As a former physician, Fr. Dennis Saran knows that there is no shortage of barriers — from fear of doctors and medicine, to scheduling and transportation conflicts — that can stand between a patient and the health care he needs.

As a priest, he knows the same is true of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Just as many barriers often stand between a penitent and the sacramental grace that will heal his broken soul.

“But if you knew a doctor was available for 12 hours straight and you could drop in at any time, you would probably go to the doctor,” said Fr. Saran. “It’s the same thing with confession. If you build it, they will come.”

That’s precisely the reason for the success of the annual Pray, Reconcile, Rejoice: 12 Hours of Reconciliation sacramental event — though organizer Jenni Oliva doesn’t really like to use the word “success.”

“For something like this, you hate to say it’s been successful, because what does that mean? Anytime anyone goes to confession, that’s a wonderful testament to our faith,” said Oliva, Director of Archdiocesan Events and Special Programs for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Rather, accessibility is the yardstick by which she measures this event, which has become a mainstay of the late-Lenten calendar in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee since it was first offered in 2019.

“Trying to get to the sacraments in our world is hard, timing wise,” Oliva said. “Not everyone has between 3 and 4 p.m. on a Saturday available before Mass to be able to go to confession. Not everyone is able to make an appointment with their parish priest to be able to go to confession, either.”

On March 29, priests at 11 churches throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will hear confessions throughout the day. All sites are going to be open for a minimum of nine consecutive hours. Most will be open for 12 hours or more, and most also will offer the sacrament in Spanish for at least part of the time.

Fr. Ryan Pruess, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Fond du Lac, said that it is the convenience of the day-long event that has drawn hundreds of people to Holy Family, where confessions will be heard from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“We offer confession seven days a week at Holy Family in Fond du Lac, but even with that many opportunities to go, I feel people really enjoy the opportunity to go during the 12 Hours of Reconciliation,” he said.

“The people who come like the convenient availability of a good number of priest confessors throughout the day,” said Fr. Rick Stoffel, pastor of St. Peter Parish, Slinger, where confessions will be heard from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. “For working people as well as some of our older folks who do not do well coming out late at night, this is a great and well-appreciated option in addition to the weekly opportunities we provide in our parish clusters.”

Fr. Saran said that he also thinks many people enjoy the anonymity afforded by the large-scale event, and the prospect of a confessor who does not know them personally.

“The amount of people who came to these events since we started them has just inspired me,” said Fr. Saran, who is the pastor at St. Dominic Parish in Brookfield, where confessions will be heard from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Last year, Fr. Saran stayed late and heard confessions for close to eight consecutive hours. “I just couldn’t leave,” he said. “There were people (coming) who have not been to confession for 30 or 40 years. There were people who had come back after having a single bad experience in the second or third grade.”

Fr. Stoffel added that it is not uncommon for penitents to have “a certain amount of apprehension, embarrassment or reluctance” when returning to the sacrament after a long time away, but that the priests who participate in Pray, Reconcile, Rejoice: 12 Hours of Reconciliation pride themselves on being “helpful and understanding.”

“I’ve heard each year that so many have had such a good experience that they plan on not waiting as long for their next confession,” he said.

Volunteers will be present at each site to make visitors feel welcome, and cards will be distributed to assist with examinations of conscience and to describe the various elements of the sacrament for those who have not partaken in a while.

“People need to know that there is never any judgment on the part of the priest, just mercy,” said Fr. Pruess. “The priests are always thankful you are there to receive God’s mercy, because we are also beneficiaries and recipients of that same mercy when we go to confession.”

“If only people knew that all priests feel this way about it,” agreed Fr. Stoffel. “That it’s not just another function, another piece of the puzzle on another busy day but the reason we were ordained. The ‘more’ we can do is to emphasize that this sacrament, along with celebrating holy Mass, is the most important ministry of a priest as, through him, Christ continues to seek out and find his lost sheep.”

12 Hours of Reconciliation Locations

St. Dominic Parish, Brookfield

18255 W. Capitol Drive  •  8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (English only)

St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Burlington

441 Conkey St.  •  8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

(Habrá confesiones en español 4 p.m. a 8 p.m.)

Holy Family Parish, Fond du Lac

271 Fourth Street Way  •  8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

(Habrá confesiones en español 4 p.m. a 8 p.m.)

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Kenosha

5400 19th Ave. • 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

(Habrá confesiones en español 4 p.m. a 6 p.m.)

Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee

601 W. Lincoln Ave.  •  8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

(Habrá confesiones en español 8 a.m. a 9 p.m.)

St. Margaret Mary Parish, Milwaukee

3970 N. 92nd St.  •  8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

(Habrá confesiones en español 4 p.m. a 6 p.m.)

St. Matthias Parish, Milwaukee

9306 W. Beloit Road • 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

(Habrá confesiones en español 6 p.m. a 8 p.m.)

St. James Parish, Mukwonago

830 E. Veterans Way • 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

(Habrá confesiones en español 10 a.m. a noon)

St. Lucy Parish, Racine

3101 Drexel Ave. • 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

(Habrá confesiones en español 3 p.m. a 8 p.m.)

St. Peter Parish, Slinger

200 E. Washington St.  •  9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (English only)

St. Monica Parish, Whitefish Bay

5681 N. Santa Monica Blvd. •  8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

(Habrá confesiones en español 4 p.m. a 8 p.m.)