St. Mary’s, Blacksburg: children encouraged to spend time with Jesus in adoration

Chris Hitzelberger (facing camera) speaks during the Children’s Eucharistic Adoration at St. Mary's, Blacksburg, in May 2023. Listening are (from left) mothers Caroline Bartlett, Joanna Hitzelberger, and Michelle Erickson, along with their children. (Photo provided by St. Mary’s parish)

On the third Saturday morning of each month, 7-year-old Augustine “Augie” Hitzelberger has a personal meeting with Jesus, during which he talks to him, sits in silence with him, and draws a picture or writes a note for him.

He is part of the monthly Children’s Eucharistic Adoration (“Holy Half Hour”) offered at St. Mary’s, Blacksburg.

“I feel happy spending time there and I feel closer to Jesus,” Augie said.

He is joined by his parents, Chris and Joanna Hitzelberger, his four siblings, and a few other parish families who attend regularly.

Each gathering begins with the display of the Eucharist and a blessing, followed by a song, brief silence, and the reading of a Scripture passage. Either Chris or Joanna Hitzelberger will offer a reflection. The younger children are then invited to draw a picture or write a note in response; the older ones may write in their journals. They pray a decade of the rosary in conclusion.

Because making this special time familiar and fun is part of the goal, there are snacks and play time afterward, too.

“When it first started, it was a completely new experience for me, and this was just for us,” said Augie’s sister Josephine, age 11.

She finds the simple, personalized time in adoration easy to understand – and having her own dad explain things is a bonus. “He makes it easy to follow. And it made me recognize that God is really there.”

Their mother knows that Mass can be mysterious for children. “But this way of approaching Jesus is not intimidating: you can just sit there,” Joanna said.

Adding fun activities and friendly discussions helps make the experience comfortable. “We can be joyful and still be reverent,” said Chris.

Most of all, the ministry emphasizes the importance of simply showing up for Christ.

“We’re planting a seed in the hearts of our kids,” Joanna said. “Jesus is a person who wants to have a relationship with us and desires to spend time with us.”

An evangelical tool

The Hitzelbergers first organized the children’s adoration in early 2020 at nearby Virginia Tech’s Newman House, where Chris is the director of the Catholic Campus Ministry.

He is also a member of Youth Apostles, volunteers who work to help young people live Christ-like lives. While living previously in McLean, the family had attended children’s adoration at the Youth Apostle house there and wanted to continue the tradition after they moved to Blacksburg.

“Father Ramon Dominguez led the kid-friendly adoration there, and he’d sit at the edge of the altar and invite the little ones to come up and talk to Jesus in the monstrance,” recalled Joanna.

Following that model, they held two monthly adorations at Virginia Tech before the pandemic. When it was safe to reconvene in late 2021, they began gathering at St. Mary’s.

In the beginning, only the Hitzelberger family attended, and they often thought of discontinuing it. But after several fervent prayers, three new families showed up. An article about their ministry appeared in March in the online Catholic magazine “The Pillar,” which sparked more interest.

Now the Hitzelbergers hear from Catholics in other states who want to start a similar children’s adoration at their parishes.

“I keep saying, ‘Thank you, Lord, for confirming this,’” Joanna said. “And now with the Eucharistic Revival happening, I wonder if it was the Holy Spirit that prompted us to start it.”

This ministry also can be a helpful evangelical tool for any parents who may feel intimidated by adoration if they are unfamiliar with it. It’s a good way for parents to learn at the same time, she noted.

Special time with Jesus

Chris and Joanna knew the feeling of wanting their children at Mass but recognizing how hard it can be for them to be still.

“When I was a little kid, I felt that church was a place where you had to sit quietly and not misbehave – and I didn’t understand anything; it wasn’t geared to me,” Chris recalled. “But this is just for them; it’s special and important.”

As a large and busy family, he noted that they’re not always even together for dinner. “Yet the kids notice when we do things together. They know Sunday Mass is important. And they know that going to church for this on Saturday is important, too.”

“The Lord says, ‘Just come and spend time with me,’” Chris said.

The two oldest Hitzelberger children, Monica and Kolbe, reflected on what they have gained from the special adoration.

“Even though the messages are simple, I can still take meaning from that,” said Monica, 18. “It’s something from the Bible and it is still meaningful no matter what age you are.”

Kolbe, 14, noticed that the experience changed for him over time. “I started focusing more during prayer time,” he recalled. “I saw all these other people coming to do it, and that showed me how important it was.”

The regular attendance at children’s adoration has helped his prayer life become a natural habit.

“Having this quiet time makes it so much easier to pray, and I’ve been praying more regularly outside of adoration,” he said.

Parishioner Michelle Erickson reflected on how regularly attending children’s adoration with her husband, Matthew, and children, Hannah (8), Caleb (6), and Julia (6) has deepened their faith life. “I think the consistency of going every month has helped them to grow to love adoration and their understanding of what and who the Eucharist is,” she stated.

“It can be hard to make the time on the weekend to go to church on both Saturday for children’s adoration and Sunday for Mass,” Erickson noted, given the many activities that most families have.

“But I think it’s worth spending that time once a month to help us all grow in our faith. What a gift to be able to help our kids fall in love with the Eucharist at such a young age,” she added.

Planting seeds of faith

Deacon Rick Furman displays the Eucharist on the altar and gives the benediction each month. He asks the older children to help set up and explains the purpose and meaning of each element.

“When you gather together and they see the example of adults who are sincere in their adoration, they learn from that,” he observed. “And the kids are involved; they’re not just sitting there daydreaming.”

Most importantly, the children learn that they can talk with Jesus about anything, he noted. “They know ‘I’m in a comfortable, safe, friendly place and I’m being drawn to the Eucharist and to Jesus as someone I can talk to.’”

Parishioner Caroline Bartlett regularly attends and brings her three children, ages 8, 6, and 3.

“By taking my kids to adoration, they’re witnessing the beautiful practice of our faith at an early age,” she said. She sees it as a “laying of groundwork” to become a meaningful habit for life, one that reinforces the true presence of Christ.

“Seeing little ways their faith grows increases my own faith,” Bartlett said. When she took her oldest child to traditional adoration recently, it was familiar to her because of attending children’s adoration. “She was excited to attend and she knew what to do.”

Bartlett observed, “Jesus said, ‘Let the children come,’ and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”


Editor’s notes:

Read about another children’s eucharistic adoration program in the diocese: St. Jerome, Newport News.

Read about ways to get your parish to involve the entire family in parish events.

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