By Elizabeth Bruenig
Hugh Vincent Dyer, a 45-year-old Catholic friar, begins his days now in a sealed nursing home in Manhattan. He celebrates Mass in an empty chapel. The service is broadcast over closed-circuit television into residents’ rooms. “And I preach,” he told me, “because the people are listening,” even though there are no eyes in the chapel to reflect recognition, and no heads to bow in thanks. “I say a prayer of spiritual communion, because they can’t physically receive the sacrament.”
He spends the rest of his time making phone calls to residents and their relatives, praying the rosary or stations of the cross on the closed-circuit chapel channel and sometimes sharing poetry, recorded concerts or films. Signs on doors demarcate the rooms of patients suffering from the coronavirus. Father Dyer visits these patients only at a safe distance, clad in the white habit of the Dominican Order and a pale surgical mask. He tries to help residents and the staff maintain hope, even as death has become an increasingly regular occurrence.