When Robert Malfitano volunteered to become an altar server at St. Augustine Church, he thought it would help him stay more alert during Mass. “I did get a little bored sometimes,” he smiled, “and I knew I wanted to help the church.” Now, beginning his third year as an altar server, 12-year-old Robert experiences a deep spiritual engagement as he performs his duties. “I feel the closer I am to the priest, the more engaged and connected I am,” he reflected. “It may sound weird but I can feel it in my bones.”
To become an altar server Robert went through a short course that introduced him to the order of Mass, including “what to wear, what to give, how to handle things and when to do things,” he said. Although not difficult, altar serving does require mastering “the small stuff,” he said. “You have to remember the wine in the right hand, the water in the left. You have to remember to wash Father’s hands.” And then there is the ringing of the bell: “three seconds.” Robert apprenticed for a few months with experienced altar servers and then he was ready to serve on his own. Robert’s favorite aspect of being an altar server is the chance to interact with the priests before and after Mass. “You really get to know them,” he explained. “Sometimes when I am not serving I will pop into the sacristy just to say hello.” Could Robert become a priest someday? He does think about the priesthood and says he has a role model in Father Allen Lovell, a priest he describes as “easy for a kid to talk to.”
Whatever Robert does in the future (“I am also thinking about criminal justice,” he said), one thing is for sure: his Catholic faith is central to his life. “One person I really trust is God,” he said, “and I can tell anything to Him.” Whether at Mass or in confession he is grateful for a place that he can “get things off my chest.” “When I go to church I think about the events of the past week and it really clears my mind,” he said. How does Robert know when God is hearing him? “Things will lighten up,” he explained.
Robert’s service to church and community extends well beyond altar serving. Recently he helped his father, Vincent Malfitano, rehab rooms at the Atlantic City convent of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal as they prepared to receive novitiates. Robert’s main philanthropic effort is fundraising for Smile Train, an international organization that provides corrective surgery for children with cleft palates and cleft lips. Robert’s initial involvement with Smile Train was as a patient. “I was thinking about how I was born and I realized Smile Train is an awesome organization,” he explained. “Smile Train helps kids for free and they operate only on donations.” With the help of students, teachers, and administrators at Ocean City Intermediate School, as well as other benefactors, Robert has raised thousands of dollars for Smile Train, enough for 30 surgeries.
Robert has wide-ranging interests, including surfing, skateboarding, reading, gaming and meeting new people. He also is a member of Boy Scout Troop 32. One recent sunny afternoon he was preparing to play his trumpet at the eighth-grade graduation. Robert also has his own small business, Trash Can Troubles. He retrieves empty trash cans for people who are away and returns them to their proper place.