February 23, 2024

78-year-old altar server passes on love of the Eucharist to younger generation

Carl Bohman, left, gives directions to altar server Andrew Ruf during a Jan. 24 Mass at St. Peter Church in Franklin County. Bohman trains young altar servers in the Batesville Deanery faith community in part by serving at Mass alongside them. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Carl Bohman, left, gives directions to altar server Andrew Ruf during a Jan. 24 Mass at St. Peter Church in Franklin County. Bohman trains young altar servers in the Batesville Deanery faith community in part by serving at Mass alongside them. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

(The Church in the U.S. is in the midst of a three-year National Eucharistic Revival meant to help Catholics across the country grow in their love and understanding of Christ’s gift of himself in the Eucharist. With that in mind, The Criterion is publishing articles to show the place of the Eucharist in the lives of Catholics across central and southern Indiana.)

By Sean Gallagher

FRANKLIN COUNTY—Carl Bohman trains young people in his rural southeastern Indiana parish how to assist at Mass as altar servers, much like adult volunteers do in parishes across the archdiocese.

But Carl doesn’t just instruct them. He serves at Mass alongside them—and in the process shows them his deep love for the Eucharist, hopefully planting seeds of faith-filled devotion in them at the same time.

“He’s just another server,” said Andrew Ruf, 13, a new altar server at St. Peter Parish in Franklin County. “But he’s wiser. He’s been doing it longer.”

‘I’m the past. … They’re the future.’

A lot longer—70 years longer.

Carl, 78, started serving when he was 8 and growing up in the early 1950s as a member of the former St. John the Evangelist Parish in Enochsburg, now a campus of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Decatur County.

Married for 56 years to his equally devoted Catholic wife Lois, a father of five, grandfather of 17 and a new great-grandfather, Carl knows he’s in the home stretch of life and hopes in the time he has left to put the Church in his small corner of the world on firm footing for the future.

“I tell these kids that I’m the past,” he said about the altar servers he trains. “Their parents are the present. They’re the future—of the Church, of the community, of the country.”

To help them grow in their love of the faith, Carl leans on positive reinforcement.

“I compliment them every time they serve,” Bohman said after a recent weekday Mass at St. Peter at which he served with three young parishioners. “That’s what a teacher does. I’m trying to be a teacher here so they carry on [after me]. They’re the future.”

He’s proud when he sees his young charges learning the ropes and able to serve at Mass on their own.

“Except when they get in the rotation [of servers] and I don’t get to serve so often,” Carl said with a laugh.

That love of serving during liturgies began on a summer day in the early 1950s when two of Carl’s older brothers who were supposed to serve for their pastor, Father Ambrose Schneider, couldn’t make it. So, Carl’s mother sent him instead, even though he had never served at Mass.

“I rode my bicycle 2 miles to the church and went to serve for Father Schneider,” he recalled.

With no experience of serving, young 8-year-old Carl mumbled through the Latin responses of the Mass.

Father Schneider was patient with him and helped form Carl and the other young people of St. John when he taught religion class in the parish’s school. Carl continued as an altar server until he graduated from high school in 1963 and entered the U.S. Army.

Looking back on his childhood and teenage years in Enochsburg, Carl is grateful for the way Father Schneider nurtured in him a deep love of the faith and of the Eucharist in particular.

“Father Schneider was so good to the servers,” Carl said. “You didn’t think much about it at the time. It was just there. It was just your life.

“If he’s not in heaven, we don’t have a chance. He was a super good priest.”

After serving in the Army in Germany where he helped assemble atomic bombs, Carl returned to southeastern Indiana, where he married Lois in 1968.

‘There’s no other honor like that’

Carl continues today his work as a farmer on a farm near St. Peter where he and Lois have lived for decades.

During much of that time, he was too busy raising his children to volunteer as an altar server.

But about 10 years ago, with his children grown and living on their own, Carl started serving again at the invitation of Franciscan Father Humbert Moster, who was serving at the time as St. Peter’s sacramental minister.

After the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when Mass started to be celebrated publicly again at St. Peter, Carl was serving Mass all the time at the parish.

“No one else volunteered or stepped up,” he said. “And with COVID, everyone was so scared.”

Lois appreciates seeing Carl’s devotion to the Eucharist in being an altar server. But it hasn’t always been that way.

“At first, I didn’t like it because I was sitting there by myself,” she said. “But I really enjoy now him being up there. When he’s up there, it’s like it’s supposed to be.

“I’ve always been really close to the Eucharist. It’s Jesus. He’s there. To see Carl up there being close to it is awesome.”

Spending so much time in the sanctuary serving at Mass intensified his appreciation of Christ’s gift of himself in the Eucharist and focused his attention on it.

“When you’re serving there at consecration time, the priest brings God there to you—Jesus,” Carl said. “He comes there. That is the Creator of your body, the Creator of the world, the Creator of the universe. And I’m 3 feet away. There’s no other honor like that. Three feet away.”

Eventually after the pandemic, the pastors at St. Peter—currently Father Vincent Lampert, and, before him, Father Sean Danda—began encouraging young people to serve at Mass there.

Carl has helped train them during the past few years.

“He’s been showing us the basics,” said Andrew. “He’s been good to us.”

“I like helping our Church as much as I can,” added Ethan Rauch, 11, another new server at St. Peter being trained by Carl. “He’s been teaching me what you need to do to serve. I learn a little bit more when he tells me about it.”

‘You appreciate the Mass more’

Going through all of the details of serving at Mass—what needs to be done before it, during it and afterward—Carl, like a man married for 56 years, likens it to life at home.

“It’s no different than when I come in for supper and the supper table is set and I eat,” he said. “But if I help prepare it, I appreciate it more. With serving at Mass, it’s the same thing. You light the candles. You put everything out. You appreciate the Mass more. You’re involved in it.”

According to Father Lampert, he’s getting young people involved in serving at Mass who might not have done so otherwise.

“We have a couple of servers who told me that they would have never served on their own,” he said. “But Carl’s approach and demeanor kind of put them at ease. So, they were more comfortable volunteering in that role.”

Father Lampert hopes that Carl has an influence on all the parishioners at St. Peter, old as well as young.

“People can look at him and see his commitment and his love of the Mass,” he said. “It can be a witness to invite people to think about their own relationship with the Eucharist.

“We’re in the midst of the National Eucharistic Revival. Maybe at a time when a lot of Catholics fail to fully appreciate what the Eucharist is, his public witness is a way to invite people to ask themselves, ‘What do I really think about the Eucharist? Here’s a guy, at his age, and yet the Eucharist is such a vital and integral part of his life. Do I have the same kind of approach when it comes to the Eucharist in my own life?’ ”

For his part, Carl is happy to see families with young children at St. Peter, much like what he and Lois had decades ago.

“I’m proud that they bring their children to church,” he said. “Crying babies in church are a good thing. That’s the future.”

For the present, though, Carl still loves to serve at Mass even as he trains young people as altar servers.

“This past Sunday, one of the servers didn’t show up, so I looked out at him,” said Father Lampert. “He was sitting there and I kind of pulled him out of the bullpen. He beamed so happily that he got to come up and serve.” †

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