By Patrick Meagher
ST. ANDREW’S WEST — Father Louis Groetelaars found his own way around COVID restrictions. He got himself a hay wagon, a propane-fuelled heater, plywood, plexiglass, an FM radio transmitter and in just over a week his rural parishioners had built him a chapel on wheels.
The hay wagon chapel was hauled behind the church to the parking lot where the priest celebrates Mass in this tiny hamlet north of Cornwall, and offers his Catholic parishioners their most important supernatural gift: Holy Communion
Fr. Groetelaars came up with the idea after hearing about a similar plan at a Cumberland Catholic church just east of Ottawa. It cost the parish about $500 for the plywood and $300 for the FM transmitter. Local farmers Howard and Conny Quail donated the hay wagon.
“I call it my COVID chapel,” Fr. Groetelaars told Farmers Forum. He held his first Mass outside on Jan. 10 and COVID chapel was ready in time to celebrate Mass on Jan. 24. He was delighted. The temperature plummeted the next weekend to -21 C. “It was nasty cold.”
But with the propane heater, “It’s wonderful. Without it I’d be a popsicle.”
He said that the Masses are so popular in the parish of about 800 people that 40 per cent of people coming to Mass now are not from his parish. People were so grateful that in January the parish received $9,000 in weekly donations.
When people arrive for Mass they stay in their cars and tune in to 87.9 FM on their radios. The vehicles form a line for drive-by Communion in front of the church at the end of Mass. Fr. Louis wears a warm mitten on one hand and Pioneer seed toque to keep warm.
The radio transmission reaches only to the edge of the village and some Catholics who live there and who are not mobile have said they tune in on Sunday. People register online to get a spot in the parking lot.
Even though some lockdown measures have lifted, allowing for 30 per cent capacity inside the church, Fr. Groetelaars will continue a parking lot Sunday Mass to encourage the most vulnerable and those not yet comfortable with coming into a church.
Said Fr. Groetelaars: “I want to share Jesus with everybody.”