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Volunteers the fuel that keeps our parish running

Michelle Commisso, above, has been a Faith Formation catechist in the parish for 22 years. She said her volunteering led to a professional career. “I absolutely fell in love with teaching,” she said. “… I went back to college to earn a bachelor’s degree in education and have been an elementary school teacher in the Oriskany Central School District for the past 17 years.”

By FRAN PERRITANO

Though she didn’t know it at the time, Michelle Commisso’s decision to volunteer in our parish would change her life.

Michelle, 55, has been volunteering as a catechist for 22 years. She also assists with the First Reconciliation and First Communion children.

Her life changed after her decision to volunteer two decades ago.

“I began teaching religious education when my daughter was in kindergarten (she will be 27 years old in May),” Michelle said. “On the back of the enrollment form there was a place to check if interested in volunteering. I didn’t give it much thought and checked ‘yes.’ Sister Linda was the director of religious education at the time and asked if I would be interested in teaching first grade. Teaching?

“When I agreed to volunteer, I never had teaching in mind. However, I decided to give a try, and let’s just say, the rest is history. I absolutely fell in love with teaching. Shortly thereafter, I went back to college to earn a bachelor’s degree in education and have been an elementary school teacher in the Oriskany Central School District for the past 17 years.”

Volunteers are the lifeblood of Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament Parish. Without them, it’s safe to say, the parish would not survive. From catechists to Eucharistic ministers, altar servers, lectors, office personnel, music ministry, the parish festival — and others too numerous to mention, volunteering is a worthwhile endeavor.

Just ask Michelle.

“I will forever be grateful to the Holy Spirit for intervening,” she said. “Had I not volunteered all those years ago at this parish as a catechist, I would have missed out at a career that I absolutely adore. I continue to volunteer for many reasons. Volunteering is one small way for me to express my gratitude — mostly, I love the children and families of this parish. Lastly, I have met so many wonderful people and made lifelong friendships because I volunteer.”

Importance of volunteers

If you think Michelle’s been volunteering for a long time, check out 95-year-old Rosemarie Chiffy. She’s been volunteering here since she was about 13 years old.

“My grandmother introduced me to working in the rectory and I felt then, as I do now, that helping out whenever and wherever you can is very important. I enjoy being part of the church community,” she said. “I have worked on the Liturgy Committee, as a lector and Eucharistic minister, sacristy ministry, St. Anne and Mount Carmel societies, scripture groups, bereavement ministry and have helped with the church festival.

“In times like these, with priest shortages, I feel volunteers are more important than ever,” Rosemarie said. “One person cannot possibly complete all of the work that needs to be done in the church. Volunteers can relieve the priest of certain duties so that he is able to have more time for his pastoral duties. 

At age 92, Vicki Perritano probably is the second-oldest parish volunteer. She’s a Eucharistic minister, prepares everything for daily Mass and Saturday afternoon liturgy (she’s in church five days a week), lectors on occasion and prepares the gifts sometimes for funeral Masses.

Her road to volunteering at Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament began with taking care of her sister and brother-in-law.

“I began volunteering and taking care of family when I retired in 1995,” she said. “I don’t know if you could call it volunteering, but at that time, I began taking care of my sister and her husband. My brother-in-law died in September of 1998, and my sister died in January of 2005 — thus (leaving) a big void in my life doing service to others.

“When I began attending daily Mass, I felt I could do more than going to Mass. Thus, I became a Eucharistic minister. It gave me great pleasure to be able to distribute the Holy Eucharist to my fellow churchgoers. I was serving a purpose for God and myself.”

Vicki said the parish could not survive without volunteers.

“Volunteers are able to do things that would not be accomplished because our pastor cannot do everything,” she said. “They visit the sick and give them communion. They serve Mass. They distribute communion during holy Mass with father. They take care of the altar linens. They decorate the church. They prepare for daily and weekend Masses.

“I could go on and on, but volunteers are the backbone of any parish and are greatly needed so it can continue to survive and flourish.”

