A faith-filled people
Judging by the capacity attendance, it is very obvious that the community of St. Albert the Great Church prays and worships well together. On Palm Sunday Spanish speaking parishioners attended the 9 a.m. English Mass and a number of non-Spanish-speaking attended the 11 a.m. Spanish language Mass, both of which reflected the spirit of the hard-working people of this 65-year-old parish.
“We have a lot of people who have been here for ages,” says Ron Taylor, director of St. Albert the Great’s Gospel Choir, noting that many of his members “have been here for 30, 40 years and more. These people are so dedicated.”
Father Francisco Adame Garcia, parish administrator, agrees, having been at the parish only a few months, but delighted to find such rapport among diverse cultures. “The majority of our people are very, very devout,” he says. “They work very hard in life, or, since they are now retired, have worked hard their whole lives. They love God.”
That spirit is embodied in the form of the parish’s faithful altar server who just turned 94 years old. Howard Citizen arrives at St. Albert the Great around 4 a.m. daily to prepare the altar for 7 a.m. Mass and uses the extra time for prayer with God.
“I pray all the time,” says Howard. “And, you know, God blesses me. When I came here, my wife Lucy and God gave me the strength to work hard in two jobs and take care of my family. The Good Lord gave me health. That’s why I come here to church all the time — to thank God for all he did for me.”
A member of the parish since its founding in 1949, Howard recalls that Mass was celebrated in a garage before the church was built. But the native of Church Point, Louisiana, was used to struggles.
“We were all Catholic — on my mama’s side and on my daddy’s side,” says Howard. “At that time everybody was poor. At church we would raise money at bazaars and selling pies — just to keep the church going. People just had no money. We were working for 50 cents a day, and you put aside money for the church and to pay the grocery bill — and then there was nothing left. So then I volunteered for the Army hoping to learn a better way to make a living, but afterward we were still poor — yet rich in all that really matters.”
He treasures his marriage to Lucy May, who died in 2005 (three months shy of their 60th anniversary), and their five children. “And I still go over to Holy Cross Cemetery and visit my wife with flowers,” Howard says proudly.
Since her death, Howard — at the invitation of his pastor — has helped out at St. Albert the Great, in the sacristy and wherever he is needed. “This church is almost like a second home,” he says.
The same is true for Debra Winston, president of St. Albert the Great’s Usher Board, and a parishioner for 49 years, who also begins every day with 7 a.m. Mass and usually attends the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass. The retired Northrup-Grumman “Quality Insurance” employee says her life has always revolved around her parish.
“I love it,” she says. “I love it because it has history for me. My parents were from here. My nieces and nephews went to school here. My mother worked in the cafeteria. When my mom was sick, [longtime parishioner] Rachel Porres would call once a week to check on her.
“The closeness here is like that of a family, and it crosses all kinds of boundaries — age, race, all kinds of backgrounds, and history. It’s really all about love here. We love to be together.”