Father Justin Baker, pastor of Christ the King/St. Anthony Parish in Burlington, which includes Christ the King School, was not surprised there were more students than usual receiving sacraments during the last school year at other-than-usual times.

He had taken to greeting children and parents before school — even in inclement weather — so they got to know him better than if they had only seen him at Mass. “They get used to you, and word gets out that you’re friendly and easy going,” he said, explaining his approachability. So parents feel comfortable asking him about the sacraments, and children are comfortable talking to him about it too. “Their familiarity with the pastor makes parents comfortable to bring their kids into the faith,” especially if the parents are “not necessarily church goers.”

And even though “you always have some catching up” with the sacraments with students in Catholic schools, there were more than usual last year.

Twenty-one students were baptized or received their First Communion.

Apollonia Alanbar, 8, sought baptism for herself, said her father, Nabil Alanbar, noting that he had not been practicing his faith for years but during Covid-19 had begun to watch Mass on television with his daughter. “She then asked Caitlin, her mother and my wife, to take RCIA with the intention of joining her in the Church.”

Father Baker taught the Rite of Christian Initiation classes and gave mother and daughter their First Communions and First Reconciliations. (Msgr. John McDermott, vicar general and chancellor for the Diocese of Burlington baptized Apollonia.)

“The school and church community has been fantastic. We were welcomed with open arms and could not have asked for a better group of people to educate our daughter,” Alanbar said. “The school has consistently gone out of its way to make students and their parents feel welcome.”

It is at school that the sacraments are taught and discussed. “Kids learn about the sacraments in school and tell their parents they’d like to receive them, or they tell me and I tell their parents,”

Father Baker said. Often it becomes an opportunity for more than one child in a family to receive sacraments.

Apollonia had wanted to be an altar server for months. “A few weeks before her First Communion, Father Baker pulled her aside and asked her if she wanted to serve at the altar, and I don’t know if I have ever seen her that excited,” Alanbar said, adding that she continues to serve every Sunday.

Father Baker does not pressure parents about the sacraments their children are missing, but if a parent mentions it, he remembers and lets them know “I’m ready when you are.”

He sees his role in the school as threefold: “Have a head for finances. Love your teachers, and live up to your name, ‘Father.’”

—Originally published in the Fall 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.