RICHARDSON, Texas - As hospital COVID-19 units grow and the death toll rises, a small group of North Texas priests have answered the call and put their own lives at risk to be with patients in their time of need.
A group of about eight Diocese of Dallas Catholic priests are unofficially known as the “COVID priests” -- not because they have the virus, but because they take the call day or middle of the night to be by a coronavirus patient’s side.
Father John Szatkowski and Father Tymoteusz "Tymo" Ksiazkiewicz of St. Paul the Apostle in Richardson typically make hospital visits. But in the era of COVID-19, the visits have a whole new meaning and feel completely different.
“The mission of a priest is to give his life,” Fr. Tymo said.
“Really walking in, it’s just a very stark place, it’s very quiet,” Fr. Szatkowski said.
They’re some of the few allowed to see patients -- often in their final moments.
“As priests, one of the most important things that we do, apart from the celebration of the mass, is really preparing souls for our Lord,” Fr. Szatkowski said.
The Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament Catholicism says must be performed in person.
“It’s an honor. When you speak with the family on the phone or the staff, or with the patient, to be there, it’s an honor,” Fr. Tymo said.
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Their armor and tools are now disposable, PPE and zip lock bags prepared by seminarians.
“The prayers printed out on a piece of paper,” Fr. Szatkowski said. “Most importantly we have a half Q-tip type thing here that we dip in the oil of the sick.”
They’re also a shoulder to lean on for doctors and nurses as much as patients.
“There’s no such thing in a human being as a reset button. They grieve and they suffer with the patients,” Fr. Tymo said.
Part of the reason why the group of priests is small is each priest has to meet certain criteria -- like being young, in good health and not share a residence with older priests.
In this case, Fr. Szatkowski and Fr. Tymo share a residence and fit that criteria. They say having each to talk through their experiences has also been helpful.
“I look at the cross because Jesus Christ gave his life for us and rose from the dead,” Fr. Tymo said.
The priests are tested frequently for the virus and taking every precaution. They say they’ll continue with confidence.
“We have to turn to our Lord as that only really firm foundation that lasts and doesn’t crumble when the rest of the world is,” Fr. Szatkowski said.