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1/12/2017 9:00:00 AM
Athens/Catskill 'internships' help teens prepare for confirmation
Confirmation candidate Sarah O'Leary and her ministry partner, music director Vincent Brennan Jr., play at Mass
Confirmation candidate Sarah O'Leary and her ministry partner, music director Vincent Brennan Jr., play at Mass

St. Patrick's parishes in Athens and Catskill are preparing teenagers to rise up as the future of the Church.

Receiving the sacrament of confirmation indicates that a Catholic has made the decision to to go on living the faith as an adult. In Athens and Catskill, young people prepare for the sacrament by learning in-depth about a parish ministry.

The linked parishes' "ministry partner program" teams up youths for several years with an adult who already serves in one of several different parish ministries. The young person gets experience in a ministry of his or her choosing, and the adult acts as a mentor.

Sister Mary Mazza, CND, parish life director, began the program in 1993 to help focus the service portion of confirmation preparation at the parishes.

"The adult teaches them about how to go about carrying out a ministry," she said. "You want them to develop a sense of reverence to the liturgy."

The confirmation candidates are able to become extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, help with music ministry, provide hospitality or minister to the homebound. Sister Mary recalled one confirmation candidate who chose baking for the parish social hour as his ministry.

"It was hard trying to find out what to do," said Sarah O'Leary, who made her confirmation Jan. 7. "There are a lot of options. I picked music because I do play the flute in school for my school band."

Sarah, a sophomore at Coxasackie-Athens High School, has shadowed family friend and parish music director Vincent Brennan Jr. for about four years. The duo gets together before Mass each week to discuss and run through any music they have prepared.

"She's a brilliant student," Mr. Brennan boasted.

For Sam Palmateer, hospitality ministry called his name.

"I go to church early. I welcome everyone; then, at the end [of Mass], I collect books and help people out the door. I thought it would be the best way for me to give back to the Church," he explained.

Having participated in hospitality ministry for more than four years, Sam is now a student at Siena College in Loudonville, majoring in accounting - but he still goes home most weekends to serve at his parish.

"It has strengthened my faith," he told The Evangelist. "Without it, I definitely wouldn't be going [to church] as much as I do. It keeps me motivated."

Sister Mary sees the program as a real success. "The fruits of it still amaze me," she remarked; "especially when young adults come home from college and want to be scheduled to serve during the times they are home. College graduates return home, start careers and get right back on the regular schedule."

The confirmands all stressed that, had it not been for their mentors, they wouldn't have gained such respect for the need for their particular ministry.

For Aiden Christine, a senior at Coxsackie-Athens High School, working with Janine O'Leary helped him understand the reverence needed to be a eucharistic minister.

He called his mentor "pretty much a pro" who taught him how to distribute the Eucharist to people who receive it in the hand or on the tongue.

Aiden had already been an altar server for years when he participated in the ministry partner program. He said that becoming a eucharistic minister -- especially following his confirmation -- seemed like a natural progression.

One doesn't have to have a vocation to religious life to make Catholic faith an important part of it, he said.

Through the Athens/Catskill program, "you learn how to put yourself in [the picture of] the future of the Church," he said. "It has to be passed down at some point."

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