‘Heightened sense of the reality of mortality’: Priest gives last rites to COVID patients

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The Rev. Dallas St. Peter can’t be with Catholic parishioners during the COVID-19 lockdowns, with one exception:

When they’re dying.

The pastor at St. Mark Parish in Burlington has administered last rites to about a dozen people diagnosed with COVID-19. Most were at Birchwood Terrace in Burlington, one of the Vermont nursing homes hit hardest by the illness.

Because his North Avenue church is near Birchwood Terrace, St. Peter has been called upon frequently. Those occasions have felt different than other times he has given last rites.

“From the family’s perspective they’re certainly more aware of the likelihood of death coming from (COVID-19),” St. Peter said. “For me I guess it’s just seeing it progress more rapidly than normal.”

He mentioned one woman diagnosed with COVID-19 with whom he conversed while administering the anointing of the sick and the viaticum, the final Communion.

“It was only a couple of days after that that she passed away,” St. Peter said. “Just seeing that and realizing the toll that it takes and the quickness of it is much different than normal. You do see a heightened sense of the reality of mortality.”

To deliver last rites to COVID-19 patients, St. Peter wears a gown, gloves, an N95 mask with a disposable mask over that and a face shield.

The COVID-19 patients have been dying without family members being there. He was with one woman whose husband was allowed to speak to her over the phone; she was unresponsive, but the man could share “his undying love for his dying wife,” St. Peter said.

“It was very beautiful,” he said. “It also made you very aware of the great struggle it is and the suffering of the loved ones who really don’t have the opportunity to be with their loved ones in their last agony.”

Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660-1844 or bhallenbeck@freepressmedia.com. Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck.

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