Fonticulus Fides

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

While we're on the subject...

As long as we are discussing altar servers -- or as long as I am by myself, I guess -- I might as well post a recent article I wrote for the paper about the oldest altar server in our Diocese.

Diocese’s oldest altar server finds daily joy and purpose

When Father Randall Langhorst of Saint Vincent de Paul parish in Seward is short an altar server for daily Mass, he invariably asks Robert Ponec to serve, knowing that there’s no more experienced altar server in the Diocese of Lincoln. After all, he’s been an altar server for 70-plus years.

That’s right – more than seven decades. Mr. Ponec is 82 years old. He became an altar boy at Saint Luke Czech Catholic Shrine in Loma when he was a kid, and he just never quit. Nor does he intend to any time soon.

“The only way I’m going to quit is when the good Lord takes my strength away,” Mr. Ponec declared.

During the 30 years Mr. Ponec and his wife Margaret still lived in Lincoln and attended Saint John the Apostle parish, he not only participated in Mass as an altar server, he was also an acolyte as well as the school janitor.

However, a fall off a ladder at a restaruant where he also worked part-time led to hip replacement surgery and two subsequent operations to keep him on his feet. After he retired and moved to Seward, Mr. Ponec felt that his injured leg was too clumsy to navigate in the floor-length alb of an acolyte.

So, he limited himself to being an altar server. And carrying the Host to homebound parishioners every third Thursday as a Eucharistic Minister. And becoming an usher for Sunday Mass, a task which he shares with his son Mike and grandson Joe.

In fact, the Ponecs are the only three-generation team of ushers at Saint Vincent de Paul parish.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Mr, Ponec confided, “I’m very proud to have a son and a grandson work with me. You don’t see anybody else doing it.”

Mike Ponec said performing usher duties with his father and son is “great fun.” Joe agreed, “I enjoy it.”

They are a close-knit family outside of church as well. Mr. Ponec cooks dinner just about every weeknight for Mike, who stops over after he gets off work so they can eat together. And Saturdays typically find the trio swinging hammers and sawing wood at the Eagle home of Mr. Ponec’s other son, John, who is building a new barn.

Mike Ponec said that his dad’s work ethic and “stick-to-it-ive-ness” has been inspirational. “I kind of pattern myself after him,” he said.

Finding something productive to do at all times just comes naturally to Mr. Ponec.

“I always have things to do – working my rosaries if nothing else,” Mr. Ponec said. After he retired in 1991, he started to make rosaries to take along when he visits nursing homes as a Eucharistic Minister. “Sometimes people ask for a rosary,” he explained, and he never wanted to be without one to give. So far, he’s made about 900 of them, usually completing one each day, sometimes two.

His rosaries contain an extra secure knot between each “Hail Mary” bead, so that the beads don’t slide around and get loose. He also makes rosaries with 20 decades for praying all four sets of Mysteries.

That’s something that started with his wife. One year for Lent, the pair decided to pray a daily 15-decade rosary in order to contemplate the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries every day during the penitent season.

After Mrs. Ponec passed away in 2002, he started praying the 15-decade rosary all year long. Later that year, when Pope John Paul II introduced the Luminous Mysteries, one of Mr. Ponec’s sons asked if he was planning to add to his 15-decade rosary.

“Nope,” Mr. Ponec answered. “I’ll just make another one.” He produced a 20-decade rosary for his daily devotions.

Last year when he was admitted to Saint Elizabeth’s Regional Medical Center in Lincoln for a few days, he brought it with him. A visiting nun admired it, so he made her one after he returned home. She soon wrote to him asking for five more. He has made 10 so far, giving them away to anyone who asks. And when his supply of five-decade rosaries starts to overflow, he sends them to Catholic missions for distribution.

It’s just Mr. Ponec’s nature to fill every minute of every day with such work to honor the Lord. “I’ve never known anyone who is as devout as he is,” said grandson Joe.

Mike Ponec said that both his parents have always been a solid example of how to live the Catholic life. “What they taught me was that believing in Jesus is the most important thing, and to keep that throughout life. And that’s what I’ve been doing.”

The rosaries, the visits to the homebound as Eucharistic Minister, and ushering at Sunday Mass fill Mr. Ponec’s life with joy and purpose.

But most of all, he enjoys being an altar server. “To me, it’s a calling from God to work for Him.”


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