Palm Beach Gardens | Youth and young adults from throughout the Diocese of Palm Beach filled the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola Oct. 26, for the Altar Server Mass organized by the diocese’s Office of Vocations.
Any youth or young adult trained as an altar server was invited to the Mass in celebration of National Vocation Awareness Week — Nov. 3-9. Ten altar servers were honored for having served ten or more years, receiving special recognition from Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito for their dedication and commitment to the faith.
Jennifer Perkins, a 23-year-old parishioner of St. Thomas More Parish in Boynton Beach, arrived prepared to join the Mass procession. She has served for 15 years.
“It’s funny how I began serving. I kept falling asleep in church when I was little, so my mother encouraged me to take up altar serving so that I would be engaged in the Mass instead of not paying attention,” Perkins said. “What started out as a solution to a child’s short attention span, turned into a lifelong desire to assist with the Mass.”
She added she enjoys learning the traditions of the Mass, appreciating her privileged proximity to the Eucharist on the altar.
“Not everyone gets to be an altar server. Being a server is a vital role in the process of the Mass and you really have to want to do it,” Perkins said. “I’ve had the opportunity to train younger altar servers. It’s inspiring to see their hearts for service.”
Also being honored that morning was 18-year-old Yvi Stimphil, a parishioner of St. Ann Parish in West Palm Beach. Stimphil has been altar serving for 11 years and recalled the desire she felt to be involved in the Mass at a young age.
“When you altar serve, you’re more in tune with the Mass,” she said. “You have to listen closely and really understand what’s going on. This developed in me a stronger connection to my faith—a passion for serving others—especially the little ones coming up below me.”
The diocese’s Office of Vocations organized this special Mass celebration for the altar servers throughout the diocese with the intention of fostering a call to vocations. Melissa Martin, an 18-year-old parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in Stuart, took to the Cathedral’s podium to tell her vocation story.
“When I was little, I had a deep feeling that I should give myself to God,” she said. “As I got older, I suppressed that feeling because society doesn’t really give you the chance to explore a vocation or doesn’t encourage you to do it. It’s more focused on partying, keeping up with friends or pushing the idea of marriage. But in high school, I went to a charismatic group and felt the Holy Spirit move me. I clearly heard a voice in my head say, ‘I want you to be mine.’ I felt this deep rush of desire to follow Christ and I began exploring the idea of becoming a religious sister.”
It was clear that Martin was filled with emotion as she began to tear up in the middle of her speech in front of the 800 families that captivatedly listened.
“My father has a resentment against the Church, and he doesn’t accept that I’ve chosen this life for myself. Many find it difficult to see the beauty in religious life, remaining chaste and devoted to Christ,” she said. “But everything placed in my journey to a vocation has been placed there by God to draw me closer to him. It’s not easy, but I’m here to share the pains and the joys of this path with others who might be called to serve the Lord.”
Martin is considering joining the Sisters of the Most Holy Soul of Christ, a community that serves her home parish of St. Joseph. Currently, she is in her final year of a bachelor’s degree in human services, specializing in youth and family studies. She is a peer mentor at Indian River State College in Fort Pierce and hopes to embark on a master’s degree in mental health counseling.
Martin’s older brother, Joshua, is also discerning the priesthood at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary.
“I’ve witnessed the power of prayer on my brother’s path to vocations. I can only hope I will benefit from the same spiritual encouragement,” she said.
Joey Zarcone and Louis Padavano, seminarians at St. John Vianney Seminary in Miami, also shared their vocation story with the community. Zarcone drew on his difficult past and renewed discovery of the Catholic faith as a testament to finding a call to vocations at any stage in life. Padavano, who began as an altar server in 1996, encouraged the students present to “serve Christ in every little thing you do, not just on the altar.”