24-hour confessional, app attracts penitents, worldwide attention Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Aug. 08, 2013 -- 12:00 AM
The “My Confessor” app is available at The app lets people see when there is a priest available for confession. There is also a web version for people who do not have a smartphone. (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

PINE BLUFF -- On Sunday, Aug. 4, Catholics around the world celebrated the feast day of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests and tireless confessor. In Pine Bluff, just west of Madison, the day took on some extra meaning.

Fr. Rick Heilman, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Pine Bluff, dedicated a 24-hour confessional and related smartphone app, asking for intercessory prayers from the saint.

Getting noticed

Since the opening of the confessional and the launch of the app earlier this summer, they both have been getting national and international attention. After Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (a.k.a “Fr. Z”) talked about it in his blog, it was promptly picked up by the New York Daily News and other media such as Fox News, The Hindu newspaper in India, and the IrishCentral media site in Ireland.

With the word spreading fast, Father Rick hopes the confessional will help repair what he calls the “disconnect from the divine,” saying more Catholics are struggling with not being in a state of grace.

God ‘needs an army’

Father Rick is also the author of books such as Church Militant Field Manual: Special Forces Training for the Life in Christ and the founder of the Knights of Divine Mercy, a Catholic men’s apostolate.

“God needs an army,” Father Rick said. “We need the armor and confession gives us that armor.”

He quoted Ephesians 6:10-12, “Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.

Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”

Making it available

Father Rick said he had to “get creative” when it came to making the Sacrament of Reconciliation available to more people and more often.

He said while most priests are available for confession by appointment, most parishioners don’t like to call and “bother” the priest, or they prefer to do it anonymously.

“How do we cross that hurdle?” Father Rick asked. “How can we offer confession more anonymously?”

His solution was to build a 24-hour confessional and set up a smartphone app and website that shows his availability. The app is available at

If you do not have a smartphone, the website displays Father Rick’s availability, similar to the app. The website also contains information on how to make a proper examination of conscience and confession.

In the near future, there will also be an option to select other priests in the area, or even around the nation under the “Locate a Confessor” feature.

Going to the confessional

If the app or website shows Father Rick is available, you can go to the secure and anonymous confessional built in the entrance of the rectory, next to St. Mary Church. There is a small parking area in his driveway.

There’s a door buzzer you can press to the right of the front door. Father Rick, through an intercom, will ask if you are there for confession. He’ll ask you to wait for a few moments while he prepares, and then invite you in.

You’ll enter the rectory front door, and see the confessional and kneeler to your left. The door with the screen also doubles as the door to Father Rick’s office, which is closed to preserve the anonymity. There are small guides next to the screen to aid you in making a confession, including the Act of Contrition.

When you have received your absolution, you may pray in the small chapel directly across the hall, if you wish. Then, you can leave out the front door the same way you came in.

Putting on the ‘armor’

Father Rick said the more opportunities priests give parishioners to go to confession, the more they have a chance to put on that spiritual armor.

He added, “When we’re not in the state of grace, we become playthings to the devil.” He added we need to “choose God,” “be aggressive again,” and “power up” with Rosaries, devotions, and the Sacraments.

He cited 2 Corinthians 10:4, “For the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses.”

Father Rick’s 24-hour confessional is located at 3673 County Road P in Pine Bluff, next to St. Mary Church.

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