A Connecticut priest says a new confessional recently installed at his parish stands as a visible sign of God's grace, and has increased churchgoers' participation in the sacrament.
“A confessional is a sign of the sacrament, and I wanted to have such a sign in the church,” said Father Janusz Kukulka, pastor of St. Mary the Immaculate Conception in Derby.
In a May 2 interview, Fr. Kukulka told CNA that more parishioners have now been seeking out the sacrament of reconciliation, “especially people who have not been to confession in many years.”
Although new to St. Mary's as of Feb. 16 this year, the oak confessional has a rich history – it was built in 1878 and until recently was located in an Iowa church.
That parish in the Dubuque archdiocese was closed as the state's population has shifted from farming communities to urban environments. The church was sold to a Lutheran community, which in turn sold the confessional to the Connecticut parish for $1,100.
St. Mary's was reconstructed in the 1970s, which included its two confessionals and communion rail being ripped out, as well as the altar being moved. The original confessionals were replaced by an unmarked “reconciliation room.”
The parish, which is in the Hartford archdiocese, now has a rejuvenation committee, one of the tasks of which was finding a traditional confessional for the church.
The committee began their search by looking online, according to The Catholic Transcript, Hartford's Catholic paper. A newly built confessional they found was prohibitively expensive, but they soon discovered the oak confessional from Iowa on eBay.
Lisa Knott, a parish member, donated the money for the confessional and dedicated it to the memory of her parents. Another parishioner, Timothy Conlon, traveled to Iowa to haul the confessional back to Connecticut.
It bears a plaque in memory of Knott's parents, Pasquale and Geraldina Scarpa, as a reminder to penitents to pray for them.
Fr. Kukulka told The Catholic Transcript that “the chancery is amazed that we made this progress in a very short time, so the archbishop twice complimented us.”
He thanked the Knotts and Conlon, whom he credited with the new development. “Physically they brought it and they paid. I am just here for spiritual input.”
The confessional was re-assembled in St. Mary's, and when it was finally used on Feb. 16, Lent had started three days earlier.
The Hartford archdiocese offered extended hours for confession at all its parishes, so the new confessional was put to good use.
Fr. Kukulka offers confessions every week, and is always receptive when he is asked to hear a confession.
“If someone asks, I go every time. I never say no,” he told CNA.
Parishioner Patrick Knott, Lisa's husband, said that even in his limited experience he's seen a “significant increase” in confessions at St. Mary's. The separation and privacy afforded by the confessional grill allows you to feel more “comfortable,” compared to a “reconciliation room,” he noted.
For Fr. Kukulka, it was important to promote more frequent reception of confession at his parish. The priest is from Poland, where he noted that the inculturation of Catholicism has a strong link between the sacraments of confession and communion.
“For me, the practice of going to Communion without confession is strange,” he said.
He considers the antique confessional to be less important than a spiritual emphasis on God's mercy as it is encountered in confessions.
In sacramental confession, the penitent is “receiving forgiveness of sins, and graces to be a better person for the future,” noted Fr. Kukulka.
“With God's graces first of all you receive the forgiveness of sins...and that's the point of my message as a priest.”