A Franciscan friar is DC’s first known coronavirus fatality

Photo: The Franciscan Monastery at 14th and Quincy Streets near the Brookland neighborhood of Northeast Washington, D.C. Credit: Abraham Sobkowski, OFM/wikimedia CC BY SA

By Jonah McKeown

Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2020 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- A Franciscan friar is the first person known to have died as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the District of Columbia.

Br. John-Sebastian Laird-Hammond, OFM, was hospitalized with the virus last week, and died Friday, the Washington Post reported.

The friar had been in residence at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America since the 1980s, Father Larry Dunham, superior of the monastery, told the Post March 21. Laird-Hammond, 59, had been battling leukemia for years, Dunham added.

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser had announced the District’s first death related to the virus on Friday but did not reveal the person’s identity.

Laird-Hammond was Secretariat of the monastery’s board of directors, according to the monastery’s website. The friar had been running the monastery’s day-to-day operations as business manager for the past 14 years, Dunham told the Post.

The friar had recently been approved for a transfer to an order in New York, where he was going to be involved in fundraising efforts for missions in Central America, according to the Washington Post.

“It was going to be like a whole new focus and life for him,” Dunham told the Post.

“That was to be his new assignment that never quite materialized.”

The monastery, which is a national shrine, has not yet been reached by CNA for comment.

A priory of the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans, has had a mission to support Christians in the Holy Land, and to serve as custodians, or guardians, of the sacred sites of the Holy Land since 1342. The Franciscan Monastery in Washington, DC is affiliated directly with that mission.

Washington D.C. had 72 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of March 20. In the greater Washington area, which includes parts of Maryland and Virginia, the talley stood at 338 confirmed cases as of March 20.

A priest in the Diocese of Yakima, Washington was the first U.S. priest known to be diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 15. A second U.S. priest, Fr. Stephen Planning, SJ, president of DC’s Gonzaga College High School, announced this week he also has the virus.   In Italy, at least 30 priests so far have died of the coronavirus.

The global tally of confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus worldwide is now over 300,000.

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