Finding God in Small Things

As Loyola’s head sacristan, Jonathan Pennacchia devotes nearly 20 hours a week to campus liturgy

By George P. Matysek, Jr., '94  |  Photo by Howard Korn

Jonathan Pennacchia revels in doing small things for God.

Whether scraping melted wax off the Alumni Chapel floor, conducting sound checks, or counting the number of hosts that will be consecrated at Mass, the 21-year-old senior economics major uncovers a bit of the divine.

“There’s something just so beautiful about having a hand in the liturgy,” said Pennacchia, a Loyola Campus Ministry intern who has served as a sacristan since his sophomore year and is now head sacristan.

“The liturgy has really been my main source of prayer,” said Pennacchia, seated beneath a crucifix and portrait of St. Ignatius Loyola in the chapel’s sacristy. “It’s been my main way I communicate with God. Making sure that it’s as close to perfection as we can humanly make it is— for me— really successful prayer.”

Pennacchia’s deep love for liturgy goes back to the fourth grade, when he became an altar server at his home parish in Wappingers Falls, New York. It was a privilege to serve in the sanctuary and have an active role at Mass, he said.

As Loyola’s head sacristan, Pennacchia devotes nearly 20 hours a week to making sure liturgies run smoothly. He also helps train 180 student liturgical ministers, providing not only the nuts-and-bolts explanations of various liturgical rubrics, but also the theology behind them.

“A lot of our young adults are hungry for catechesis,” said Kristin Witte, ‘95, a former assistant director of Loyola’s Campus Ministry. “Jonathan has a strong foundation in it, so he has an ability to educate his peers.”

Pennacchia is well respected on campus, even among students who don’t go to Mass, for the devout way he carries out his duties, Witte said.

“Modern media would want you to believe that young adults have forgotten the value of respect and the value of reverence,” she said. “Jonathan is a perfect example of the fact that our young adults understand and appreciate the beauty, truth, and dignity present in the Eucharist and present in others.”

Jonathan’s love for the Eucharist is genuine and contagious, Witte said.

“He knows that what’s going on at the altar is true,” she said, “and, because he believes it with his whole being—with his mind, body, and spirit—other students believe it also.”

Pennacchia said his faith has matured during his time at Loyola. Conversations with Jesuits and his experiences in Campus Ministry have taught him to see God in all things, not just inside a church building.

“Where do you find God in conversations with buddies in the dorm room or stupid joking around?” he asked. “My freshman year, I’d say you can’t. Now I think I’d say He’s there in the laughter. He’s there in the camaraderie. He’s there in that friendship that’s been forged.”

Pennacchia, who served as a tutor at Baltimore’s Cristo Rey Jesuit High School for five semesters, knows a lot about camaraderie. For a time, he was part of Loyola’s comedy troupe, Nevergreens. The proud son of an Italian family also regularly prepares Italian meals such as baked ziti for his friends and roommates. Faith, conversation, and joy all come together around the table, he said.

Then, nodding to the altar, he offered an addendum: “At both tables.”

Read more about how Loyola’s Bright Minds, Bold Hearts campaign will support Mission and Ministry.

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