Diocesan News

Holy Water Fonts Adapt to Pandemic Times

Similar in design to sensory hand sanitizing stations, parishioners can move their hand underneath a nozzle and receive drops of holy water to bless themselves. (Photo: Courtesy of Prospect Hill Company)

BENSONHURST — Some parishioners still instinctively motion their right hand to the holy water fonts to bless themselves and make the sign of the cross upon entering the church. Holy water fonts have remained dry, though, since churches in Brooklyn and Queens reopened on May 26, due to health and safety measures.

However, companies and entrepreneurs have gotten creative while expressing their faith by building touch-free holy water font dispensers. Similar in design to sensory hand sanitizing stations, parishioners can move their hand underneath a nozzle and receive drops of holy water to bless themselves. This requires zero contact, which is safe and hygienic for users.

Tim McMullen, owner of Prospect Hill Company in Massachusetts that sells supplies and other religious products to Catholic churches and schools, said a Louisiana pastor reached out to him last spring, inquiring if there was a mechanism that could distribute holy water.

“The pastor said, ‘Tim, my parishioners miss holy water. I saw your ad about the sanitizing station. Why can’t we do that for holy water?’ ” McMullen explained. “So, we got together with the sanitizing station’s manufacturer, and they adapted a nozzle that would be perfect for water and gauged it accordingly.”

Since May 2020, Prospect Hill has sold about 130 metallic stand-up holy water dispensers. Clergy members across the country provided more feedback to McMullen, asking if the automated dispensers could look less medical in appearance so as to not confuse parishioners.

As a result, Prospect Hill rolled out another dispenser option on its website earlier this month — a carved oak touch-free holy water font that stands up as a pedestal or can be mounted to a wall. The font comes in three different wood finishes, has adjustable water flow, and features a ceramic bowl with a strainer — meaning excess water will drip through the strainer and be collected into a basin underneath.

Photo: Courtesy of Prospect Hill Company

Within eight days, Prospect Hill sold 42 wooden fonts, including two that will be shipped to Australia.

McMullen does not believe a touch-free font will become obsolete once the pandemic ends.

“While it took me a while to get used to sacred holy water coming out of a high-tech contactless dispenser, the fact that I could now safely bless myself brought me comfort,” he said.

“Should regular holy water fonts be used again — and frankly, we hope they are — many Catholics will prefer a touchless option. Because blessing yourself as you walk into and out of the church is such a beautiful tradition.”

McMullen added that his company also sells disinfectants and other cleaning supplies for churches, schools, and diocesan offices. “We’ve tried to stay ahead of the curve to help out our churches across the country with these products that are available,” he said.

“Parishes and parishioners have enough to do. They shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel and create and find these products on their own.”

Some parishioners at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Bensonhurst have been asking their pastor, Msgr. Robert J. Romano, when the holy water will return.

When he recently flipped through a church supplies catalog and saw the touch-free holy water font dispensers, Msgr. Romano said he loved the fact that they existed. This is another way, he explained, that his church can take extra precautions in keeping Mass attendees safe.

“People thought it was a good idea and that’s what we’re going to use now,” said Msgr. Romano, who has ordered eight touch-free wooden fonts that will be placed by the church’s doors. Five fonts were still available for parishioners to donate to the church, as of March 14.

While Our Lady of Guadalupe parish waits for the fonts to arrive, Msgr. Romano reiterated that the parish will be distributing bottles of blessed Easter water after this year’s Easter Sunday Masses.