Houston priest dies as members of his religious order test positive for COVID-19

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston says a priest who worked at Holy Ghost parish has died after five members of his religious order have tested positive for coronavirus.

Donnell Kirchner, 79, died last week after he was diagnosed with pneumonia, officials said on Monday.

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said Kirchner was recently treated at a local urgent care clinic who referred him to a hospital emergency room.

After he was diagnosed with pneumonia, the archdiocese said he was not admitted to the hospital and was sent home with medication.

"It is not clear if he was tested for COVID-19 at either facility," read the statement.

Kirchner worked at Holy Ghost parish in Bellaire. Officials said he shared a home with seven other members of his religious order.

They add that this past weekend, five of the seven members of the Redemptorists religious community tested positive for COVID-19, including two priests who had been active in public Masses at Holy Ghost since May 2.

"Following Fr. Kirchner's death, the other members of the religious order sought medical advice, and all were tested for the coronavirus," continued the statement. "Although the parish had followed cleaning, sanitation and social distancing guidelines prescribed by State health officials since reopening on May 2nd, they determined at that time it was best to close the Church immediately to public Masses until the results of their tests were known."

All Masses at Holy Ghost Church will remain canceled until further notice. The church has a seating capacity of approximately 900, although in-person attendance at Mass has been closely controlled.

"Sunday Masses have never exceeded 179 attendees since public Masses resumed on May 2nd and weekday Mass attendance was a small fraction of that amount," said the Archdiocese. "Of course, if you have attended Masses in person at Holy Ghost Church since the reopening on May 2nd, you are strongly encouraged to monitor your health for any symptoms and be tested for COVID-19, as a precautionary measure."
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