By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — While serving as parochial vicar at Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton, Father Corey Close was introduced to the idea of offering 24 consecutive hours to hear people’s confessions. A priest at the Fulton, Illinois, parish, just across the river, offered Catholics the opportunity to make their confessions anytime over a 24-hour period during Lent. The Fulton priest reported that, even in the middle of night, people would come.
“I thought it sounded interesting,” Fr. Close said. “The fact that people would come at 2 a.m. was pretty amazing.”
Now serving St. Mary Parish-Iowa City, he suggested the idea to other priests in the Iowa City Deanery as the group discussed ways to celebrate the Year of Mercy. They decided to tie in 24 hours of hearing confessions with 40 hours of eucharistic adoration and a communal penance service at St. Patrick Parish-Iowa City.
One major difference in the Iowa City deanery’s plan: it would be a group effort, with priests of the deanery taking one, two-hour shift apiece. The priest in Fulton heard confessions by himself in a 24-hour period. “We were able to get a lot of priests’ support,” said Fr. Close, a parochial vicar at St. Mary’s and campus minister with Newman Catholic Student Center at the University of Iowa.
He hoped for round-the-clock participation, but couldn’t be sure how Catholics in the area would respond. “This is the maiden voyage,” Fr. Close observed prior to the service. It began the evening of Dec. 14, with the communal penance service celebrated by Bishop Martin Amos. As part of the service, 15 priests heard confessions for more than 1-1/2 hours.
Afterwards, priests — one at a time — took their shifts. Father Jeffry Belger, parochial vicar of St. Mary Parish-Iowa City and campus minister with the Newman Center, took the midnight-2 a.m. shift. The confessor before him, St. Mary Parish-Solon’s pastor Father Tim Sheedy, explained to Fr. Belger that he’d stayed busy during his shift.
Fr. Belger said his own line was never long. Two Catholics came to confess during his shift, more than he expected he might get at that time, especially since St. Patrick’s is away from the downtown Iowa City-area. A few more people took part in eucharistic adoration — he estimated eight to 10 people. He took the graveyard shift for sentimental reasons: “I chose that time slot because when I was a student at the University of Iowa, I was the Tuesday, 2 a.m. guy at the “old St. Pat’s” perpetual adoration chapel. There is something special about the middle of the night in the church. I spent that time praying over the prayers in the Roman Missal.”
As morning approached, Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Patrick’s and dean of the Iowa City Deanery, took the 6-8 a.m. slot. Father Greg Steckel, pastor of St. Joseph-West Liberty, stayed busy the two hours prior to Fr. Juarez’s shift. The thing that surprised Fr. Juarez most wasn’t the number of confessions. It was the quality of the confessions. “You may have lots of confessions, but not in-depth confessions,” the priest said. The confessions he heard “were good confessions, substantial confessions.”
Father Stephen Page, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville, who also served as a confessor, believes that people are eager to confess when given an opportunity. The 24-hour period allowed people to come at a time that worked for them, he postulated.
Deeming the event successful, Fr. Juarez said, “It was very positive and peaceful. I feel like God’s grace was at work; I really sensed that peace that Jesus speaks of.”
Fr. Close is thrilled to hear positive feedback from the other priests in the deanery. “Reason would tell you that no one would come to confess (in the middle of the night); the fact that they did is amazing.”
He viewed the 24 hours of confession and 40 hours of adoration that accompanied it as a great outpouring of the works of mercy. “It was awesome to be a part of it. I hope this event might be offered again in the future.”