People & Places

Iowa becomes 38th state in teen's goal to altar serve in every state

Kara Jackson, an Ohio teen with Down syndrome, stopped in Cedar Rapids

Christina Jackson (right) of Middletown, Ohio, helps her daughter Kara Jackson put on her altar server alb before Friday
Christina Jackson (right) of Middletown, Ohio, helps her daughter Kara Jackson put on her altar server alb before Friday morning mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in northwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, June 3, 2016. Kara Jackson, who has Down Syndrome, has been working on her goal to altar serve at a Catholic church service in every state in the United States since 2013. With this service, Iowa has become the 38th state on Jackson’s list. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Kara Jackson’s pilgrimage to help serve Mass at churches in all 50 states brought her Friday to Iowa — more specifically, to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Cedar Rapids, chosen partly because she was born on a St. Patrick’s Day.

Jackson, 18, who has Down syndrome, said she felt the cross-country quest was something God wanted her to do. She has been serving liturgies, with support from her parents, for three years. With Iowa, she has visited 38 states. Minnesota is next.

Cindy Koczo, a pastoral minister with St. Patrick’s, took a call from Christina Jackson last month about whether her daughter could serve there. For the priest, the Rev. Ivan Nienhaus, the answer was simple.

“Why would we not want to help her fulfill her dream?” he asked.

Altar serving is typically conducted by children and young adults in Catholic churches. Servers act as assistants to the priest during the service and perform tasks such as preparing the altar and lighting candles.

More than 100 people attended as the Ohio teen helped serve Friday at St. Patrick’s, 120 Fifth St NW.

She and her parents, Rick and Christina Jackson, took the roughly seven-and-a-half-hour drive from their home in Middletown, north of Cincinnati, a day earlier.

At first, both parents were hesitant to allow their daughter to undertake the task. Today, proud is the feeling they say they have for their daughter, especially considering her challenges.


She has laxity in her joints that makes it difficult for her to bend and kneel — tasks she must perform as an altar server. Despite this, the parents say their daughter doesn’t limit herself.

“She has challenges, but she doesn’t think of it as challenging,” Christina Jackson said. “She says, ‘I have Down syndrome because you say I do.’”

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