By LINDA BEHRENS
On Mondays at Mater Dei Catholic High School in Breese, the students in the various theology classes attend Mass, alternating each week by class period.
At these Masses and the nine all-school Masses held throughout the year, the students might receive communion from their fellow students – students who have been trained as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.
Mater Dei students have been trained as extraordinary ministers for 30 years, since the fall of 1992.
Senior students who possess a desire to play a more active role in the celebration of the Eucharist are invited to serve as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.
After completing the required training—which took place for most of them over the summer months—the senior students were commissioned at a Mass.
In addition to serving the Mater Dei Catholic High School community, these students may also serve their parish communities.
“This is a reverent way to assist others in receiving Christ,” says Colleen McDermott, director of campus ministry at Mater Dei High School for six years.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for the students; a humble way to give back to others,” she says, “at school and in the community.”
Fifteen students were trained this summer and since the current school year began.
During training, the students learn the history and expectations of being an extraordinary minister and are shown the vessels the priests use. They practice distributing and receiving communion using unconsecrated hosts and water in the chalice.
“They practice all ways to give the host, including how to give the host on the tongue, if that is what the person prefers,” McDermott says. “They also learn how to hold, turn and wipe the chalice at quarter turns.”
During Mass at the school, McDermott explains that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they only offer the Body of Christ at this time, per the Diocese of Belleville. They use eight extraordinary ministers for this.
McDermott says that she works with the students’ parish priests, who must approve their participation in the program. After they receive training through the school, she notifies the priests.
The students must receive additional training at their parishes, to learn the procedures at the churches.
The extraordinary ministers also are teachers of faith formation (parish school of religion) at area parish grade schools. When Mass is held with the faith formation students, these extraordinary ministers will distribute Eucharist.
Ministers and teachers
On school days, the students arrive at the parish schools at 7:15 a.m. to meet with the schools’ directors of religious education. They then teach that day’s lesson plan with the students. By 8:30 a.m., they continue their day at Mater Dei.
This first hour of the school day is considered the teaching faith formation class, and the students receive credit for this time.
“While teaching faith formation to young children, the seniors grow and develop during the year,” McDermott says. “As teachers, our Mater Dei students have an impact on the grade school students that is really moving.”
Owen Huelsmann, 18, a resident of Germantown, is a faith formation teacher at St. Boniface Parish and an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.
“When I was younger, I remember the older students teaching us about their faith,” Huelsmann recalls. One day I decided I wanted to do that in return.”
Huelsmann adds that he is glad that he can help young students understand their faith.
“It’s important that they know what our faith means. It will be important for them when they are older,” he explains.
Huelsmann’s parents are also extraordinary ministers at St. Boniface Parish in Germantown. He plans to continue to be an extraordinary minister following graduation from Mater Dei next summer.
Julia Korte, 17, from Damiansville, is a faith formation teacher at St. Damien Parish in Damiansville and an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.
Julia’s mother and both of her grandmothers also serve as extraordinary ministers. Her mom, Erin, became an extraordinary minister when she was a senior at Mater Dei High School in 1995.
“Growing up, I saw my mom and my grandmas at Mass giving communion,” Julia says. “When I got the opportunity to do this, it was an automatic, ‘Yes.’”
She mentions the various stages of her faith formation, such as first communion and confirmation.
“This is another step I can take to further my faith,” she says.
Korte adds, “I like to teach the younger kids what I know. It’s good for them to know that not only adults care for them. But kids like me, who are not much older than they are, care for them, too.”
“My parents were extraordinary ministers in Aviston, and I served with them after being trained at Mater Dei when I was in high school,” says Erin Korte. “My mother-in-law still serves in Damiansville.”
She adds, “Now that Julia is a minister, I’m sure we will serve together some day. She is following in our footsteps and keeping a family tradition alive.”
“The students who choose to be extraordinary ministers are usually pretty wonderful students,” McDermott says. “They are mature in their faith and really dedicated to serving as extraordinary ministers.”
McDermott adds, “This experience makes their commitment to being Catholic stronger.”