St. Louis Cardinals all donated, and other parishes and organizations joined in support.

“It comes down to what St. Vincent talked about—getting to know people and inviting them to the mission,” Fr. Thiess said.

Bob Beatty, Director of Community Development at St. Vincent’s Parish in Chicago, said they made similar major adaptations to their food and social assistance programs and created teams of people to make wellness calls on parishioners. In addition to streamed online services, a variety of programs were developed to be off ered entirely online.

“We started a weekly lecture and learn presentation to talk about issues of the day,” Beatty said.

Streaming capabilities that were developed for Mass remain in place, even as in-person liturgies have returned.

“It has allowed us to expand on what we do and reach more folks,” Beatty said. “As for the other programs, some have discovered they like meeting online, so we do both.”

Back in L.A., when the church reopened to in-person services in July, Fr. Nations and his staff held an all-night candlelight vigil with live Latin pop church music, at the end of which parishioners carried in the candles to “re-light” the church.

“It was quite an event,” Fr. Nations said. “There was a 78-year-old woman who danced the whole night.”

To read the full 2020-21 Annual Report, click here.