Fr. Stephen Rooney ‘shocked’ as dozens of parishioners roll past St. Joseph Church in impromptu parade

TRENTON — Last week, parishioners at St. Joseph Parish in Trenton drove out of their way to brighten Fr. Stephen Rooney’s day. 

Fr. Rooney has made it a point to call parishioners since public Mass was suspended in the Archdiocese of Detroit, checking up on them and asking for prayer intentions. 

When Jamie Calvin, an administrative assistant at St. Joseph, heard Fr. Rooney had called her mother, Calvin asked how he sounded. Her mother said it sounded like Fr. Rooney missed his parishioners, which sparked an idea.

“She talked about a news story she saw where teachers were doing a doing drive-by for their students, and she asked if the parish considered doing a drive-by for him,” Calvin told Detroit Catholic. “So I reached out and texted a coworker to see if we could organize this, and by Monday, we had 100 cars show up.”

Calvin had her husband, Sean, schedule a 1 p.m. meeting with Fr. Rooney, and at 1:15, Calvin texted her husband to lead him out the front door of St. Joseph Church, where parishioners were slowly rolling down Third Street, greeting their pastor.

“It was wild seeing how many people showed up. I didn’t think it would be 100 it was so short notice at the time,” Calvin said. “I ended up calling city police to make sure everything was OK. They said as long as we were doing social distancing, it was fine.” 

When Fr. Rooney first realized what was happening, he said, he was “mortified,” thinking people were arriving for school — which was canceled — after he had recently posted a video saying how much he missed the students. 

“It took me a minute or two to appreciate what they were doing,” Fr. Rooney said. “I was totally shocked.”

Fr. Rooney said his phone call outreach to parishioners has sparked a new appreciation for the people he shepherds at St. Joseph. 

“I learned more about my parishioners in the short phone calls I had with them than at any other time,” Fr. Rooney said. “Several parishioners are 86 years old and still delivering Meals on Wheels. I didn’t know one of my parishioners was a stand-up comedian on a cruise boat for 30 years, and left it to take care of a niece and nephew whose mother had died. One of the calls lasted 90 minutes, and it was a wonderful experience.”

Fr. Rooney and Calvin said the drive by greeting was good for everyone’s mental health during these trying times.

“I think he was completely shocked when I told him it was all the people who responded on our parish Facebook page,” Calvin said. “I heard people from as far as Monroe and all over the area came.

“We want people to stay in, but this drive by was a little necessary,” Calvin added. “People haven’t seen our pastor since the weekend before March 17 — when Mass was suspended. We have livestream Masses, but seeing him in this way is completely different.”