Marc Bentley ’11 is parochial vicar at St. Michael Catholic Church in Paintsville, Kentucky, as well as the coordinator of spiritual programs at the Father Beiting Appalachian Mission Center (FBAMC) in Louisa, Kentucky. He, like church leaders all over the U.S., has had to find creative new ways to serve the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of his congregants during this difficult time.
“The Bishop of Lexington decreed that beginning March 17, public celebration of the Mass was suspended,” Bentley says. “So I’ve begun live streaming my private Mass six days a week. I’ve also considered live streaming other Catholic prayers and devotions, such as Liturgy of the Hours and the Stations of the Cross.”
As well, his role as an educator is being challenged.
“The Bishop has also mandated the suspension of all religious education until Kentucky’s public schools reopen; I’d been working on preparing a group of middle schoolers to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation in May,” Bentley continues. “I’m considering using YouTube to help instruct the young people from home in order to cover some topics that we need to cover. For the foreseeable future, any of the activities and ministries I’ve been tasked with are on pause.”
Even college closings have had a major effect on his mission in the region.
“The FBAMC hosts a number of groups seeking to do service in Appalachia; mostly home repairs, but we’re moving toward winterizing homes and installing smoke detectors in the off-season, among other things,” Bentley explains. “We were expecting to have college groups arriving and serving every week in March and one week in April, but every group except the Virginia Tech group who came the first week of March had to cancel due to the pandemic. There are a number of people living on the margins who were hoping for home repairs who’ll now have to wait until the summer groups arrive in June, provided they’re still able to come.”
For several years, Centre has had groups travel to the region to do repair work for Appalachian families during the annual Alternative Spring Break.
Bentley was raised in Pike County, Kentucky, and was assigned to his current parish because of his background in the region. After graduating from Centre with a degree in English, he earned a master’s degree in Appalachian studies at Appalachian State University, at which time he began thinking of becoming a priest. He attended Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, where he earned a masters in Catholic philosophical studies, an M.Div. and, from the Pontifical Atheneum of St. Anselm in Rome, a bachelor of sacred theology (STB). He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest for the Catholic Diocese of Lexington on June 29, 2019.
“So, I’m in my first year of priesthood, and this is not how I thought my first Lent or Easter as a priest would go,” Bentley laments. “I miss the people. A diocesan priest is ordained to be with his people, and right now, for the safety and well-being of the people, we have to stay distanced. I’m longing for the day when we can gather as the Body of Christ.
“We’re trying to be creative in our sacramental ministry while still preserving the sacraments’ integrity,” he continues. “We can still hear confessions, as long as we keep at least six-feet distance. That’s really difficult in a sacrament that’s as intimate as the Sacrament of Reconciliation; after all, we want to be able to assure the faithful of the absolution of their sins without violating the seal of the confessional, which mandates secrecy of what is said in the confessional. We don’t want someone to overhear what is being said, but we want to still remain able to be ministers of the sacrament.”
Bentley’s parish also has partnered with the Paintsville School System to provide lunches on certain days. They distribute them to some of their homebound parishioners, older parishioners or anyone else in need in the community. Their deacon is organizing efforts for people to receive communion, either in a short service on their front porch or in a drive-through type service.
by Cindy Long
April 8, 2020