APPLETON — If Catholic churches handed out “Rookie of the Year” awards for volunteerism, David Johnson, who joined Sacred Heart Parish last February, would certainly be a top contender for that recognition.
A 2012 graduate of Kaukauna High School, David grew up attending St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Kaukauna. He joined Sacred Heart a couple years after moving to Appleton. The house he lives in is just a block from church and from St. Elizabeth Hospital, where he works as a dishwasher. It made sense to join the parish, since he doesn’t drive.
Volunteering started gradually at Sacred Heart for David; initially he joined the hospitality ministry team. He was an usher at St. Katharine Drexel and still helps out there if he’s staying with his parents for the weekend. “I’ve always liked being in the church and helping out has always been very important to me,” said David.
“A couple of months ago, one of the deacons corralled me into serving at Mass because the usual people weren’t there, so now I serve Mass on Thursday mornings,” he said. “On Mondays I help clean the church. It usually takes about an hour or so. … Now they’re trying to get me to play piano for the men’s choir.”
In addition to those volunteer activities, David has helped with youth ministry and has joined the Knights of Columbus.
Anne Johnson, David’s mother, is proud of her son’s involvement in church, and how far he’s progressed in life, considering the rough start he had and the learning challenges he faced in school. “When David was born, part of his diaphragm was missing and he had a quarter-sized hole in his heart. He was writing his own story from the start,” she said.
“There was a certain time in life when he was in high school and it was just hard,” she said. “I prayed to God and I said, ‘Even though I had an agenda for him right from the start, this is your child and I’m turning him over to you completely.’ After that, there has been nothing stopping him. He ended up being prom court king. Kids knew him and loved him. Everyone said they liked David because he was who he said he was. You knew he was authentic.”
Living on his own, David has blossomed. Being so close to church, he wants to get involved in everything, Anne said. “I want to say, ‘Slow down, David.’”
Not only does David volunteer, but he’s actively involved in church life as well. Earlier this year, he attended a Catholic men’s conference in Milwaukee and he’s a part of Brewing the Faith, with other young adult Catholics.
“On Tuesday nights I’ve been coming to Bible study. I go to Mass Monday and Tuesday nights and Thursday mornings,” he said. “Sometimes I get to go on Friday depending on what my work schedule is.”
David also has a devotion to the rosary, often staying after Mass to pray. “Sometimes, if I’m unable to stay after Mass, I will pray the rosary outside of church,” he said. “I’m also starting now to go to confession once a month.” He enjoys singing “Blessed Woman” to the Blessed Mother.
Scripture reading is also important to David. “When I got confirmed my grandparents gave me the Catholic Youth Bible. I read it on a daily basis. I’ve read that thing through several times already. I find it really helps me. I read Scripture and then I can apply it to my life and pray on whatever I read,” he said.
David credits his parents, John and Anne, for his love of the church, but noted that his biggest influence is his uncle, Fr. Mike Betley, pastor of St. John-Sacred Heart Parish, Sherwood, St. Mary, Hilbert and St. Mary, Stockbridge. Seeing his uncle celebrate Mass through the years has been very meaningful for him, he said.
While David sees his parents as role models, he’s actually been the role model for them, said Anne. “At night he was always reading Scripture. I told my husband, ‘We have a saint in the making here.’ I have never seen him be intentionally mean to anybody. He does everything with such joy.”
Through his full-time work, a social network through church, work and his family (including his three older brothers), David maintains a busy schedule. He’s also an avid runner.
Recently, Anne said her son told her that he felt he is “being called deeper into religious life.”
“As long as I have the time and I’m free, I’m always willing to help,” said David. He encourages other people to consider getting more involved in their parishes as well. “Ask around and just see if there are any areas that are open that maybe need some more people in. One of the big things that I have always found that helps me is prayer and discernment.”