As it did for Catholics across the area, the cancellation of public Masses in the Archdiocese of Washington beginning on March 14 due to precautions against the spread of the coronavirus caused sorrow to Father Ken Gill, the pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Solomons, Maryland, and to his parishioners there.

“People were suffering tremendously from not being able to be united to our Lord in the Eucharist at Mass,” he said.

This past July, Father Gill had become pastor of the Calvert County parish, which is located on a scenic area overlooking the Patuxent River. Since arriving there, he said he has been inspired to see people’s faithful attendance at Mass and the “great love our people have for the Lord in the Eucharist.”

So with the coronavirus shutdown, the priest met with his parish staff about the challenge of continuing to serve his parishioners, and he said the question he had was, “What can we do to stay connected?”

They decided that with the proper equipment, he could begin live streaming Masses from the parish’s historic church, since its new church, its Catholic school and parish hall were closed. Father Gill said he went to Best Buy and for about $750, bought a laptop, a microphone and a camera. A parish volunteer who graduated from Our Lady Star of the Sea School helped him make an Internet connection to the church for the live streaming.

With the new gear set up in the church, Father Gill made his live streaming debut with a Mass he celebrated on March 18. Admittedly, he was nervous, explaining that it’s one thing to preach a daily Mass for the people gathered there, and another thing to have the words in your homily “going out to the world.”

And after the live streamed Mass, the feedback he received surprised him. Father Gill received a comment about the Mass from a lady in Pakistan. He also heard from a guy who graduated with him in his high school class of 1980, who told him, “Ken, this is the first time I heard your voice in 40 years.”

For the priest, the potential of this new way to connect with his parishioners and with other people became apparent, and it was spurred by the challenge he faced in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’re using this opportunity to foment and create a stronger bond of community,” he said.

In addition to broadcasting daily Masses, Father Gill also began broadcasting a noontime holy hour, praying the Angelus, the rosary, the Divine Mercy chaplet and benediction with viewers. On March 19, the priest prayed the rosary via live stream in the church at the same time as Pope Francis had encouraged Catholics in Italy and around the world to pray for the intercession of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph during the coronavirus pandemic. Father Gill also planned to live stream a children’s Stations of the Cross that Friday afternoon, and a Stations of the Cross for adults that evening, all accessible via the parish’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/olssofficial.

Our Lady Star of the Sea's Facebook page includes a link to its live streamed Masses and prayer services. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

“This has helped us build up our digital media platform,” he said.

In addition to meeting the sacramental needs of his people, the priest said he is also mindful that “our mission continues on, and our mission to the community will come into even greater significance” as the coronavirus causes economic hardships to people in that area, including restaurant workers, fishermen and truck drivers, and other service industry workers who could face the loss of their jobs.

“We need to be a resource in our community, to be a bridge to people. Until they get back on their feet, we need to be a resource,” he said.

That past weekend, with public Masses canceled, Our Lady Star of the Sea parishioners still dropped off Lenten food bags for the SMILE ecumenical food pantry in Solomons. The priest plans to make the parish school’s kitchen available to prepare food for those in need in the community.

Father Gill said that in the first video message he posted to parishioners on March 17 on the parish’s Facebook page, he mentioned what the parish was continuing to do even while Masses weren’t being held, and he encouraged them to continue to support the parish, through online giving or by dropping off or mailing their offertory envelopes. Our Lady Star of the Sea, like other parishes, depends on the financial support of the weekly offertory collection for its operating expenses.

“The offertory giving, which is a sacrifice in these uncertain times, is an absolute necessity for us to continue the mission that God has entrusted to us,” the priest said.

At the end of his video message, he expressed thanks to parishioners for continuing to support the mission of the parish.

Father Gill, who was ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington in 2014, said he has witnessed history in his former professional life that is now guiding him as a pastor trying to bring the Mass to his people and charitable outreach to his community during the coronavirus outbreak.

“I lived through 9/11 and worked for the Justice Department then,” he said. “Just like then, these are uncertain times, but uncertain times create opportunities, and we’re trying to do what we can here.”