Patrick McAlinden Sr. participates in his cousin’s wedding as an altar server. Courtesy photos
Patrick McAlinden Sr. participates in his cousin’s wedding as an altar server. Courtesy photos
At St. Alphonsus Parish in Hopewell, members of three generations of McAlindens – Gerard, Patrick and Patrick Jr. – have served at the altar. If God is good, and the McAlindens don’t doubt that at all, before very long, Patrick Jr., 12, will resume that ministry.

Like altar servers across numerous states, the young man hasn’t been able to fulfill that service since the coronavirus struck. The family has made a limited return to church, however – first to parking lot Masses and then inside, adhering to attendance limitations – but young Patrick still awaits the moment he can again serve.

His mother, Kim, says the family – Patrick included – understands times are difficult right now, considering the circumstances. “It’s something we’ve never seen in our lifetime,” and utmost caution is called for, she said. But she also knows her son is eager to resume his ministry. After all, Patrick has been a steady churchgoer since he was two.

Early Start

Kim McAlinden explains that she and her husband have been bringing their son to church regularly from the start, wanting to teach him about the Mass and instill in him a commitment to the Catholic faith.

So as Patrick got older, he knew he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and become an altar server. That was after he received his First Holy Communion five years ago. Ever since, Patrick has embraced the ministry that brought him into the Mystery of the Eucharist experienced by his elders.

“I wanted to help out at church,” he said, explaining that being an altar server, “gives me a completely different view of what it is like to be part of the Mass. I feel more happy helping.”

Patrick, a rising seventh-grader, said it has been a gift to assist priests at Mass, as well as other liturgical celebrations. His duties include carrying the cross and candles during processions, holding the missal for the celebrant during Mass, assisting with incense and holy water, and ringing the altar bells during Mass.

Family Service

Gerard McAlinden, 87, was born near the parish, was baptized in St. Alphonsus Church, and served as an altar boy there until he was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. He was badly injured before deployment, and over the years, he shared stories with his son and grandson of how his abiding faith was key to getting his health back. He believes those stories have had an enduring impact on both Patrick and Patrick Jr.

Their involvement in the Church is an example of that, he said. “I think it’s great that they could get up and show their reverence to God [by serving]. It’s a great experience.”

Of seeing his grandson become a third-generation altar server, he said, “I had hoped for it, and it happened.”

Patrick McAlinden, a lifelong parishioner, explained that he served as a youngster – as he only lived a block away and received all his Sacraments at the church. “My dad encouraged me, but it was something I wanted to do,” he said. “I thought it was a real honor to be on the altar.”

As a teen, he stopped altar serving and became more active in the Civil Air Patrol, which is why he’s even prouder to see his son continue. “I think it is so important to share your faith all the time.”

Faith-sharing happens quite often in the McAlinden family. Kim McAlinden says serving in the Church is something the family often talks about around the dinner table.

The elder McAlindens, she said, discuss “what it was like when they were younger and served.”