The Archdiocese of Dubuque will hold a memorial Mass this week for a visiting priest who died after contracting COVID-19 while trying to return to his home country of Ghana.
The Rev. Philip Mensah, 58, of the Archdiocese of Cape Coast, served in the Archdiocese of Dubuque from 2017 to 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic then prompted Ghana to close its borders in March, preventing him from traveling home. While staying with relatives in Baltimore, Mensah contracted COVID-19 and died on June 15, according to the Archdiocesan publication The Witness.
The article stated that although Mensah had tested positive for COVID-19, the cause of his death was unknown at that time.
During his time in Dubuque, Mensah lived at the St. Columbkille Parish rectory. He served as chaplain at Stonehill Franciscan Services and also ministered at parishes including St. Joseph Key West, St. Catherine, St. Donatus and Holy Family.
Laura Heiderscheit, director of resident services at Stonehill, said Mensah was an important presence at the care center, where his duties included saying daily Mass and leading weekly faith sharing groups with residents.
“He formed some really nice relationships with residents, family members and team members,” she said. “He was a very faith-filled man and wanted to bring that to everyone and help everyone recognize (God) in their life.”
Christopher Grow, director of faith formation at St. Joseph Parish, described Mensah as “a good and holy priest.”
“He was friendly, and he gave very passionate homilies,” Grow said. “I enjoyed hearing him preach.”
Once the staff at Stonehill heard that Mensah was ill, they prayed for him at daily Mass, which is currently being held virtually due to COVID-19. He battled the virus for some time, Heiderscheit said, and the employees and residents at Stonehill were “really hoping that things would turn around.”
When they learned he died, they held a special Mass in remembrance of him.
“We were very sad,” Heiderscheit said. ”He was just such a part of us. We got to know him really well, and he became a part of our family, and we were just really shocked and very surprised. It’s heartbreaking because he was quite young, and it’s just very sad that he was traveling to his homeland. He was anxious to be home.”
In memory of Mensah, there will be a memorial Mass at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 23, at St. Columbkille Catholic Church.