By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published May 28, 2020
SMYRNA–Father Brian Sheridan, a La Salette priest and pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Smyrna, learned he tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, May 26.
After learning the results, Father Sheridan was in a state of shock.
“To hear about it all the time and then for it to happen to me, it was so different,” he said. The pastor said it also felt like a false test result because he is currently asymptomatic.
Father Sheridan’s response included immediate self quarantine, informing the parish staff, sending a note to the parish community and contacting local church leaders as well as his religious order.
“It’s most appropriate to let it be known to everyone,” he said. “No need to keep this a secret.”
On May 18, Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., sent out guidelines and conditions for in-parish worship in the archdiocese with an update on May 22. Daily Masses were permitted to begin on May 25, and weekend Masses on May 30-31, which celebrates Pentecost. Before public Masses resumed at the Smyrna parish, Father Sheridan felt it was necessary to get tested for the coronavirus. The pastor considers himself and other clergy to be front line workers.
Father Sheridan was tested on Saturday, May 23 along with parochial vicar Father Clemente Felix Mario, MS, and Father Paul Rainville, MS, a priest-in-residence at the church.
Three days later, the pastor learned he was the only one of the three who tested positive for the virus.
Since he was in his office when he learned the news, he immediately announced his test results to the parish staff and left to self quarantine in the rectory.
Father Mario and Father Rainville leave food for their fellow priest at his bedroom door. Father Sheridan uses his cell phone to communicate additional needs. That afternoon, a notice was sent out to the parish community informing them of the test results for Father Sheridan, Father Mario and Father Rainville, and letting parishioners know the pastor is without symptoms.
“Father Brian is in quarantine for ten days from his test date,” the notice explained. “Anyone who has been in contact with Father Brian in recent weeks should get tested. If you know anyone who may have interacted with Father Brian, please share this message.” The note was posted on Facebook and the parish website.
Having no symptoms of the coronavirus, Father Sheridan is feeling well and blessed with the religious community supporting him.
Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III, auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, has also reached out to the pastor to check on how he’s doing. The priests at the Smyrna parish continue to pray for all those suffering from COVID-19.
Since Father Sheridan’s diagnosis, livestream daily Masses from the Smyrna parish have been suspended until further notice. Father Jaime Molina, MNM, parochial vicar at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, has been celebrating Mass in his residence for all scheduled intentions. The church office was closed on Wednesday, May 27, giving staff an opportunity to get tested. Going forward, only one staff member will be in the office at a time.
There was no official date to resume in-parish worship at the Smyrna parish prior to the pastor’s test results.
Father Sheridan said there’s no rush to open quickly as he has concerns about people’s ability and willingness to remain socially distant.
Another of the pastor’s concerns for reopening has been the physical size of the church compared to the number of parishioners. It’s always been challenging to have community growth that exceeds the space available.
“It’s a good problem, but stressful at times,” he said.
Before the church reopens, a video will be sent out explaining the new safety guidelines to follow for in-parish worship at the Smyrna parish. It will include wearing masks and practicing distancing. The pastor will be re-tested prior to returning to work.
In the meantime, Father Sheridan continues to self quarantine.
“We’ll take it day by day,” he said.