Father Michael Tietjen, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Mechanicsville, Maryland, has been designated as the St. Mary's County Deanery priest to be on call when the local hospital has a patient infected with the coronavirus.

“Somewhere along the line, each deanery was asked to pick a guy to go in (to hospitals to anoint coronavirus patients) in order to limit the exposure for other priests,” Father Tietjen explained. “Other priests volunteered but had circumstances that could have put them at risk.”

So far, Father Tietjen has been called twice to MedStar St. Mary's Hospital in Leonardtown to minister to infected patients. “Both times I was called to the ICU. It is my understanding that both patients have since been deceased,” he said.

As of April 23, St. Mary's County has had 115 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and four deaths. In the state of Maryland, more than 15,700 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed with a total of 680 deaths.

Father Tietjen said that with the onset of the pandemic, there has been a slight change in how the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is administered.

“We are not allowed to touch the person anymore for the sake of eliminating another infector,” he said. “I dab a cotton ball with holy oil and then touch the patient. The cotton ball is then put in the sharps container (the vessel used to discard used hypodermic needles) because it goes into an incinerator. The cotton ball with the holy oil should be burned, not just thrown into the trash.”

The priest said that in his encounters with hospital staff treating those with the virus, he has noticed that “healthcare workers are tired, they are stressed, but their spirits are high and everyone is staying calm.”

Pointing to the New Testament's Letter of James 5:14 - “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the Church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” - Father Tietjen said going into the hospital to administer to COVID-19 patients “is what Christ commands us to do.

“We are going in there because Jesus asked us to do this. We are being prudent, we are being smart, but we are doing what we always have done,” Father Tietjen said. “We are coping with this situation. The Church has coped with pandemics before. It's the first time for us, but not for the Church.”

Father Michael Tietjen, the pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Mechanicsville, Maryland (Archdiocese of Washington photo)