Teen with Down syndrome aims to serve Mass in 50 states

After Iowa, she’ll have 12 left to go

By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant

CEDAR RAPIDS — After Kara Jackson serves Mass at St. Patrick Parish in Cedar Rapids on Friday, June 3, the 18-year-old from Middletown, Ohio, will be able to check Iowa off of her list – leaving her with only 12 states to go in her quest to serve Mass in all 50 U.S. states.

Jackson began her state-by-state journey three years ago, after she told her parents, Rick and Christina, she felt it was something God wanted her to do. Her parents have supported her mission and have traveled with her as she has served at liturgies across the country.

The first state that Jackson served Mass in outside of her native Ohio was neighboring Indiana — at St. Mary Parish in Richmond on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2013. Next came Pennsylvania, where she served at a parish in Pittsburgh. From there, Jackson and her parents have continued their travels to other states during extended weekends and school vacations.

Her sixth state was Kentucky, where Jackson served at a Mass concelebrated by Father Michael Tobin and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Later in a blog post, Archbishop Kurtz said Jackson, who was born with Down syndrome, was “clearly an expert server” whose “beautiful personality and unique gifts reinforced our church’s teachings about the dignity of every human being.”

Jackson’s story began to garner attention after she served Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, Connecticut – her 18th state – and The Catholic Transcript, the archdiocesan paper in Hartford, wrote a story about her, which was picked up by national and international news outlets.

She made it to both Illinois and Wisconsin – states 19 and 20 – during a weekend in November of 2014. During that trip, she told the Catholic Herald of the Madison Diocese that she enjoys serving Mass, which she has been doing since age 9, because it is an opportunity to “be close to the Body and Blood of Christ” and that she feels “closer to God at the altar.”

Each state Jackson has served in has provided her with a unique experience and the opportunity to meet many new people. She seems to have a special ability to connect with and inspire others, and many of the people at the parishes she serves at ask her to pose for pictures or will share their personal stories with her. She maintains a journal to document her travels and to help her remember those she encounters along the way.

Jackson’s travels will soon be bringing her to Iowa, specifically the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Her mother recently called St. Patrick Parish in Cedar Rapids and spoke to Cindy Koczo, the church’s pastoral minister. She shared her daughter’s story and said the family would be traveling to a wedding in Minnesota on June 4, and wanted to stop at St. Patrick’s in Iowa along the way.

“She said they looked at the map and saw that Cedar Rapids would be on their route,” recalled Koczo. “They picked St. Patrick’s, because Kara was born on St. Patrick’s Day, and she said she wanted to serve at an Irish parish.”

Logistics were worked out and it was decided that Jackson would serve at St. Patrick’s on the first Friday in June at 8:30 a.m. Weekday Masses at the parish are typically held in the adoration chapel, but this one will take place in the church to accommodate the larger turnout that is expected that morning.

After Mass is over, the church hopes there will be time for a short reception with coffee and doughnuts before Jackson and her family again hit the road and head north to Minnesota.

“It’s a huge honor to have Kara coming to our parish,” Koczo said of the upcoming visit. “She chose St. Patrick’s out of all of the churches in the state of Iowa. We’re very excited to be number 38 on her journey to serve Mass in all 50 states.”

St. Patrick’s pastor, Father Ivan Nienhaus, who will celebrate the Mass during Jackson’s visit, added, “We were asked if we could help Kara fulfill her dream and we certainly are open to helping people make their dreams come true.”


CNS photo/Bob Mullen. Jackson helps his daughter Kara light an altar candle before Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, Conn. July 29, 2014. Kara is on a lifelong pilgrimage to serve Mass in all 50 states.

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