Altar servers reach for the stars on Friday nights, stay grounded in their faith every day
by Alfredo E. Cardenas, South Texas Catholic
November 1, 2012
Our Lady of Refuge altar servers proudly display state championship rings at church altar where they serve every Sunday. From left are Jack Gumm, Brett Davis, Cameron Sternadel, Colton Carol and John Wesley Shipp.
Alfredo E. Cardenas, South Texas Catholic
The town takes its name from Nuestra Señora del Refugio, the last Catholic mission established by Spanish Franciscan missionaries in 1793 to take Christ to the Karankawa Indians and bring the Karankawa to Christ. During its first half-century of existence the mission and the town underwent constant upheaval. During this time, it went from being Spanish to Mexican to Texan and finally to American.
Through it all, it remained Catholic.
After the original mission fell into disrepair and was abandoned, Irish Catholic settlers came into the area and, together with remaining Mexican Catholic families, revived the church as Our Lady of Refuge. Later, in 1886, a second Catholic church was established in the small community and named St. James the Apostle. Today, although other Christian denominations have established churches in Refugio and an ecumenical spirit thrives, its Catholic identity remains strong.
But, Refugio’s modern identity is equally tied to its school’s exploits on the football field. Mention Refugio to any sports fan in Texas and immediately the comeback is “great football teams.” Indeed, the Refugio Bobcats have earned accolades far and wide for their success through the years, climaxing with their second state championship last year.
Bridging the town’s native and modern histories are five altar servers at Our Lady of Refuge, who also are members of the 2011 Bobcat state championship team. They are equally proud of their Catholic Christian faith and the faith they place on their fellow Bobcat team members.
Refugio Bobcat captains, all Catholics, meet opposing team leaders at the start of a recent game. Starting at left are Cameron Sternadel (14), Draigon Silvas (2), Jack Gumm (12), Travis Quintanilla (34) and John Wesley Shipp (34). Sternadel, Gumm and Shipp are altar servers at Our Lady of Refuge.
Photo by Neil Tucker for the Refugio County Press
Sternadel, along with seniors John Wesley Shipp, Jack Gumm, Brett Davis and Colton Carol, all proudly wear their state championship rings while they serve at the altar at Our Lady of Refuge on Sunday. Their pastor, Father Philip Panackal, is equally proud of them.
“These boys are loved by all and their presence at the altar makes a difference,” Father Panackal said. “They help the parish in all its activities and their leadership qualities are a great reward for our parish and the community. They are role models.”
Shipp, an all-state defensive lineman and altar server since the sixth grade, said he has “Father Phillip’s back no matter what.” He goes to Father Panackal for advise on Sunday, just as he does to his football coach during practice. When all is said and done, however, Shipp points to God for his and his team’s success.
“I wake up in the morning and I pray for giving me another day; I go to bed and I pray for giving me another safe day,” Shipp said. “He is really the main coach. Thanking Him and praying for Him for allowing you to do the best of your ability. He is the main One in all of this.”
Gumm, who has been an altar server since he was six-years-old, credits his Catholic faith with helping him and his team’s success. “As Catholics we learn not to judge, to see stuff from other people’s perspective. It keeps teammates together, dedicated to the team,” the strong outside linebacker said.
“We put a lot of time into altar serving,” said senior receiver Brett Davis who has been an altar server since he was in the fifth grade. “It is really important in our lives. It really has shaped us in a good, positive way. It has brought us closer in relationship to God as a team and as family.”
Carol has been serving since he was in the second grade. The back-up center and long snapper sees similarities in his love of football and his church. “You work hard to get a win, and you have to work hard to keep your faith,” he said.
Altar servers to be recognized
The Diocese of Corpus Christi will hold its 2012 Altar Server Recognition Ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 18, at Corpus Christi Cathedral at 3 p.m. The ceremony will begin with a prayer service and then go into the recognition awards. There will be no Mass.
Both boys and girls altar servers will be recognized in three categories: Eucharistic Cross Bearer, Outstanding Server for the Local Parish and Recognition for 10 Years of Service.
To be eligible for Eucharistic Cross Bearer a server must have served for at least three years and promise to serve throughout his or her high school years. Servers must be at least in the 9th grade, approved by his or her pastor and be a model of dedication to serving. Eucharistic Cross recipients, both girls and boys, wear a red sash and a Eucharistic cross, attached to a red cord.
One male and one female server from each parish can be recognized for outstanding service over the past year. These servers will be recognized with a plaque.
Any server who has served 10 years is eligible to receive a purple cord presented by the bishop in recognition for their longstanding dedication to serving. All 10-year servers will be able to wear purple cords throughout their senior year.
A reception, sponsored by the Catholic Daughters, will be held in St. Joseph’s Hall following the ceremony. For more information regarding the Altar Server Recognition Ceremony, contact DeNeise Thomson at (361) 986-1200 or (361) 244-0929 or visit www.diocesecc.org/servers.
“We get a lot of criticism but our coach’s job is to put points on the board and keep the other team from putting points on the board. That’s every coach’s job,” Shipp said. He added that the second and third teams practice as hard as the first string, “they don’t want to take a knee.”
“Its just a game,” Davis said. “We are just trying to play a game and get better. We don’t even look at the score.”
“We all believe in God. We all thank god for getting out of game healthy. We don’t ask him to help us win but just allow us to do our best or to do whatever our plan or His plan is for us. We never ask for us to win because that would be selfish. We always want to do what right with Him; to give our best effort,” Shipp said.
While Father Panackal is rightfully proud of these altar servers, he beams with equal pride on the accomplishments of other altar servers, choir members and young people in his parish. Since coming to Our Lady of Refuge in 2005, Father Panackal has seen one of his parishioners named either valedictorian or salutatorian at the local high school almost every year. In 2005, altar server Chase Linscomb was named salutatorian; in 2006, altar servers Kallie Gallagher and Hilary Gillespie were named valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively; Heather Gillespie was salutatorian the following year in 2007; altar server Madeline Myers was the 2008 valedictorian and Whitney Shipp, a choir soloist, was named salutatorian; and in 2009 altar server Britney Gumm earned salutatorian honors.
“The parents, brothers and sisters of our altar servers are very active in the church ministries and parish life,” Father Panackal said. “I appreciate their love for God and eagerness to serve the needs of the parish. I can see the happiness and grace in their lives.”