The Ryan siblings.
The Ryan siblings.
Onlookers might assume 12-year-old Timothy Ryan and his 10-year-old sister, Grace, became altar servers at Blessed Sacrament parish in Albany because their big brother Frank was doing it.

The 13-year-old's influence helped, but "I independently decided," Timothy said. "All my friends were doing it and I wanted to give it a shot."

Grace, a fourth-grader at Blessed Sacrament School, which her brothers also attend, agreed: "I thought it would be nice to try. I feel kind of like I am helping God."

Her first two Masses were incident-free: "It went good, although my one worry is that I'll drop the candle because it's honestly really heavy for me," Grace said. "Since I'm kind of a beginner, I don't really do much. I just sat in the seat [on the altar]."

Frank and Timothy also started serving in fourth grade. The trio now serves together once a month; many of the parish's 20 servers are also students at Blessed Sacrament School.

Timothy is usually responsible for carrying a candle in the procession and holding the book on the altar; Frank, for carrying the cross and taking care of the altar at communion time.

While their mother says the boys are "old pros" as servers, they say their first Masses stirred up nerves.

"I guess you could say I kind of have stage fright," said Timothy, who remembers getting hushed instructions from the priest at first. "[But] I keep doing it 'cause I feel that it's honoring God. Everybody there is nice."

Frank said he was "afraid of messing up" in the beginning, but realized no one would hold it against him. Now, he said, "with all my experience, I bet I could recite half of the whole Mass by heart.

"It gives you a really good chance to make a lot of new friends, to be good friends with the pastor and priests," Frank added. "I just like to be around them because they're so nice. I always get to be closer to God, up on the altar where everything's going on. I'm always one of the first to receive communion, and I think that's really special."

Their mother, Martha, is proud: "Everyone can see them and they need to be on task," she said. "You're representing the school and the church."

There are several sibling duos serving at Blessed Sacrament, but few trios. Frank says serving with kin is "different. With my friends, we agree really easily. With these guys, we argue a bit."

Timothy feels "the exact opposite. They already know that I'm going to do the book, so they let me do it."

Timothy has also been secretary of the school's student council for two years; Frank started as treasurer this year. All three siblings play instruments in the school band.

Frank, who's the only male server in his age group, is an honor student and multi-sport athlete. He may stop serving on the altar next year, when he transitions to Bishop Maginn High School in Albany.

Timothy isn't thrilled about that: "It will feel kind of weird because I've been doing it with my brother the whole time," he said.

Grace needs no reassurance. "I actually think that altar serving is pretty easy and I usually don't get nervous," she said. "I'm just learning and I'm going to get the hang of it."