John Reale has volunteered for almost 40 years — since he was an altar server in fourth grade at Mount Carmel School. He currently is a Eucharistic minister, serves on the Liturgy Committee, is co-chair of the Mount Carmel Society and volunteers for the parish festival.

“Volunteers are the lifeblood of any organization such as a parish community. Without the involvement of volunteers there really wouldn’t be much life to a parish,” John said. “Gone are the days where the mentality was that the priests and nuns would do everything. As the baptized we are all called to roll up our sleeves and serve in Christ’s mission in any way we feel called to do in the parish. With so many opportunities to be involved there is something for everyone to share their talents and not just their treasure.

“Over the years I think the parish has learned how important it is to enlist the younger and newer members of the parish to volunteer even in areas that were once thought to be for the ‘elder members’ of the parish only. For any parish to survive we have to be open to welcoming new volunteers and not close our minds on new ideas. It is good to remember our heritage and keep those memories alive, but we have to listen to the new members and younger ones if we plan on staying a vibrant parish into the future.”

New blood is needed

Tony Leone is 67 and has volunteered in the parish for more than 20 years, primarily at the festival and as an usher. He does it because he enjoys “giving back to the parish.”

“Volunteers are very important to our parish. It keeps all our programs and traditions going,” Tony said. “If everyone stopped volunteering, all our traditions, like the festival, would stop. The next generation needs to step up and get involved.

“Sometimes people just don’t volunteer on their own; sometimes they need to be asked to get involved and they enjoy it when they do. … Our young people need to get involved as much as possible, I know it’s hard when you are raising a family. We have a beautiful church that they will never build them like this anymore.”

Many of our volunteers are getting older and no one is replacing them. Just a few months ago, Father Jim put a flier in the bulletin and in church listing all the areas where people could volunteer. The first time around, he received only one response. A couple of months later, he asked again, and this time received a few more.

“If our volunteer pool dried up and no one else joins in, our parish will change dramatically,” Michelle warned. “Much of what makes our parish so special will eventually disappear. They say it takes a village to raise a child. In my opinion, it takes a village to keep a parish alive and well.”

Rosemarie echoed those sentiments.

“If new volunteers don’t step up, I fear that the parish would fail and we might have to close,” she said. “The role of volunteers is crucial to keep things going. I don’t think people realize how much work goes into running the church.”

John also fears the worst if more people don’t step up.”

“If that were to happen then the candle will slowly die out in our parish,” he said. “Running a parish takes a great deal of effort on so many levels from liturgy to catechesis and sacramental prep, to fund-raising functions, maintenance of the whole parish campus, the list goes on. Like a family where all need to pitch in to run a household; we need to do the same to run our parish and keep it alive.”

Why you should volunteer

So, how can you help?

There is a list of ministries on our parish website. Prayerfully look at the list and determine what you would like to do. Then call the parish office at 315-735-1482 and volunteer.

“We encourage parishioners to pray over which ministry they feel their gifts and talents would be the best served,” John said. “We have something for everyone in most all age groups. It’s also an opportunity to get to know your fellow parishioners and build on those relationships outside of just weekend Mass. My challenge would also be to our older parishioners to be welcoming to new thoughts and ideas so we know our parish will continue beyond our time here and continue God’s mission for us.

“Being a Catholic Christian is not a spectator sport,” he added. “You need to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty to do Christ’s work. The work of the gospel is not just for the ordained but for all of the baptized. It’s more than just about ourselves and our personal time with Christ … but we need to be an active parish community to be Christ-like to all.”

Michelle said volunteering will take your life to a place you never would have imagined.

“Volunteering as a catechist has changed my life. I would encourage everyone to give it a try. You never know what God has in mind for you. You may stumble across a career you never dreamed of, like me. At the very least, you will meet some wonderful people.”

How to volunteer
If you would like to join the ranks of Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament’s volunteers, call the parish office at 315-735-1482. You can check a list of ministries on our parish website at www.mountcarmelblessedsacrament.com. You’ll find it in the right column. Click on MINISTRIES under the WELCOME area.