Once bustling with activity and booming with voices, the San Quentin Catholic chapel stands stripped and silenced, a casualty of COVID-19.
Decrying the death, disease and deteriorating living conditions in the state’s oldest prison, recently retired longtime chaplain Jesuit Father George Williams and volunteers from throughout the San Francisco Archdiocese lament their lockout at a time the locked-in need them the most.
It is a time of fear, frustration and fatalism at the 168-year-old penitentiary in Marin County.
State data as of Aug. 12 showed 25 deceased and 2,232 infected at the prison, with only 32 new cases in the previous two weeks, The fatalities included a guard, Sergeant Gilbert Polanco, who died Aug. 9 of Covid-19 complications.
Since early March, authorities have canceled programs, banned visitors, prohibited group gatherings and created makeshift space for physical distancing, quarantine and isolation.
The chapel has been emptied of altar, pews, chairs, sacred objects and religious icons and closed to Mass celebrations, choral concerts, Scripture readings, Bible studies, life-skill debates and other spiritually supportive services.
“It will take a while to put things back together,” said Father Williams, who personally took down for safekeeping the Stations of the Cross crafted by a prisoner nearly 60 years ago.
Such extra care and attention marked his decade of mentoring and ministering to his San Quentin congregation.
When the viral eruption engulfed his seven-Masses-a-weekend schedule, the chaplain continued to make cell calls, carrying Communion, comfort, consolation and communication from the community to the 250 churchgoers, until he tested positive June 24.
“Since I left, they have had nothing,” said Father Williams, who recovered from his “summer-cold-like” symptoms of headache and fatigue and partially regained his taste and smell in time to move to his next assignment July 28….
The above comes from an Aug. 13 story in Catholic San Francisco.