Teen passionate about service, law enforcement - Catholic Courier

Teen passionate about service, law enforcement

Catherine Cardinal knows three different ways to put a person in handcuffs and knows how to use deadly force, but she also knows how to bring a smile to the face of a terminally ill stranger and serve on the altar during Mass.

Several of those skills might appear to be at odds with one another, but they’re all rooted in a deep-seated desire to serve others, said Cardinal, 18.

"I like to help people. I just feel good when I get involved," said the teen, who hopes to become a police officer.

Cardinal’s desire to help others is well-known to everyone from her parents and peers to diocesan officials. Cardinal was one of the more than 700 teens who received the Diocese of Rochester’s Hands of Christ recognition in March. Steve and Debbie Cardinal nominated their daughter for the award, which Bishop Matthew H. Clark presents each year to high-school seniors who’ve been actively involved in service to their communities, churches and schools.

"Cat is a willing, able and hardworking volunteer who is most of the time cheerful and helpful," Cardinal’s father wrote in his nomination letter for his daughter. "She has chosen law enforcement as a career and has conducted her personal life so as to reflect the moral, spiritual and legal requirements of the position she aspires to."

Cardinal’s concern for others and dedication to service began at a young age, her father explained in his nomination letter.

"Catherine has always been a helper. She has helped her mother and I with all the family chores, from doing her own laundry to mowing the grass," he wrote.

Cardinal said her parents taught their children about the importance of helping others. They reinforced this message by incorporating community service into the family’s normal routine, she said.

"At least once a month we’re doing community service as a family. We’ve done it since I was young," she said.

The teen, who in June graduated from Auburn’s Tyburn Academy of Mary Immaculate, said her strong Catholic faith is another factor that continuously motivates her to serve others.

"Every Sunday when the priest always says you go out and serve others, I just think I’ve taken that message to heart," said Cardinal, who belongs to Good Shepherd Catholic Community in southern Cayuga County.

Cardinal’s family joined Good Shepherd about a year ago, she said, and before that the family was active in its previous parish, St. Anthony in Groton. Cardinal herself had been quite involved in that parish, where she served as a lector, an altar server and a greeter.

"At my old church I used to mow the lawn there, and I was in the youth group," she added.

That involvement has carried over to Good Shepherd, where Cardinal serves as a lector and regularly participates in parish activities and celebrations. Cardinal said she’s enjoyed being involved at both St. Anthony and Good Shepherd because it helps her forge a strong bond with the other members of her church community.

Cardinal became a full member of that church community when she was confirmed in 2008, and she takes that role very seriously. Many of her peers were confirmed at an earlier age, but Cardinal and her parents decided to hold off.

"When everyone else was being confirmed I didn’t really understand what it was. (My parents) asked me questions about it and I really didn’t understand it at all," Cardinal said.

Cardinal’s parents told her she could keep learning about her faith and decide on her own when the time was right to be confirmed. In the fall of 2008 Cardinal decided the time was right and she would be able to understand the commitment she was making to witness to her faith and be a full member of the church.

"I just knew everything about it," she recalled. "I was able to answer questions. I knew that was what I believed, and that’s what it should be," Cardinal said.

Cardinal’s witness to her faith does not stop when she walks out of church. She and her family regularly volunteer at a local food pantry, and twice has worked at St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy in Buffalo. She’s participated twice in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., and has volunteered at and raised money for Chapel House, an Auburn homeless shelter run by Holy Family Parish. She’s also worked at Auburn’s Matthew House, a home for the terminally ill.

"They’re so happy to have people visiting," Cardinal said. "I don’t know how they can be so happy, but they always are. It (visits from people) brings joy to them."

Learning about law enforcement brings joy to Cardinal, she said. During her senior year she took part in the New Visions Legal Professions class offered in Cayuga County, and it was there that she learned about everything from handcuffing and traffic stops to criminal prosecutions and trials.

Cardinal, who has wanted to be a police officer since she was in eighth grade, said this course only whetted her appetite for law enforcement, and thus she plans to major in criminal justice at Niagara University.

"I know that I really want to do this," she said. "I just think it’s an exciting job."

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