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Altar Server Appreciation Day
Approximately 250 altar servers and chaperones gathered in Gaylord for the annual Altar Server Appreciation Day. Sponsored by the Diocese of Gaylord and Knights of Columbus Councils, the day is planned annually by the Vocations Advisory Committee to recognize and thank altar servers for their ministry in parishes throughout the diocese, as well as to encourage them to continue to live as faithful Catholics following the call that God has for each of them.
Marking its fifth anniversary, this years event began with Mass at St. Mary Cathedral with Bishop Bernard Hebda presiding and Fr. James Bearss and Fr. Donald Geyman concelebrating. Music was led by Dr. Wayne Wyrembelski, Music Director at St. Mary Cathedral and the Scholars, a choral group of young men of the parish.
Highlighting the Gospel reading, Bishop Hebda drew attention to the man who gathered and stored up all manner of riches only to die before he ever had a chance to enjoy them.
How important it is that we dont fall for that, Bishop Hebda said. The things of this world all pass by. Theres nothing thats going to last. Theres nothing as valuable as our relationship with our God and indeed the invitation that He gives to us to spend life eternal with Him in Heaven. Thats the most important thing, the Bishop added. For us to let anything get in the way of that is a mistake. We want to make sure that were leading lives that show what a great gift Jesus is, what a great gift we are given in the Eucharist.
Im thrilled to be here with all of you who are altar servers, Bishop Hebda continued, because you already show me that you understand such an important gift in your life. You make that extra effort to participate in the celebration of Mass and indeed to show that the Eucharist -- Jesus body and blood -- is something thats really important to you, to your family, to your parish indeed to the whole community. By taking the time whenever its your turn on the schedule to make sure that youre all shined up, that youre ready to serve, that youre attentive, and that youre able to help the priest as he prepares for Mass and then celebrates it, you show you understand that whats really lasting, whats never going to melt, whats never going to evaporate, is Gods love and the gift that He gives to us in the Eucharist.
You are an inspiration for me, Bishop Hebda declared.
As he concluded his homily, the Bishop introduced the ten seminarians who are preparing for priesthood for the Diocese of Gaylord. (Four of whom were servers for the Mass.) The seminarians had just ended a weekend retreat and as they gathered in the morning, some had expressed to the Bishop that their current journey had begun as an altar server and that those experiences were very important in coming to really recognize the importance of the Eucharist. Bishop Hebda asked the assembly to continue pray for the seminarians and assured them of their prayers as well.
Following the liturgy, the altar servers huddled together with the Bishop, priests and seminarians in attendance for a group picture on the steps leading to the Cathedral sanctuary.
Everyone then enjoyed a picnic lunch in the Parish Hall prepared by members of the Knights of Columbus Council 6593 from Roscommon and Council 7329 from Mio. Several other K of C Councils from throughout the diocese provided funds to help offset expenses.
These were the best hotdogs ever! one of the youth exclaimed.
The entire group then travelled a short distance to the Otsego County Sportsplex for an afternoon of swimming, ice skating, use of the outdoor energy park and even pickleball. Pickleball is a new addition to the Sportsplex amenities which has been loosely described as indoor tennis played on a smaller court with larger ping pong paddles and a plastic ball.
For those looking for a quieter activity, Margaret Olesnavage shared her basket weaving skills. A hit with participants when the event was held in Alpena, Margaret again brought supplies so that those who desired to learn how to make a basket could also take home a finished project. Margaret is married to Dr. John Olesnavage, a psychologist who serves as a consultant to the Diocese of Gaylord and assists Fr. Don Geyman, Director of Vocations, in leading the Vocations Committee.
Our kids always have a great time and look forward to this event each year, remarked one chaperone. And its good for them to see theyre part of a bigger picture.
Asked if they were having fun, one group of skaters shouted, Yes! as they continued to fly by. Students were also eager to assist Fr. James Bearss, who was experiencing his first time on ice skates, as well as Fr. Gerald Okoli and Fr. Sylvestre Obwaka who reprised their 2007 appearances.
Seminarians and members of the Vocations Advisory Committee were on hand to assist as needed and enjoyed interacting with the youth. Nurse Jenny LeBlanc volunteered her afternoon to stand ready to soothe any bumps or bruises, though thankfully only a few bandaids were needed during the course of the day.
Bishop Hebda also spent the remainder of the day at the Sportsplex travelling from area to area talking with altar servers and their chaperones. Certainly many will count among their most memorable moments as being when Bishop Hebda, with his characteristic good humor, delighted the group by donning a pair of ice skates and circling the rink.
Marie Hahnenberg, a new member of the Vocations Committee, spent the afternoon visiting with young ladies and offering them the opportunity to sign up for a diocesan-wide girls club to parallel the St. Andrew Task Force which has existed for young men for several years. While providing opportunities to learn about vocations to the priesthood and religious life, both groups primary focus is to gather young people together in a faith-filled environment for prayer and activities as they discover how God is calling them to service throughout their lives.
We have been trying to get a group started for girls for quite a while, but just havent been able to really get it going, said Fr. Geyman. Marie brings a great enthusiasm and heart for this ministry and we are really hopeful for the future of this group.
Perhaps most simply put, this years Altar Server Appreciation Day was a celebration of our shared faith and ministry.
We are grateful to everyone who helps make this day possible, said Fr. Geyman. Though it is partially funded though gifts to CSA, we really couldnt do it without the Vocations Committee, the volunteers, parents and chaperones and the Knights of Columbus.