SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — It’s been a baptism by fire for the bishop of the Sioux Falls Catholic Diocese. Donald DeGrood took charge of the diocese just over one year ago. Soon after, COVID-19 became a health threat in South Dakota. The pandemic changed everyone’s lives, including how the diocese ministers to thousands of Catholics in eastern South Dakota. DeGrood begins his second year as bishop hopeful for his flock’s medical and spiritual healing.
No sooner had Donald DeGrood been ordained as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls when a respiratory illness put him in the hospital for three days.
“Right out of the gates. Yeah, the Lord put me on my back right where I needed to be for a little while, right,” DeGrood said.
Doctors told the new bishop he had a combination of the flu and pneumonia. As DeGrood recovered, a health crisis was beginning to grip the country.
“I wasn’t even thinking COVID at the time I was sick and whether that was COVID or not, I have no clue. I don’t even think they were testing for that at that particular time,” DeGrood said.
The diocese closed churches as the pandemic worsened in South Dakota. DeGrood relied more and more on social media to reach out to homebound parishioners.
“Some of those I would send out, I would be in prayer in the morning and just have a really strong sense God wanting me to address some particular thing, encourage people, heath care workers,” DeGrood said.
DeGrood says Sunday Mass broadcasts on KELOLAND TV have also been an important connection between the diocese and its members.
“The blessing with the TV Mass was been incredible to see the numbers escalate very rapidly. And the spike happened when COVID kicked-in and churches were shutting down across the country,” DeGrood said.
Now, many of those churches have since reopened. And DeGrood hopes, as more vaccines are delivered across the state and cases slow down, that dealing with the pandemic has instilled a new set of priorities among South Dakotans.
“In speaking to some families just saying you know, it’s really been good for us because we haven’t been so busy and we’re taking more time, we’re starting to play games, board games and things together, we’re having more time as a family, we’re having maybe meals together,” De Grood said.
Bishop DeGrood has left it up to the priests to decide which COVID protocols work best at each parish. But the common thread throughout the diocese remains social distancing.
“We’re trying to eliminate, or reduce the amount of social interaction like hand-shaking at Mass as an example, or passing the collection basket down,” DeGrood said.
DeGrood hopes to travel to more parishes within the diocese as he begins his second year as bishop, something the pandemic, and illness, prevented him from doing one year ago. And while the virus has taken such a tragic toll in the number of lives lost, DeGrood says a heartfelt spiritual surrender can lead us to finding light within the darkness.
“It’s really relating to God and then doing what you reasonably can and say I have to let the rest go, and that’s where you find peace,” DeGrood said.
DeGrood says the pandemic has also had a financial impact on the diocese. But while some parishes saw a drop in collections, DeGrood says others actually had an increase in giving among members.