Churches in Dane County welcome back parishioners


MADISON, Wis. — Churches in Dane County welcomed back parishioners for Sunday mass after legal action was taken by the Catholic Diocese of Madison.

The County is no longer considering religious worship services as ‘mass gatherings’ under the Forward Dane plan allowing churches to maintain visitor capacity at 25 percent.

“We just wanted Dane County to recognize our essential freedom and right to assemble as other essential businesses are assembling,” said Bishop Donald Hying of the Diocese of Madison.

According to Hying churches outside of Dane County have been successfully social distancing for at least a week.

“We came up with a very specific prudential and well thought out set of regulations regarding social distancing numbers and sanitation,” he said of the Church.

St. Maria Goretti Church on Madison’s west side has even designated safety volunteers beginning Sunday to help maintain clean spaces to minimize the potential spread of the coronavirus.

Church volunteer Grace Willis said she received training on sanitizing best practices when she signed up to volunteer after learning about the opportunity through a church email.

“I just know how much people have been missing to be able to be at mass,” Willis said. “I wanted to make sure that this is a safe experience for everyone and people can be back and celebrate.

The Madison church’s priest Father Bill Van Wagner is just relieved to see his parishioners face to face.

“I felt kind of like an insane person when I get up there to preach a homily to an empty church and hope that someone’s listening or watching on the other end of the internet,” he said. 

The church does still have plans to livestream services as a large portion of their parishioners are elderly and still choosing to stay at home.

Van Wagner also said the church will continue to monitor visitor traffic to remain within Forward Dane’s 25 percent capacity limit.

St. Maria Goretti Church has a capacity of 12 hundred and prior to the coronavirus closures their Sunday mass typically drew around 800 people.