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Confirmation takes place in smaller groups in Diocese of Wilmington as pandemic derails routine for Bishop Malooly

Father Charles Dillingham, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption parish, confirms parishioner Madison Testa. Photo courtesy Foschi Photography

Confirmation in the Diocese of Wilmington has a new look this year, courtesy of the coronavirus. Bishop Malooly said he will still confirm some young people in 2020-21, but the sacrament will be administered mainly by priests of the diocese. There are simply too many confirmation ceremonies for the bishop to attend.

Confirmations were halted last March when the pandemic forced the diocese to suspend Masses and other activities. Now, parishes around the diocese are working to confirm last year’s candidates, along with this year’s. And they are doing so with smaller groups of candidates at each one, which translates to multiple sessions at many parishes.

Confirmation at St. Ann Church in Wilmington. Photo courtesy Foschi Photography, foschiweddingphotography.com

Bishop Malooly said he estimated that if he had done all of the confirmations that were postponed from last year, along with those scheduled this year, he would have had to do three a day beginning June 1 and going through Christmas.

“I miss doing it, but on the other hand, it’s just not practical,” he said.

The bishop said in larger dioceses, his colleagues often delegate the responsibility for confirmation to parish priests. In the Diocese of Wilmington, that has not been necessary. He enjoys traveling the diocese each year to meet with the young people.

“I’ve always like confirmations because I’ve worked with youth all my life. It’s a way for me to connect with them,” he said.

Thus far, the reports he’s received from the parishes have been positive. Many parishioners are happy to see their priests celebrating the sacrament. A few pastors from the diocese said they have enjoyed confirming people, which they also do at their Easter Vigils. Father Stanislao Esposito of St. John’s-Holy Angels in Newark, which had confirmation days scheduled in September, said he is using the confirmation ceremonies to tell the youth about the power of the Holy Spirit.

“For this year, I’m trying to give them all the same message,” he said. “That the completion of the sacraments of initiation allows us to experience the Holy Spirit in a more powerful way. I try to explain what the word power means and how we can be powerful in everywhere we go.”

He also has explained to them how privileged he feels to be confirming them. The families have been very understanding about why Bishop Malooly is unable to be present this year. They are looking at the bigger picture.

“I think they are thankful they are able to celebrate the sacrament in spite of COVID restrictions. I think the feeling is that the sacrament is more important than how they expect to celebrate it,” he said.

His counterpart at St. Mary of the Assumption in Hockessin, Father Charles Dillingham, said this was the first time he had done a confirmation outside the Easter Vigil setting, but he has been to many of them as master of ceremonies for Bishop Malooly’s three most recent predecessors, Michael A. Saltarelli, Robert E. Mulvee and Thomas J. Mardaga, and as pastor at several parishes.

St. Mary of the Assumption had 54 candidates from last year who were recently confirmed, Father Dillingham said. They were split into three groups. Bishop Malooly was missed.

“It just isn’t the same without him. Anybody who knows the bishop at all knows he loves being with our younger members. He’s very good with our confirmation classes,” he said.

Father Dillingham said he tried to make the same four points the bishop always does when he confirms young people. He emphasized the importance of weekly Mass and Communion, daily prayer, service and smiling. He added that a parent came up to him after a recent confirmation and said he was from Baltimore and that Bishop Malooly had confirmed him — making the same points.

Despite the disappointment of not having the bishop present, Father Dillingham said he received compliments for the smaller size of the groups, which allowed the ceremony to be more personal. The parish also livestreamed them.

Father James Kirk of St. Mary Magdalen in Wilmington said he expects a different feeling when his parish has confirmation in October, “but there’s a special feel for me, a special grace.”

One other difference from previous years is that the chrism oil used to anoint the confirmandi will not be applied directly from the priests’ thumbs. That is another concession to the pandemic.

“I think the Q-tips and cotton balls are a little bit awkward, but that’s the way it is,” Bishop Malooly said.

The diocese sent instructional materials to the priests, and Father Kirk and the others brushed up on the ritual. The most important thing, Father Kirk joked, is to “act like I know what I’m doing.”