by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — Conduct a quick review of any parish’s roster of activities and ministries and chances are you won’t find Maria Becker’s listed.
But Becker has found a unique way to nurture the youngest parishioners of St. Joseph/Sacred Heart Parish in Topeka through what has recently been dubbed her “cookie ministry”.
Every weekend for at least the past 10 years, Becker has made it a priority to prepare a treat for the children of the parish who attend the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass. After Mass, she stands near the main doors of the church (inside or outside, depending on the weather) with a basket filled with everything from gummy bears to fresh fruit to homemade cookies to popsicles.
As families exit the vestibule, most of the children make a beeline to where Becker stands waiting to distribute that weekend’s surprise. Since she has been a fixture at the parish long before many of the youngsters were born, some little parishioners have not yet realized that not every Mass comes complete with a little treat at the end.
Becker said she didn’t plan to start providing treats for kids. Rather, it’s something that just evolved. In fact, she won’t even take credit for the original idea, since years ago, a gentleman of the parish used to supply bubble gum to any child who would ask him for it.
Becker’s baking for the children of the parish began when her husband was still alive and the couple would sit behind several young families for first Saturday Mass or devotions. The Beckers, who had five children, 24 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren of their own, so enjoyed seeing the families at Mass and visiting with them afterwards, that they began to bring cookies or brownies along to distribute.
Eventually, the number of families grew to half a dozen. Then, in 2001, the events of 9/11 caused Becker to stop and reflect on what a different world today’s kids were being raised in, compared to earlier generations. She also decided that it wasn’t fair for some children of the parish to receive treats and not others.
So she promptly decided to make, bake or provide enough cookies, cupcakes or candy bars for all the children who attended the 8 a.m. Mass — usually around 50. Although she often worries about running out of whatever the weekly treat happens to be, she has yet to do so. And she often has enough for a few adults to enjoy a treat, too.
One weekend, for example, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann made a parish visit during which he was offered that week’s selection of graham crackers and frosting. According to Becker, he enjoyed the snack and, in fact, was among the first to comment on her “regular little ministry” within the parish.
But it is not only the youngest parishioners who appreciate Becker’s efforts.
Matt Mercer, who, along with his wife Gretchen, has five children ranging in age from 2 to 13, said Becker’s ministry has been a blessing to the entire parish.
“It encourages fellowship after Mass,” explained Mercer. “Many families will stick around afterward and talk with one another. Kids will get a snack and play with each other, as well as visit with Maria.”
It’s not only that the kids appreciate it, said Mercer.
“It brings the community together,” he added.
Moreover, Becker has become sort of a grandmother figure to the children, he said, especially to those whose grandparents do not live nearby or whose grandparents have passed away.
But for Becker, it’s all about teaching the children a lesson in love.
“By giving them a little treat,” she said simply, “the kids are receiving love in some small measure.
“If they receive love, then they will give love to others.”