CENTRAL POINT — An eighth-grader from Shepherd of the Valley Parish here proved that she’s not only smart, but also might be one of the most zealous altar servers in the nation.
Colette Henry, who will attend Hedrick Middle School in Medford in the fall, was chosen to represent the Pacific Northwest at a June youth leadership conference sponsored by the White House. Her grades and community service won her the honor.
Colette was thrilled, until she looked at the calendar. The two-week trip to Washington, D.C., would conflict with her altar server duties at Shepherd of the Valley. She was not about to miss serving.
Colette, 12, joined the altar server corps when she was 7, a year younger than guidelines suggest. Colette is mature for her age.
“I was super interested and could sit still,” she explains. “I thought it would be a good way to participate in Mass.”
She likes being near Jesus in the Eucharist, so serves three or four times each weekend, including at the Spanish Mass. At Christmas, her only gift request was to serve at every yuletide liturgy at Shepherd of the Valley.
Colette was in agony over the scheduling conflict. Her parents explained that the parish would understand and that it would be possible to find substitutes. That was no comfort to Colette.
Seeing her daughter’s dilemma, Denyce Henry started contacting Catholic churches in the nation’s capital to see if they would accept an itinerant server from across the nation for a few weekends.
Denyce heard back from St. Matthew the Apostle Cathedral, where a delighted Msgr. Ronald Jameson invited Colette to serve at two Masses. What’s more, because Colette is petite and the St. Matthew albs tend to run big, the cathedral bought her an alb that fit just right.
Colette calls St. Matthew the Apostle Cathedral “ginormous.” The parish was established in 1840 and the current expansive cathedral was built in 1895. Colette was able to sit for a moment in the same chair St. John Paul II used on a visit to the United States in 1979.
“It was really cool to be there,” she says, admitting she was nervous at first. “Everyone there was so nice. They said, ‘If you need help, we will help you.’”
One of a half dozen servers, her job was to walk up with the book when the presider had to say prayers. She carried it off flawlessly.
When it was time to return to Oregon, Msgr. Jameson joked with Colette that people at the cathedral wished she would stay.
At the leadership conference, youths were encouraged to step forward. They also toured historic sites like Harper’s Ferry, the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial and monuments for the Vietnam and Korean wars.
Colette would like to be a forensic anthropologist who studies history, culture and learning. Meantime, she will serve at Mass as much and as long as she can.
Colette’s Catholic enthusiasm extends beyond liturgy. She helps with weekly Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults sessions as a classroom aide. She refuses playdates, parties and sleepovers so she can make it to the Wednesday night church gatherings.
True to form, Colette would like to go through the sacrament of confirmation immediately. Her parents have told her she must wait until she is of age.
“She is on a road that is completely her own,” says Denyce. “I have never seen a 12-year-old who is that devoted to church. It’s endearing.”