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home : features : parish life

6/22/2017 9:00:00 AM
Sweeneys still serve, even after growing up

Waking up early on Sundays, sticking to their commitment and remembering all the components of Mass could make some young Catholics wary of signing up as altar servers.

The Sweeney family of Blessed Sacrament parish in Mohawk feels differently.

Jacob, Abby and Mary Sweeney -- now ages 21, 18 and 16, respectively -- began serving on the altar when they were in ­elementary school. Abby and Mary still serve, while Jacob has moved on to volunteering as a eucharistic minister at Blessed Sacrament.

"It made me feel like I was contributing and helping the Church community," Jacob said of his service. He and Abby now attend Herkimer County Community College and work at a local pizzeria.

Abby, a sophomore at HCCC, has noticed that parishioners at Blessed Sacrament "think it's nice that we're all still involved, even though we're in college." She recalled her feeling of excitement when she began to serve, having watched her older brother on the altar when she was too young to volunteer.

The youngest Sweeney, Mary, just finished her sophomore year of high school. She works at another pizzeria and serves on the altar once or twice a month.

"I want to keep in touch with my religion," she told The Evangelist. "Religion is like my roots. I don't want to lose track of who I am, where I came from, all that stuff."

Being an altar server has made her pray more and feel more in touch with God, she said; she hopes to inspire children in the parish to sign up to serve, as well.

Mary also enjoys connecting with other parishioners through music. She played the trumpet at Christmas Mass last year, and would like to sing in the church choir next Christmas.

A large part of the Sweeney children's commitment to their parish comes from their father, Michael, a single dad.

"Mike has really done a superb job of raising these kids," said Sister Mary Jo Tallman, CSJ, parish life director at Blessed Sacrament. She's known the family since the children were very young. "They're very faith-filled people, and very dependable."

Aside from parish service, the Sweeneys enjoy taking walks together, watching movies, playing with their dogs and walking dogs at the local Humane Society. Jacob will soon begin working part-time with his father in sales; Abby will start her junior year of college and Mary, her junior year of high school.

Mary noted that her family always attended Mass together when she was growing up. As a child, whenever she had a nightmare, she'd go into her dad's room and he would recite the "Our Father" and pray for her to calm down.

"He raised us on responsibility and respect," Mary added. "He works every day, five days a week, 50 hours, and he still finds time to do things with us. He's just a very respectful and hard-working man."

Jacob told The Evangelist that his father, though never forcing anything on them, taught his children that faith was important and to help the Church out as much as they could.

"I just always tried to tell them to be good to others; don't judge people before you know them. If someone needs a hand, help them out. Always just smile, say hi," Mr. Sweeney explained.

He made his children responsible for keeping track of their commitments. If they were not able to serve because of work or schoolwork, it was their job to let Sister Mary Jo know.

Mr. Sweeney and his father and brothers had all been altar servers when they were growing up, so "there's a good amount of pride involved" in passing that on to the next generation, he said.

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