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October 12, 2002

Two teens add a special touch to Bountiful Mass

From: Salt Lake Tribune, UT
Oct. 12, 2002


BOUNTIFUL -- As the priest and altar servers make their way down the aisle after Mass at St. Olaf's Catholic Church, it typically is a reverent scene. There are times, though, when one of the servers might give a wink or a thumbs-up.

Harmless, but hardly meaningless. For Scott Bonn and John Paul Brophy, two teens with Down syndrome who help with Mass each week at the Bountiful parish, they are signs that everything is going well, in church and in life.
"We call it the famous thumbs-up sign," says Sophia Brophy, John Paul's older sister. "It's their way of saying everything is OK. It says volumes about the church and our community and how everyone in the congregation is welcomed and involved."
There wasn't anything controversial about the decision to integrate the boys into the services in which young church members assist the priest by carrying candles, books and cruets of wine to the altar. Bonn, a 17-year-old senior at Davis High School, and Brophy, an 18-year-old graduate of Woods Cross High, have been mainstreamed all their lives.
"Over the years, we've had to learn to listen to Scott," says mother Heather Bonn. "This was one of those times, and it was something he really wanted to do."
That was nine years ago, before a churchwide policy that altar servers be in at least the fifth grade. At the time, Scott was a third-grader and eager to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Brian.
So he and his parents signed up for altar-server training. They found the routine complemented Scott's abilities -- blowing out the same candle each week, for instance, or making entrances and exits in the same order. What's more, Monsignor Rudolph Daz liked the idea.
"The credit goes to their parents," Daz says. "They've done an excellent job of seeing that both boys achieve their full potential, and the boys are excellent servers."
Since then, the Bonns have been regulars on the front row of the chapel where Scott can see them.
The Brophys, New York transplants since 1995, were thrilled that John Paul would be able to serve at their new parish in Davis County.
"We were used to seeing that sort of thing in New York," says John Paul's father, Ed Brophy. "John Paul had served at St. Patrick's Cathedral once, and it was nice to know that the church here in Utah was accepting to having him serve."
Growing up with a father who was a U.S. Coast Guard commander, John Paul has taken as his personal motto the Army slogan, "be all that you can be." That meant when younger sister Alana started training to be an altar server, he wanted to do the same.
Now that his high school days are behind him, he is not sure he is ready to give up serving or the "good feelings" it brings.
"I like to pray and to serve. I want to do it for Nanny," John Paul says of his late grandmother who loved to watch him serve.
Jeanine Leither, who coordinates the schedules of more than 50 altar servers, says Scott and John Paul are among the first to sign up for special or holiday Masses. Rather than serving with each other, though, she schedules them to serve the same week as one of their siblings.
"Most of our servers work with their brother or sisters," Leither says. "That way the families can attend the services together."
"I'm sure it took a little getting used to for the people of the parish," Heather Bonn says of her son's involvement. "It took a little getting used to on our part, too. There were the other altar servers, looking straight ahead during the gospel reading, and there was Scott, looking over at us, giving us the thumbs-up."
That signal, Bonn explains, came about because Scott uses American Sign Language to communicate. Now, it's something the other members of the parish appreciate as well.
"It's one of those things that kind of brightens your day," says Leither. "It has brought something special to our parish."

© Copyright 2002, The Salt Lake Tribune