Houston-area priest dies, five members of his religious order test positive for COVID-19

A Houston-area priest has died as the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese announces five members of his religious order test positive for COVID-19.

Fr. Donnell Kirchner, 79, died last Wednesday after he was diagnosed with pneumonia and sent home with medication, officials said on Monday.

The specific cause of death is unknown, but he had been recently treated at an urgent care clinic who referred him to a hospital emergency room.

It is not clear if he was tested for COVID-19 at either facility.

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Kirchner worked at Holy Ghost Church in Bellaire, and shared a home with seven other members of his religious order.

Officials say all seven members of the Redemptorists religious community got tested and five of them tested positive for COVID-19, including two priests who had been active in public masses at Holy Ghost since May 2.

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"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," the Archdiocese said in a statement.

As a result of these findings, all Masses at Holy Ghost Church remain canceled until further notice.

The parish and the Archdiocese have also informed the City of Houston Health Department.

"While Holy Ghost Church has a seating capacity of approximately 900, in-person attendance at Mass has been closely controlled," the Archdiocese added. Church officials say "Sunday masses have not exceeded 179 attendees since public Masses resumed on May 2, and weekday mass attendance was a small fraction of that amount."