Albert Howes, head sacristan at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, is seen in the parish sacristy. (Susan Laielli | FC)

Sacristan believes his role is ‘prayer time’

Venice  |  When speaking with Albert Howes, one of two head sacristans at Epiphany Cathedral Parish in Venice, it is easy to understand how he loves working for Jesus Christ in his house, and thoroughly enjoys setting up the altar for Masses, especially those for Bishop Frank J. Dewane.

Howes, who nine years ago was mistakenly called “Alfred” for many months by Father Jack Costello, rector of the cathedral, still jokes about the mishap to this day.

“I left a message for Father Jack on his machine (recently), and I said this is ‘Alfred,’” Howes chuckled, clearly enjoying the joke. 

Since 2004, Howes has volunteered as a sacristan, which is someone appointed for the care of the sacristy, sacred vessels, vestments, and other articles for any liturgical function. Setting up for Mass and working with Bishop Dewane and all the priests and families at Epiphany Cathedral Parish is not something Howes could have imagined doing in 1988, but in hindsight God must’ve had a plan. 

Howes grew up Catholic. He and his wife of 66 years, Delores, lived in Revere and Chelsea, Mass. He worked as an over-the-road truck driver, and missed Mass frequently over a 12-year period due to the time constraints of travel. During a work trip to Las Vegas he felt the call to go to a church, where he was in time for Confession. 

With tears in his eyes, Howes recalled telling the priest he hadn’t been to church in about five years. He recalled the Confession as being a wonderful experience. 

“The priest granted me absolution and said, ‘Welcome back my son.’”

In 1988, Howes was diagnosed with a melanoma in his eye, requiring eye surgery and forcing an end to his professional truck driving career. Two years later he moved to Venice and found himself with more time to attend Mass. He soon volunteered as a Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist to the homebound, and eventually became one of the 14 faithful sacristans at Epiphany Cathedral. By 2005, Howes moved into the head sacristan role, along with Barbara Pestorius, who together ensure all Masses and funerals are prepared properly.

It is said that God works in mysterious ways, and such could be said in Howes’ case. Within two years of taking the role of head sacristan, he would learn a new Bishop was named for the Diocese of Venice in Florida in 2006, and the episcopal ordination would be at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.  

For foodies, that pressure might’ve been the equivalent of cooking a meal and setting a table for Wolfgang Puck in your home, due to the number of cardinals, bishops and dignitaries scheduled to arrive for the ordination.    

“I really love being a sacristan – I’m doing something useful. It’s prayer time for me. When I’m here inside the Church preparing for the Mass, you can feel the presence of Our Lord, There is a sense that I am not alone,” Howes said. “Remember in Psalms it says, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’” 

In June, he was instituted as an acolyte by Bishop Dewane at the cathedral at the same time as aspiring permanent deacons. He will not be going forward with his studies but is proud to achieve such a station in service to Holy Mother Church. 

Apparently, Howes has become quite a celebrity in Venice, running into people in supermarkets and restaurants who say hello as they recognize him from Church. His wife also made a promise to her husband when he told her he wanted to volunteer as a sacristan.

 “She said she’ll never complain about how much time I spend at the Church – and you know, to this day, she never has,” he said.