by Joe Bollig
PRAIRIE VILLAGE — Every year without fail, St. Ann Parish here would experience a mysterious phenomenon:
Altar servers would disappear from the sanctuary.
Boys who had faithfully (more or less) served Mass through grade school and the middle school/junior high years would become high school freshmen and . . .
Poof. They’d disappear from the altars.
And St. Ann Parish was not alone. Parishes all across the archdiocese would still see these young men at Mass with their families. They’d just drop out of serving — and, instead, sit glued to the pews.
Andrew Lynch, faith formation director at St. Ann Parish, identified the problem — but not a solution.
That’s when the boys spoke up.
“I teach the confirmation class for students in the eighth grade,” said Lynch. “I talked with them about how it would be nice for high school students to stay involved [in serving].”
After three years of making this plea, a group of six boys came forward and said they’d keep serving as a group — if Lynch would come up with some sort of program.
So in 2015, Lynch and Deacon Steve Nguyen came up with a program that combined fun, fellowship, formation and a touch of vocational motivation.
They called it the Knights of St. Tarcisius.
Normally, nearly all the high school-aged boys would drop out. But that year, the six stayed. The next year, there were six more.
“We went from keeping one or two, to keeping 100 percent of the high-school aged boy servers, and we had to train 10 new boys who had never served before because they wanted to join the Knights,” said Lynch.
“That’s a big turnaround. Going from one or two a year to 30 is a pretty big thing,” he added.
The Knights of Tarcisius is a boys-only program for several reasons, said Lynch.
One is that the Knights are challenged to model themselves after St. Tarcisius, the third-century boy martyr and patron saint of altar servers. The group is also intended to promote vocations to the priesthood, a goal specifically supported by a directive from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
Finally, there also just doesn’t seem to be a demand by high school girls for this kind of program.
The Knights have been meeting one Sunday a month at St. Ann after the 10:30 a.m. Mass. Knights serve all the Masses at the parish on the weekend they meet.
“Our monthly meeting will involve advanced server training,” said Lynch. “It will also have general formation about our faith and practices, and a bit of fellowship as well. On a normal meeting, we’ll have small group discussion and lunch.
“About thee times a year, we’ll have a ‘Sunday Fun Day,’” he added. “It could be going to a movie or playing games. In June, we went paint balling and had a pool party. In November, our Sunday Fun Day will be a one-day rocket build. I’ll teach them about astronomy and Catholic cosmology while we’re building rockets, and then we’ll fire them off.”
Being a Knight of St. Tarcisius also includes advancement in rank. The four ranks are Squire, Knights’ Apprentice, Knight and finally Grand Knight.
The program is still under development, but will eventually be bigger in more than numbers. Lynch plans for each participating parish to eventually form small groups called “minyans.” Each minyan will consist of Knights, a lay leader and a cleric.
“Minyan” is a Jewish term for a quorum of adults required to accomplish certain religious obligations, such as a prayer meeting.
“Right now, we are concentrating on members and not minyans,” said Lynch. “I expect by May or June 2018 we’ll have several minyans.”
The Knights are experiencing strong membership growth, according to Lynch. Pastors like the program, too.
There are new members — or expressed interest — from Curé of Ars, St. Michael the Archangel, and Church of the Nativity in Leawood; Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish in Overland Park; and Holy Trinity Parish and St. James Academy in Lenexa.
Lynch also met recently with Bishop James V. Johnston and several pastors, boys and parents from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph about expanding the program to include parishes across the state line. Two current members of the group are from Visitation Parish in Kansas City, Missouri.
In order to accommodate growth, the Knights will begin meeting on a regional basis at Curé of Ars. The first regional meeting will be held after the 6 p.m. Mass on Oct. 15.