Blessed Sacrament care package program a hit
by luke eggleston
sun staff writer
Recently, at Blessed Sacrament Church, Father Kevin Maloney baptized a child who was wearing the same gown his grandfather had worn many decades before. That baptism offers a snapshot into the identity of a church that has always been intergenerational.
In recent years, however, the church had forgotten part of its identity: its youth.
When Father Maloney arrived at the parish in Eastwood, there were few opportunities for young people in the parish.
“Is boring an okay word? There really was nothing,” said Trevor Wallace, senior at Bishop Ludden Junior/Senior High School who attends Blessed Sacrament.
Father Peter Reddick and other parish leaders asked Father Maloney to change the youth culture at Blessed Sacrament.
He started off small with open gym sessions and other small group activities. Since then, the parish has added CYO basketball and an annual youth trip to Nazareth Farm in West Virginia.
Last year, as part of its Lenten program, the parish began a new tradition as youths were given a chance to put together care packages for Blessed Sacrament parishioners who are away at college as well as for Syracuse Diocese seminarians.
Father Maloney got the idea for the program from Father Tom Servatius when he was at St. James in Johnson City. In its second year, the program has been a hit.
“It’s fun because we just joke around,” said Matt Catalano, another Ludden senior who attends Blessed Sacrament.
Both Wallace and Catalano are heavily involved in various programs at Ludden along with parish affairs at Blessed Sacrament. Catalano plays soccer and lacrosse for the Gaelic Knights, while Wallace plays golf and is in student government as well as the parish council at Blessed Sacrament. Both of them are involved in the Big Brother/Big Sister program at Ludden and both play CYO basketball at the church.
The care package program serves a dual purpose. It gives youths at Blessed Sacrament another opportunity to participate in an activity together, and it also helps keep students who are away at college in touch with their home parish.
The care packages consist of snacks that are donated by the parish. The snacks are generally light and nutritious. Father Maloney explained that this aspect ensures that the parish takes a sense of ownership in the project. The packages also include a prayer book as well as cookies that the youths bake on their own. The youths also write notes of encouragement to their fellow parishioners away at college.
Wallace himself baked several batches of cookies with mixed results.
On occasion, the youths use the care packages for practical jokes.
Both Catalano and Wallace are themselves currently considering several colleges.
Father Maloney warned that they might want to be careful when choosing what they send.
“What these guys need to realize is that they’ll be in college next year and there may be payback,” Father Maloney said.
Four participants in the program’s inaugural year are currently away at college and they received care packages of their own this year. Father Maloney said he is always receiving notes of gratitude from those who receive the packages.
“Thank you for the Lenten care package,” Cornell University student Anna Bottar recently wrote to Father Maloney in a letter addressed to each of the program’s participants. “I did not give up any of the food items as my Lenten sacrifice so I can enjoy all the treats inside the box. I was able to go to Ash Wednesday Mass here and they gave us a ‘Sacred Space’ book with daily prayers so between that and your little black book I am set to put aside time for prayer.”
Father Maloney recently touched base with Deacon Chris Celentano, a fourth year seminarian at St. Mary’s Seminary and University.
“The care packages couldn’t have come at a better time for me,” Celentano said. “Having to study for my comprehensive exams and being able to enjoy a few snacks while studying was such a nice gesture from the kids at Blessed Sacrament.”
Father Maloney believes that the reinvigorated youth program at Blessed Sacrament has had a positive impact on the parish as a whole. After hearing the youth ensemble, for example, many parishioners told Father Maloney, “That was the best music we’ve had in years.”
“I think they’re just saying that they want the parish to have more of a youthful identity,” Father Maloney said.