From altar boy to priest
I cannot remember a day in my life when I did not want to be a priest. Even at an early age of five or six, I can always remember answering the question, “What do you want to be when you grow-up?,” with the answer, “A priest.”
When did I begin to answer the call to priesthood? My first answer to the call of service in the Church came after my first holy Communion when I haunted Father Tom Lopes, the assistant at St. Elizabeth Parish in Fall River, to let me be an altar boy.
At first Father Tom was reluctant to say yes for two reasons: my head just about reached the top of the high altar; and I had to learn Latin, since in 1965 the Latin Mass was still celebrated.
I did not take no for an answer. Every chance I had to ask Father Tom, I would — and believe me there were many opportunities for me to bug him, since he was not only the assistant at the parish but a friend of the family who often visited our home.
He had only one choice, which was to say yes to a very persistent six-year-old.
I attended altar boy classes that summer on Saturday mornings. We learned the rubrics of the Mass as well as the Latin responses, which were drummed into my head by memory because I could not read the Latin on the servers’ cards. I thank my mom for helping me with the prayers and responses. Every day we would go over the responses so that I finally had them memorized. During the Saturday morning classes, we also learned how to serve at funerals, weddings and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
I passed the training classes and my first time serving at the altar was for a Sunday afternoon Benediction. I arrived at the church the required half-hour before it started, went to the “Altar Boy Sacristy,” and put on my cassock and surplice. Together with the older altar boys, I went out into the church, knelt at the altar rail, said a few quiet prayers before the ceremony, genuflected, and went to the priests’ sacristy. There I was struck with panic because Father João Medeiros, our pastor, was there. Until that afternoon every thing I had done in preparation had been with Father Tom; now the first time I was to serve would be with Father Medeiros. Even though Father Tom had told us that we would not only be assisting him but also our pastor, I was nonetheless caught off guard and wanted to turn around and run out.
Since it was time to begin, however, I processed out to the altar with the older servers and Father Medeiros. My role was small but needed: to bring Father Medeiros the humeral veil at the appropriate time.
Well, I missed my cue — and even now I still hear, in a deep almost Dracula-like voice traced with a Portuguese accent, “Mr. Gauvin, will you please get the cape?”
“Yes, Father,” I replied, and brought the humeral veil, placed it on his shoulders, knelt down to receive the Benediction and quickly and on cue retrieved the veil.
Why have I shared this story with you? It’s to show that a vocation to the priesthood begins at an early age for some men. An early vocation to the priesthood needs to be fostered by family and parish alike. My family and the parish community of St. Elizabeth fostered and encouraged my vocation to the priesthood.
I am grateful to my family for always supporting my vocation. I am thankful for the priests who have influenced my life’s vocation to the priesthood by their lived example of priestly life and service: Fathers Thomas Lopes, João Medeiros, Daniel Freitas, Jorge de J. Sousa, Joseph Viveiros and Manuel Ferreira have all in their own particular manner influenced my answering the call to service in the Church.
What might have happened if, at the end of Benediction some 44 years ago, I was told by Father Medeiros that it was wrong of me to have missed my cue, or if my mom and dad who were in church that afternoon together with my grandparents and godparents would had told me that I had embarrassed them so it was better for me to give up serving as an altar boy? I most likely would not be writing this article for The Anchor!
They didn’t, however, and I am proud to say that I never really left or quit serving as an altar boy. I took the next logical step for me after high school, applying for the seminary. After seven years of rather challenging studies, I was ordained to the priesthood by the Bishop Daniel A. Cronin on May 31, 1986 at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption.
A vocation to the priesthood is a fragile thing in our times. It needs to be treated like a priceless jewel. If you know a young man who may be exhibiting signs of a vocation to the priesthood, encourage him and his family to nurture the call that he has received from God. Also please pray for vocations to the priesthood, that the Lord of the harvest will send workers into the fields. I ask that in your generosity you also pray for me and my brothers in the priesthood, that we continue faithfully to follow the Lord in our daily lives as we renew the commitments we first made at our ordinations.
Father Gauvin is parochial vicar at Holy Trinity Parish in West Harwich.