Father Robert Reiker rolled up his sleeve, and Walgreens pharmacist Josh Guinn injected the COVID-19 vaccine.
“A quick stick. Not too bad, was it?” Guinn asked.
“Just alright,” Father Reiker said, smiling.
Father Reiker, pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Lemay, was among 91 older priests of the archdiocese as well as employees of the Regina Cleri residence for retired priests scheduled to receive the vaccination Jan. 29 at the Regina Cleri residence for retired priests. “Better to get the shot than the virus,” said Father Reiker, 73.
He said he sees it as a way to protect the people of his parish as well as keep himself healthy, an act of responsibility. “It’ll keep me on my feet. They don’t need their pastor going down with COVID. We also owe it to the community for the common good.”
Msgr. Richard Hanneke, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in University City who is 71, said it’s important for people to get vaccinated “to knock this thing out of the park. A mask is one way we love another, too. I’m protecting myself and protecting you from me.”
Sue Rockamann, coordinator of the priest wellness program of the archdiocese, said the vaccinations were set up for staff and residents of Regina Cleri. Walgreens had extra vaccines, so she could invite other older priests, strictly following federal guidelines for the order of eligible candidates for the vaccine. She registered on multiple sites such as the county and state for unlicensed care facilities, and a Walgreens representative called to let her know it received the assignment.
On April 18 last year, Regina Cleri reported its first case of COVID-19. Eventually, 29 of 31 residents tested positive for the virus, as did 13 of 25 employees. Mike Miller, administrator of Regina Cleri, said the priests and staff have their health back. “The guys are back to ministering, feeling well with good camaraderie and good spirits,” he said.
Miller said the vaccinations will bring peace of mind. “They’ve been social distancing, and will continue. A number of guys were concerned, as their antibodies decreased, about the possibility of getting it a second time,” he said.
Father James Winzerling was one of the priests at Regina Cleri who had COVID-19 earlier. He gladly received the vaccination. “I was on hospice but came out of it. I had two great doctors, and I’m indebted to them because I’m not supposed to be here,” he said.
Father Bernard Wilkins, who is retired and in residence at St. Gertrude Parish in Krakow, said he had no hesitation in getting the vaccine. “I don’t want to get that virus, and I don’t want to give it to anyone else, either,” he explained.
Bishop Morgan Casey, a Regina Cleri resident, tested positive for COVID-19 in May when he was in the hospital, but he didn’t have symptoms. There’s no reason for not taking the vaccine, he said, especially since it protects others. “I don’t have any fear of it at all,” he said.
The Vatican’s doctrinal office said that it is morally acceptable to receive the current COVID-19 vaccines.