Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Automatic Holy Water Dispenser Removes Concerns of Germs

Traditional germ-laden holy water font. Photo courtesy: irishcentral.com

An Irish American firefighter has eased the worries of millions of churchgoers around the world by inventing an automatic holy water dispenser that eliminates the possibility of catching germs while blessing oneself with the water at church.

John Hartel, from Queens, has created an automatic holy water dispenser in the shape of a cross that provides one milliliter of water per person, allowing each cross to serve up to 350 parishioners.

The design of the dispenser has an infrared light that reads the presence of a hand underneath, and squirts holy water onto the person's fingers.

Hartel, a 13-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York, works out of Glen Oaks, Queens. It was during some downtime at the fire station 10 years ago that the idea to create an automatic holy water dispenser sprung to his Irish mind.

“The idea came from an innocent conversation at the kitchen table in the firehouse with another firefighter over a cup of coffee,” Hartel, 43, tells the Irish Voice.

“He told me that he does not shake people's hands during the sign of peace.”

When Hartel, married with two children, quizzed his firefighter brother further he also admitted he didn’t dip his fingers into the holy water font for fear other people “with filthy fingers and God knows what else who are also sticking their fingers in there.”

This conversation resonated with Hartel over the years and finally he came up with a solution -- create an automatic holy water dispenser so churchgoers could avoid catching other people’s germs.

Hartel met with a patent lawyer but was still unsure, so he shelved the idea for some more years.

“About two or three years ago the panic of germs or viruses or diseases started to grow worldwide, so I revisited the patent lawyer and started the process all by myself with the full support of my wife Helen,” he said.

After many failures and more trial and error, Hartel finally produced a product he is proud of.

Here's a video on how his holy water dispenser works.

“I now firmly believe that I really have the perfect product,” he says.

Hartel said he has been inundated with nothing but good wishes and people hoping to try the product out for themselves.

Hartel, whose grandmother is from Castlerea, Co. Roscommon, credits her for where he is today.

“She made the gut-wrenching decision to leave her family and come to America in 1917 so none of this would be possible without her,” said Hartel.

Wanting to keep his Irish grandmother’s spirit alive through his new venture, Hartel named his company JMH Castlerea after his grandmother’s place of birth.

Hartel hasn’t been to Ireland since 1987, but hopes his new venture will see him doing a lot of trans-Atlantic flying.

Inventor Luciano Marabese displays a prototype of his holy water dispenser at his office in Capriano Briosco, around 40 km (25 miles) north of Milan November 10, 2009. Photo courtesy: REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Meanwhile in Italy, an inspired inventor came up with a similar thought; and, is making big money on his invention.

The terracotta dispenser, used in the northern town of Fornaci di Briosco, functions like an automatic soap dispenser in public washrooms -- a churchgoer waves his or her hand under a sensor and the machine spurts out holy water.

Here's a short video on exactly how it works:

"It has been a bit of a novelty. People initially were a bit shocked by this technological innovation but then they welcomed it with great enthusiasm and joy. The members of this parish have got used to it," said Father Pierangelo Motta.

Catholics entering and leaving churches usually dip their hands into fonts full of holy water -- which has been blessed by a priest -- and make the sign of the cross.

But fear of contracting the H1N1 virus has led many in Italy -- where some 15 people have died of swine flu -- not to dip their hands in the communal water font.

"It's great," said worshipper Marta Caimm as she entered the church. "Thanks to this we are not worried about catching swine flu. It is the right thing for the times," she said.

Luciano Marabese, who invented the dispenser, said he did so out of concern that fear of swine flu was eroding traditions.

And he is now blessing himself all the way to the bank.

"After all the news that some churches, like Milan's cathedral, were suspending the use of holy water fonts as a measure against swine flu, demands for my invention shot to the stars. I have received orders from all over the world," he said.

It will be interesting to see if this comes to a church near me.

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