Youth tabernacle project raises awareness and funds

| Susan Klemond | December 1, 2010 | 3 Comments

Bishop Lee Piché, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, blesses the tabernacle during the dedication Nov. 20 of the baldachin and tabernacle at St. John the Baptist in New Brighton. Photo by Jim Bovin / For The Catholic Spirit

For Morgan Ulven, a fifth-grader at St. John the Baptist School in New Brighton, it was a cause she was willing to clean her room for — and even donate money she received from her grandma.

This fall, Ulven and the school and church’s 800 youth prepared for the Nov. 20 dedication of the parish’s tabernacle with prayer, instruction and sacrificial giving that netted enough to pay for artwork that will accompany the tabernacle in its new location in the sanctuary center.

The kids learned about the tabernacle and Eucharist while they raised more than $5,600 toward an icon of the Holy Spirit and banner which will be displayed with the new baldachin — or ornamental structure — housing the tabernacle and the triptych icon of the crucified Christ set behind it. In the process, the rest of the parish caught their enthusiasm.

“I was happy I got to participate,” Ulven said. “It’s something I get to see each Sunday. . . . I can kind of visualize Jesus present with us.”

The tabernacle placed behind the altar is a continual reminder of God’s grace, said Bishop Lee Piché, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis who blessed the tabernacle at the Nov. 20 liturgy for the Solemnity of Christ the King. “The significance of this event is not furniture in the sanctuary but the mysterious relationship, the intimate friendship he wants to have with us.”

Getting youth involved

Last spring, parishioner Linda Harmon had the idea to raise the children’s awareness about the tabernacle by involving them in the larger project. “When you stop and think about it, the kids are going to have the longest memory of this event of anybody,” she said. “If our children are there 30 years from now with their kids and they’re looking at this tabernacle, what a great thing to be able to share it with their kids.”

Harmon and fellow parishioner, Noelle Olson, coordinated the education and fundraising program for students in the parish school, faith formation and youth group. Students prayed a prayer to the Holy Spirit, and learned catechesis and Scripture about the Eucharist.

The project’s fundraising component wasn’t a contest, but students were encouraged to contribute coins and bills, which they also collected after Masses. Inspired by the children’s efforts, two anonymous donors made gifts totaling nearly $2,500.

“The most important outcome is their excitement about the move of the tabernacle and their growth and understanding about the Eucharist,” said St. John the Baptist pastor Father Michael Skluzacek.

The youth’s enthusiasm has caught on with many adults in the parish and has created a bridge between the children and adults, Harmon said. “It’s an opportunity for both the adults and the kids, learning catechesis around something that is, for lack of a better word, historical for our parish.”

Following Archbishop Harry Flynn’s encouragement that parishes place their tabernacle prominently in the sanctuary to symbolize Christ at the parish’s center, St. John the Baptist parish undertook the project of repositioning its tabernacle with the help of a significant gift several years ago, said Father Skluzacek.

Since the current church was built in 1968, the tabernacle has always been located in a side chapel, Harmon said. “A lot of the kids had never been back there,” she said. “A lot of these kids saw it for the first time.’”

The icon the children helped sponsor is being written by St. Paul-based iconographer Nicholas Markell, who also wrote the triptych icon for the church in 2002. When it is installed on Jan. 9, 2011, the Holy Spirit icon will be placed at the top of the triptych.

Nurturing reverence

The parish hopes to repeat the success of the children’s tabernacle project with future initiatives, Harmon said, adding that she and Olson will make their teaching materials available to other parishes that are moving their tabernacles.

Just as the children gained greater awareness of the Eucharist, Father Skluzacek said he hopes repositioning the tabernacle will result in greater reverence for the Eucharist in the parish.

“When people come into church they will see the tabernacle and they will see that it is a place distinguished and therefore they will see that this is a holy place and that Christ is truly present.”


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