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New young Serra leader sees opportunity to attract youth to the Church

Posted By June 6, 2017 | 2:46 pm | Featured Article #1
Serra South chaplain Father Michael J. Roy, and dinner attendees, pray over the new officers: Roland Malboeuf, Christopher J. Rawson, Cynthia Rawson and Donna Gialanella.

Photo by Tanya Connor
Serra South chaplain Father Michael J. Roy, and dinner attendees, pray over the new officers: Roland Malboeuf, Christopher J. Rawson, Cynthia Rawson and Donna Gialanella. Photo by Tanya Connor

By Tanya Connor
The Catholic Free Press
WORCESTER – It was a different setting for the Serra clubs’ bishop’s night. For a time-honored reason.
Members of the Serra Club of Southern Worcester County and the Serra Club of Northern Worcester County had dinner with Bishop McManus Saturday – in the gym at Our Lady of Providence Parish on Lincoln Street.
It was an occasion for the clubs to give the bishop their donations for the diocesan vocations office, and for Serra South to induct its new officers, including a 26-year-old as president.
And a donation for the gym gave Bishop McManus an excuse to shoot some hoops – in an attempt to make more money for vocations. After all, Serra International, named for the missionary St. Junipero Serra, is about promoting priestly and religious vocations.
Christopher J. Rawson of Dudley, the new president of Serra South, explained why the bishop’s night was held in the gym. He said that, at a Saturday fundraising dinner Serra South held there awhile back, a neighborhood youth said: “This is the first meal I’ve had since Thursday.”
At the bishop’s night last Saturday, Mr. Rawson said he doesn’t see a gym; he sees opportunity. Young men who frequent the gym could be priests someday.
Neighborhood youth didn’t attend the bishop’s night dinner, which was more a private Serran event, said Father Jonathan J. Slavinskas, administrator of Our Lady of Providence Parish and recruiter for the diocesan Office of Vocations. But he made use of the opportunity to form another link between the teens and the Church.
He said he paid neighborhood teenagers, who’d attended the earlier fundraising dinner, to set up for the bishop’s night, and fed them breakfast and lunch. This gave him a chance to talk with them about Serra.
Dinners like that earlier fundraiser help Serra inform parishes about its work and raise money for vocations. But it’s hard for people in St. Bernard’s neighborhood to afford such a dinner, Father Slavinskas said. So they were invited to just come, or to make a donation for those who couldn’t afford to come. Among attendees was the young man Mr. Rawson mentioned.
Saturday night his mother, Cynthia Rawson, was inducted as Serra South secretary, Donna Gialanella as president-elect and Roland Malboeuf as treasurer.
Father Slavinskas received two basketballs for use in the gym, gifts from an anonymous donor to represent Serra South and Serra North.
Mrs. Gialanella told Bishop McManus she would give $100 to the diocesan vocations office for every basket he could make in 10 tries.
Bishop McManus, who played CYO basketball as a youth, wasted no time removing his clerical attire and going to the free throw line to shoot. He made two baskets. Joining in the fun, Father Slavinskas, who is 32, shot baskets too.

Bishop McManus and Father Slavinskas shoot hoops.

Bishop McManus and Father Slavinskas shoot hoops.

Bishop McManus had just said that Pope Francis has called all Catholics to be missionary disciples.
“We need a renaissance of the faith – young, vibrant missionary priests,” the bishop said. He noted how Serrans help with vocations and invited them to the June 3 ordination at St. Paul Cathedral.
Three of those being ordained were present. One, Stephen Kohut, who’s becoming a permanent deacon, said he was Serra South president for two, two-year terms. Beginning the first term six years ago at age 42, he was the youngest Serra president in the United States, he said.
Peter Cunningham, Serra coordinator for USA Council Affairs, told The Catholic Free Press he couldn’t confirm or deny that because he doesn’t have the birth dates for all presidents. But he said 26 and 42 are young ages for Serra presidents.
Mr. Kohut expressed appreciation for Mr. Rawson. He said he has many great ideas and will revitalize Serra.
“He’s able to bridge a lot of gaps because he respects people who say, ‘We never did it that way,’ and the need to move forward,” Mr. Kohut said.
Mr. Rawson’s fiancée, Jennifer Kennedy, said not many people their age are in church, so getting involved is important.
Serra gives them a chance to have a say, not just sit in the pews, and offers a “different connection to the Church,” as they hear the stories of future priests, she said.
Jo-Ann Canty, outgoing secretary of Serra South, said they don’t have many young people joining; Mr. Rawson is probably the youngest.
Mrs. Rawson said that when her son was a student at St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, Serra South treasurer Mr. Malboeuf, a family friend, told him: “As soon as you’re old enough, you are joining Serra.”
“He asked me to come to one meeting,” Mr. Rawson said. “It took one meeting. I fell in love with the members and their mission. Together, we’re a unit.”
He steered the focus from himself to past presidents, saying that “they leave big shoes to fill.”

“He’s very dedicated,” Serran Judith Martinek said. “He’s involved in everything we’ve got going.”
“We’ll see how he does,” said Ellen Gevry, chairwoman of the Vocation Committee and a past president. She said she was among the first women to join Serra when it was opened to women more than two decades ago.
“I know he’s very, very excited about the opportunity,” said Mr. Rawson’s father, James Rawson. “He loves the connection with so many types of people. He’s always had a very strong faith. This is one of his ways of sharing.”