He’s barely 3 years old, but Andrew Richards has a command of the liturgy that’s far beyond his years.
He knows terms like “cruets” and “chalice,” grasps key words and actions in the Eucharistic prayer and invites others to follow him in a procession while singing “Alleluia.” Thanks to his godparents, Andrew got his own, homemade set of pretend vestments last spring. They only enhance his pretend Masses at home.
Whether Andrew grows up to be a priest or not was never the focus, according to his mom and dad. Nurturing a genuine love for the faith was. And still is.
That’s not to say there was a formal plan for how to do that. They simply made the liturgy a regular part of their lives, including daily Mass in the summer, and surrounded themselves with good Catholic people and resources. God took care of the rest.
The Richards were gifted with a onesie when their first son was born that read, “I’m a new creation To: Mom & Dad From: Jesus.”
“We thank God for the gift of him in our life. It was just so fitting for his first Mass,” Andrew’s mom, Teresa, told The Catholic Sun in the sacristy at St. Thomas the Apostle. Her husband, Adam, was finishing his duties as sacristan while Andrew took mental notes and re-enacted parts of the Mass.
“Sometimes he’ll be the priest. Sometimes I’ll be the priest and he’ll be the altar server,” Adam said.
Teresa said Adam’s ministry as sacristan, especially since it’s so visible for the kids, helped nurture Andrew’s faith. She did her part from the pew by walking her son through the Mass to keep him focused. Andrew learned basic prayers and about the Mass from real life experience and from a series of “Brother Francis” videos — a gift from his godparents.
Adam said their friends, Theo and Christi Tigno, have played a huge role in Andrew’s love for the Lord.
They introduced him to some Christian music and even played selections live at get-togethers. They also keep the entire family in prayer.
Rebecca Eiler, a parishioner at St. Timothy in Mesa, said setting that prayerful example is key to raising young children with strong Catholic values and morals.
“Every time I have any kind of issue or concern or praise, I bring it to God out loud,” said Eiler, a mother of two boys ages 5 and 7. “I guess because they’ve heard me do it, they understand how important it is.”
Praying, talking about God and other aspects of the faith come naturally to them. It’s not uncommon for Andrew, her youngest, to say, “Oh, we were talking about God today…” or to initiate the topic since he said many classmates don’t know about God. Once, he found himself introducing the concept of a godfather, a role his mom deeply discerned.
“He knows that he’s here to spread the Good News,” Eiler said.
When he’s persecuted for his faith, the Eilers add those people to their ever-evolving prayer list. The family talks to God and about Him several times a day. Eiler constantly sees God working through her sons.
“I have never pushed this on my boys, but they naturally do it. I believe young children have a natural ability to feel closer to God and to hear and follow the Holy Spirit,” Eiler said. “They aren’t convinced by the world that they’re in charge of their destiny. Children know that God can handle everything.”
The young Eilers learn about their faith within the home, in the car and through good Catholic and Christian role models. Eiler, a single parent, touted the example of the men on a camping trip in Tucson with fellow members of the Catholic Retreat for Young Singles group.
“They were so supportive and just took the boys under their wing,” Eiler said.
The group even allowed the boys to crown a statue of Mary during a Rosary.
When they’re at Mass, Eiler talks them through the liturgy. She also equips the boys with a children’s missal or coloring pages related to the readings and asks quick questions to foster their engagement.
A bilingual vocations event geared for boys ages 7-13
Oct. 17 at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, 6351 N. 27th Ave.
(602) 354-2345 or
The Diocese of Phoenix is hosting what could be its first vocations event aimed at young boys. Fr. Ernesto Reynoso called is “an inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”
He said he finds that kids as young as 13 often wonder if they are called to the priesthood, but don’t know much about it. The Mini Olimpiadas Sacerdotales aims to change that. The bilingual event — designed to help religious vocations keep up with the rapidly growing Catholic Hispanic population — will feature an expedited holy hour, stories of saints whose stories appeal to young boys, a trivia game, and possibly a slideshow giving an inside look at seminary life. It will also include physical activity.
“We want them to see that we are normal people. That we have fun. That we run because sometimes they have this idea of heroes as sports people,” Fr. Reynoso said.
Event leaders also plan to entrust the lives of these young Catholics to St. Michael the Archangel and periodically follow up with their parents via vocation-themed emails. As the boys age, organizers know some will discover God called them to different paths, but Fr. Reynoso plans to drive home a message that “We are all called to be a great man of God,” one who serves God and respects women, he said.