Regina Cleri residents, staff receive COVID vaccine

BOSTON -- After being in a "partial lockdown" for 10 months, unable to receive visitors or hold community gatherings, the senior priests who live at the archdiocese's Regina Cleri Residence received a sign of hope on Jan 11, when they received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

"It's a game-changer. It changes the mindset of our community," Stephen Gust, the director of Regina Cleri, said in a Jan. 19 interview.

Every one of the priests agreed to be vaccinated. They are scheduled to receive their second dose of the vaccine on Feb. 22.

"We were thrilled to see that every single one of our residents decided to take the vaccine," Gust said.

He said that since Regina Cleri was founded in 1964, "there's never been a more challenging time than this past year."

"Jan. 11 will be a day remembered in Regina Cleri history," Gust said.

One reason this year has been so challenging for the senior priests, he said, is that, despite having stepped away from full-time parish ministry, many continue to serve in the archdiocese. They go into communities to serve people and provide the sacraments. Even the retired priests usually go out for Easter and Christmas celebrations. None of them did so this year.

"Missing all of that is very difficult. I'm proud of how they dealt with this crisis. Our staff goes home to their families. These men stay here," Gust said.

Since the onset of the pandemic, no visitors have been allowed. Instead, the staff have arranged video calls between the residents and their families. There have also been no community activities among the residents.

The chapel was closed from March to August, then reopened Sept. 1. Since then, Mass has been held five days a week and every Sunday and holy day of obligation, with one floor's residents attending at a time. The priests all have the option to watch the Mass on their televisions, which are connected to a camera in the chapel. The Sister Disciples of the Divine Master who work at Regina Cleri have coordinated the daily delivery of the Eucharist to the residents in their rooms.

"I give an enormous amount of credit to our residents who have been very patient," Gust said.

He also commended the staff, who have had to adapt their lifestyles to avoid contracting the virus. None of them took vacations last year, and the Sister Disciples who work at Regina Cleri cancelled their retreats.

Gust said that they have followed, and will continue to follow, the Department of Public Health's guidelines regarding long-term facilities. That will determine how and when Regina Cleri reopens for visitors and resumes community activities.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley noted the vaccination of the Regina Cleri residents in his weekly blog entry posted on Jan. 15.

"We are very hopeful that the arrival of the vaccines will be able to slow and eventually end the pandemic," the cardinal said.

According to the cardinal's blog post, since the pandemic began, a total of 65 priests in the archdiocese have contracted the coronavirus and six have died.