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The people behind the scenes make our parish run

Like any walk of life, we priests meet our fair share of interesting characters along the way. One of the most interesting I have had the pleasure of knowing is a fellow by the name of John Attarian. I met John during my first priestly assignment, as parochial vicar at St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Ann Arbor.

My first Mass at St. Thomas was celebrated on a Wednesday afternoon – my first official day in the parish. Knowing me, I probably walked into the sacristy at about 11:30 that Wednesday morning, so that I would have plenty of time to make final preparations before the noon-time Mass. Entering the sacristy, I was greeted by a cheerful, bespectacled, handlebar-mustachioed gentleman in his late 40s. That was John. He had been hard at work in the sacristy for some time already and had everything set out and ready for Mass. Vestments had been selected and my alb was at the ready. The ribbons of the Sacramentary were all at the correct pages and all the vessels, as well as the bread and wine, were in their proper places. Candles had been lit, the church sound system was powered on, and the lights in the church were at their proper setting. That was John’s routine before every Mass for which he was the scheduled sacristan.

It was equally amazing to observe John’s disciplined ways after Mass. As he was putting things away, John would make sure that they were “just so.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone take so much joy and pride in polishing brass or gold until it gleamed. There was a place for each item and each item was safe and secure in its place when John was finished. John’s work and dedication as a sacristan were a wonder to behold. He certainly made the lives of the priests at St. Thomas much easier, giving us the time we needed to prepare spiritually for the celebration of the Eucharist.

I should mention one other interesting detail about John. He was a Ph. D. economist who was widely published in scholarly journals and had written several well-respected textbooks. The only way I knew this was that it had come up in a passing conversation with another parishioner. John himself never once mentioned his level of education or how he earned his daily bread. In John’s world, his facility with economics paled in comparison to the importance that he placed on making sure that everything was ready for the noon Mass at St. Thomas.

There are lots of people just like John in every parish. They tend to shy away from the spotlight and use their gifts in many ways that benefit all the people of God. Perhaps the prayerful days of Lent have helped you to perceive a particular gift or talent that you would like to put to good use for the benefit of your parish community. If so, talk to your pastor or any member of your parish staff. They can help you to find a way to put that gift to use, building up the body of Christ. It may be just one way that all of us can experience the new life of Easter. And so, our journey in FAITH continues.