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Archives Youth gather at cathedral for Altar Server Picnic

Aug. 28, 2019

By Darcy Fargo
Editor

OGDENSBURG – While he was first attracted to being an altar server because the seats reserved for the servers have cushions, unlike the pews at his parish, Jacob Mitchell, 13, a resident of Peru, said the job also has other perks.

“I get to be up there doing things other people don’t get to do,” Mitchell said. “And I get to serve God and meet people.”

Mitchell was one of several dozen altar servers who attended the annual diocesan Altar Server Picnic on Aug. 16 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ogdensburg. Other servers in attendance had other reasons they first became interested in serving.

“I like being able to help the deacons and priest,” added Cassandra Neddo, 17 of Lowville. “I converted (to Catholicism) when I was 12 or 13. I really felt called to serve on the altar.”

“Serving has given me a lot of opportunities,” said Noah Comet, 14, of Lowville. “It helped me complete my community service for scouting, and it brought me here. Someday, I’d like to serve a Mass with the Bishop. That would be cool.”

The servers’ kicked off the gathering with a tour of the cathedral before hearing brief discussions of vocations from Sister M. Gregory Munger, director of vocations for the Sisters of St. Joseph in Watertown, and Matt Conger, seminarian for the diocese.

Learning about vocations
“As servers, you are blessed to be very close to the Blessed Sacrament,” Sister Gregory said. “You are also called to lead the congregation in prayer. Thank you for answering that call.”

Sister Gregory noted that we’re all called to holiness in our baptisms.

“You put on an alb when serving,” she said. “It’s a good time to think about your baptismal day – a day you probably don’t remember – when a white garment was put on you, and you became a child of God, and you were called to be holy.”

Sister Gregory told the youth they could also find holiness by pursuing the vocation to which they are called, whether it be religious life, priesthood, marriage or single life.

Introducing Conger, Father Christopher C. Carrara, vicar for clergy and vocations director for the diocese, noted that not only do we find holiness in discerning our vocations, we also find happiness.

“God has a special plan for our lives,” Father Carrara said. “It’s not doing what I want to do that brings happiness, we find true happiness in doing what God wants us to do.”

Conger noted that he first resisted pursuing his vocation to the priesthood.

“Growing up, people were always telling me I’d be a wonderful priest,” he said. “But I was young and stubborn – now I’m older and stubborn – and I pushed the idea aside.”

Conger said he discovered in high school that he wanted to find a career that would put him in service to others, but he still wasn’t sure what that was.

It was through prayer and the inspiration of a priest, Father James F. Shurtleff, that he became open to a vocation to the priesthood.

“I saw that he would drop everything to serve and to help people,” Conger said. “And he always seemed happy. He was always smiling.”

Even after entering seminary, Conger said he reached a point where he needed to step away from his formation. During that year, he worked for an agency that provides care to individuals with disabilities. While with that agency, he was with several individuals in the agency’s care as they passed away, moments that had a profound impact on him.

“I was there with them, and I would pray for them, but it made me think about how much more I could’ve done for them as a priest,” he said.

Time with the bishop
The young servers and their families then attended Mass celebrated by Bishop Terry R. LaValley.

“I’ve come upon a whole lot of bridges, bridges of all different shapes and sizes, as I travel around northern New York,” Bishop LaValley told the servers and those gathered for the Mass.

The bishop noted that bridges function to connect bodies of land, and he noted that bridges are also used as a symbol of the life of a priest.

“A priest connects God with God’s people,” he said. “This happens in a very powerful way in the administration of the sacraments.”

He also noted that a priest connects God’s people with God.

“It’s not one-way travel,” he said.

Bishop LaValley encouraged the altar servers to also serve as connection points, noting their role calls them “to do the best you can to connect with God and be a source of connection to others.”

Rite of Admission to Candidacy
During the Mass, the youth were able see two diocesan seminarians, Jude Nnadibuagha and John K. Ojuok, Rite of Admissionpublicly declare their intentions to pursue Holy Orders and become officially accepted as candidates for ordination in the Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders.

Explaining the rite to the youth, Father Carrara compared the process of becoming a priest to the process of becoming married.

“If you think of marriage, there are steps you take before you get there,” he said. “First you date, then you get engaged and then you get married. This is like the engagement step. In engagement, you declare you intend to get married. In this rite, they’re making a statement, and the bishop is accepting it, that they intend to enter the priesthood.”

After Mass, the youth and their families, along with priests and consecrated religious from around the diocese and members of the Diocese of Ogdensburg Vocation Society (DOVS) were treated to lunch and a tour of bishop’s residence.

“It was a good opportunity to see other servers from around the diocese,” said Neddo.

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