Student Sacristans Deepen Faith through Service

November 19, 2021

Sacristans have a sacred responsibility during the Catholic liturgy. They are entrusted with ensuring the smooth running of the Mass, allowing the celebrant to concentrate fully on his role. At St. John’s University, students perform this function at Masses held at St. Thomas More Church throughout the year.

“I love helping people. It’s a part of who I am,” explained Sacristan Hailey Pomara, a Sport Management major. “I’m here at St. Thomas More Church five times a week.”

Hailey and Health and Human Services major Raphael Civil, both juniors and Catholic Scholars, are two of the seven student Sacristans at St. John’s. They must handle the bread and wine with the care and love required for the body and blood of Christ. Additionally, the sacristan arranges the books needed for the celebration, marking all of the divisions. They often lay out the vestments and anything else needed for the celebration, such as cruets, chalices, ciboria, linens, oils, processional crosses, candles, and torches. Sacristans also ensure that the Eucharist is in the tabernacle.

“The role of a sacristan is a highly specialized ministry that takes great dedication, knowledge of Catholic liturgy, and the ability to serve on the altar with poise and grace,” noted Andrea M. Pinnavaia ’07C, ’08G, Campus Minister for Liturgy and Faith Formation, Campus Ministry. “They represent the University at all celebrations of the sacraments, which often involve outside guests and priest celebrants. Cardinals and bishops have remarked at their skill and ability while serving on the altar. Their leadership is an integral part of the day-to-day work of our campus church.”

Raphael, a native of Accokeek, MD, grew up in a strong Catholic family and was an altar server in his home parish. Hailey, who is from Center Moriches, NY, said that Sunday Mass was always a priority for her family; she has been an altar server since third grade. 

“I always worked closely with the youth group in my parish and shared my faith journey with the younger kids,” she remarked.

“Toward the end of high school I was also ushering,” Raphael said, adding, “I was always involved in parish life in some form or fashion.”

Ms. Pinnavaia approached Hailey and Raphael to take on this responsibility when she witnessed their deep commitments to their faith lives. Both serve at two daily Masses per week and on Sundays. They are also members of the St. John’s University chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and work as Campus Ministry Student Assistants. “When Andrea approached me it was a definite ‘yes,’” Raphael stressed.

While being a sacristan is reminiscent of their time as altar servers, both agree there is more responsibility. “Here we set up what’s required and put away when Mass is over, making sure the hosts are in the tabernacle,” Hailey said.

Hailey noted that when she started as an altar server in her home parish, she was one of the first females; in her experience, she says today there are now almost an equal number of women serving at Mass as men. 

Both agree that attending St. John’s enhances their already strong faith. They come from small towns, and meeting so many like-minded peers gives them a deeper experience of faith and a feeling of connectedness. 

“I have found so many kindred spirits,” Hailey said. “In my first year, I got to know Raphy and other students who have become my best friends, and my faith has only gotten stronger.”

During the early days of the pandemic, the pair dealt with challenges to their roles. They would set up and break down for Mass but would not directly serve. Hailey is also a member of the choir; only six members were able to participate at any given time to allow for social distancing. 

“It wasn’t ideal, because we loved doing things as a group, but we got through it,” she noted.

Both expect faith will remain an integral part of their lives after graduation. Raphael noted his faith experience has inspired him to enter a service-oriented profession, potentially in the public health sector. 

Hailey said, “After experiencing all that is involved behind the scenes to prepare for Mass, there’s no way I can’t be a part of it going forward.”