For Paul Stryker Jr., Pentecost had special meaning this year, especially its message of unity through a universal language of faith. Paulie, as he is known, was three weeks into boot camp at the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, surrounded by recruits from all over the country. “We all came from different traditions and ways of doing things,” he reflected, “but we were trying to unite in a common goal, so the powerful story of the Upper Room really resonated with me.”
Paulie trained with recruits who were either headed into the Reserves, like him, or into active duty. “Our company began with 93 recruits and graduated 73,” he said of those who survived a rigorous 53-day program of strength and endurance training, drills, instructions, and exams. Amid “all the stress and yelling,” Paulie found peace and clarity by serving as a religious petty officer for his company. He and other religious petty officers assisted at masses held at the base chapel. They also sang together and conversed in quiet Friday evening meetings. “We were able to attain a relaxed state in a non-relaxed place,” he said. Of course, assisting at Mass came naturally to this lifelong member and long-time altar server at St. Frances Cabrini Church. “I jumped right on the chance to be an altar server while at boot camp,” he said. “I was happy I could continue in a place that I never thought it would be possible.” Paulie also read the Prayer of the Faithful at Masses that were attended by recruits, active duty Coast Guard personnel, and some civilian family members.
As a Coast Guard reservist, Paulie has made an initial four-year commitment that includes annual drills and the potential to be called to active duty in case of a national emergency. “I had to make the conscious decision to make that sacrifice if needed,” he explained. “I have always had the desire to serve, so I am willing.” Meanwhile, the 19-year-old is in his second year at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, where he is majoring in finance and plans to seek admission to the Business School.
As the son of the owners of Arlene’s Restaurant on Asbury Avenue, Paulie has had direct experience with the ins and outs of small business. “My younger brother, Jake, and I have helped out at the restaurant since we were little,” he explained. “I used to come in with my Dad early in the morning and watch him cook bacon before I went to school,” he recalled. The restaurant is known for its family atmosphere, and that begins with the staff, Paulie said. “It is very communal,” he described. Some of the former staff now come back as customers, “and they remember me as a kid running around in here,” he said.
Interestingly, it is the communal values associated with Catholicism that give meaning and durability to Paulie’s faith. “Being a Catholic means recognizing that humans are one family. We are made by one Creator and share equally together,” he said. Communal values are at the heart of altar serving, which he began when he was in the fourth grade. “At first, I just wanted to ring the bells,” he smiled, but altar serving opened him up to a wider community which he described as “a support system” and became a way to reaffirm his faith. “We are a small and unified community,” he said. “I have gotten more out of altar serving than I could ever expect.” He knows that St. Frances Cabrini Church is a place he can return to, no matter where his endeavors might take him. “On my way home from boot camp, I stopped in at church to say hello and attend Mass,” he explained. “When Father saw me in my uniform, he said, Why don’t you serve? Serve in your uniform. So I did. It feels great to know that you can begin right where you left off.”