Members of Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s altar servers club marked the group’s 30th anniversary last month. From left, William Kwan, president of the club, Justin Xu, 13, Aaron Wang, 15, Jeremy Yip, general manager of the club, and Simon Yuen, past president. Photo by Joshua Santos

Altar servers club goes well beyond the Mass

  • October 13, 2019

It’s called the altar servers club, but the title doesn’t begin to describe its role and impact at Toronto’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish.

The members of the club at Toronto’s downtown Chinese parish not only serve at Masses, but also visit hospitals and seniors’ homes, feed the homeless, attend annual retreats, help underprivileged families with homework and music lessons, participate in cultural and season celebrations and meet on a monthly basis todiscuss upcoming Church events.

Simon Yuen remembers when he first joined the club in the early 1980s.

“I was about 12 years old,” said Yuen, now 50. “What started as serving Mass quickly grew to take on various roles within the group, from managing our social activities to scheduling and ensuring every single Mass has altar servers and now ultimately, the past president of the altars servers club.”

The club went through growing pains, being disbanded at one point before Yuen was asked by the late Fr. John Mak to revive the club in 1989. 

Last month, the club marked its 30th anniversary at Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s Community Centre.

There are currently 27 members in the club for active servers. Anyone who has been baptized and is willing to become an altar server is eligible to join and its members range from youngsters to adults in their 30s. 

Yuen said it’s gratifying to see former altar servers growing up and returning to the parish, reflecting on their past and reminiscing on the times spent together.

“Over the years, these kids have grown into so many professions, like doctors, surgeons, lawyers; they’re all back here today after 30 years just to reminisce on the past and you can see how proud they are to see their humble beginnings,” said Yuen, who handed over the club president role to William Kwan five years ago but continues to provide support as a consultant and youth minister.

Aaron Wang, 15, is an altar server from Mississauga. He said the club was a good opportunity to make friends and become closer to God.

“I felt more spiritually better, physically better and mentally better,” said Wang. “Simon (Yuen) taught me piano and Simon and the leadership group turned me into who I am as a leader and helper to others.”

Wang said he talks to his friends and classmates about joining the club.

“They can see all the fun we have and all the people we become close with, that are all around us every week,” said Wang.

Yuen did not expect the club to grow as big as it has today. 

He said the club has been like a stepping stone for a lot of Chinese immigrants, bridging that gap between the Canadian-born youth and their heritage.

“Over the years, what I find myself doing is getting a sense of purpose and meaning in this particular parish because this is where the need is,” said Yuen.

“It’s truly a vibrant Catholic community that ought to be that way where people feel they can fall back on to the second family of friends and extended family members.”

Justin Xu, 13, said altar servers do a lot more than just serve God during Sunday Mass.

“Within the community there’s a lot going on, like going on retreats, going to other cities and going to other spiritual events to interact with other people,” said Xu. “There’s a lot more going on in the community.”

For Yuen, it’s important to keep the club going.

“That’s how a youth ministry becomes vibrant and relevant to these kids,” said Yuen. 

“Not just listening to 10 minutes of a homily each week on how to apply it and act it out whereas when we have a community of people together, we share the same values, goals and those friendships last. It means something to be a Catholic.”

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