By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

SOUTHAMPTON – If there is anything in the whole world Matthew New would like to do with his life, it is probably to become a priest. Now 20, he’s been an altar server at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Southampton for about 10 years, and received a medal as his parish’s Distinguished Altar Server at this year’s archdiocesan Altar Servers’ Mass held at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

When Cardinal Rigali visited the parish on March 19 and celebrated the vigil Mass, he was proudly among the servers, just as he is for virtually all of the major Masses at Our Lady of Good Counsel.

“I like to serve Mass,” he said. “It makes me feel happy and peaceful. I like to help the priests. It makes me feel proud.”

His mother, Lisa Wajert, remembers many mornings waking up at about 6:30 a.m. to hear her oldest child reading aloud the prayers of the Mass and going through the readings in his room.

Matthew will never become a priest, whatever his wishes. He has Down syndrome.

“We didn’t know until after he was born,” his mother said. “He is our blessing and we love him very much. He makes us smile and our other kids love him.”

When Matthew was born the family was living in Holy Innocents Parish in Philadelphia, and somehow the parish name really seems to fit him.

His mother remembers how, when he was just a little child, she and his grandmother would visit the church and he would run to a statue of the Blessed Virgin and hold an animated conversation with her.

Until he was 13, Matthew was educated at Our Lady of Confidence Day School, and it was there he received his sacraments and developed his desire to be an altar server. Meanwhile, his parents Lisa and Jim spanorced and, with an annulment, remarried. His stepdad, Sean, is, next to his mother, his greatest support in all he does, as are his three stepsisters who along with his younger brother complete the family.

Lisa teaches fifth grade PREP at Our Lady of Good Counsel, and usually Matthew comes along, either to help or simply go into the church to pray. His favorite devotions are the rosary and the Stations of the Cross.

“My religion is important to my life. I like to pray every day,” he said.

He loves serving on the altar so much that if the schedule hasn’t been released he calls Kevin Madison who has charge of the servers to make sure his name is on the list.

A gratification for his mother is when others take note of his service, especially parents of a Down syndrome child.

“Some have told me, ‘I didn’t know our children could do this,'” she said.

At this point Matthew is at a crossroads in his life. He’s just about completed job training in a sheltered program. No, he will never be able to become a priest.

“I’ve heard he might be able to become a (religious) brother somewhere. We are looking into that,” his mother said.

Not a bad idea.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.