Cook Children’s patient Alexis Enriquez's classmates traveled from Clifton to be Confirmed as a Clas

Story and Photos by

Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

Bishop Kevin Vann, Holy Angels pastor Fr. Tom Kennedy, and Olga Enriquez (far left), pose with members of the 2012 Confirmation class from Holy Angels Church, including Alexis Enriquez to the left of Bishop Vann.

Alexis Enriquez was sitting in a hospital room at Cook Children’s Medical Center May 14 when doctors delivered some disappointing news. The 15-year-old high school freshman, undergoing treatment for a third bout of leukemia, was scheduled for a curative bone marrow transplant May 24. But troubling lab results forced her medical team to postpone the surgery.

The setback would have devastated most people. Not Alexis. The hopeful teenager from Clifton, just northwest of Waco, found a silver lining in the situation. Preparing for a transplant would have meant high doses of chemotherapy followed by isolation to prevent infection. Instead, Alexis sat in the front pew of a hospital chapel on May 19 and received the Sacrament of Confirmation with the rest of her friends.

After spending two years studying catechism, attending retreats, and performing community service together, 11 Confirmation students at Holy Angels Church in Clifton told Trish Baum, the parish’s director of religious education, they didn’t want a large parish celebration. Receiving the sacrament alongside their hospitalized classmate was more important.

“It was their idea,” Baum said, recalling how the teens approached her about having the Confirmation Mass at Cook Children’s where Alexis has been a patient since February. Initially, the teenagers were told the ceremony might take place without their ailing friend. The bishop would confirm Alexis in Fort Worth, and they could drive up to witness the service. Baum asked the group to consider that scenario.

“They said, ‘no.’ We’re a class and we want to do this as a class,” the youth leader said, remembering the exchange. “Knowing how sick Alexis is, they didn’t want to do this without her.”

Alexis Enriquez receives the Sacrament of Confirmation from Bishop Vann inside Cook Children's hospital chapel.

Baum wasn’t sure the group’s request for Confirmation in a hospital chapel was even possible. After receiving permission from Holy Angels pastor Father Tom Kennedy and Bishop Kevin Vann, the D.R.E. had to get the OK from hospital administrators and doctors treating Alexis’ leukemia.

Winning the approval of parents was another challenge. Moving the ceremony 100 miles away from Bosque County to Tarrant County meant a two-hour car ride for families and limiting the guest list. The intimate chapel, which has a unique feature, a tabernacle housing the Blessed Sacrament, comfortably seats about 35 people.

Today’s young people are often described as self-absorbed and self-entitled. Baum called the decision made by the Confirmation class “self-less.” Confirmation in the small, rural town is a big community event.

“Everyone is invited and there is a big reception in the hall,” she said explaining the parish celebration. “For 15-year-olds to consider putting someone else’s needs above their own is just amazing. I was surprised and proud.”

Shelden Dowden, 15, and Lesley Rivera, 14, have known Alexis since kindergarten and said the class never second-guessed its decision to move Confirmation to a Fort Worth hospital.

“We didn’t want her to feel left out or abandoned. We wanted her to know she was going to be a part of us no matter what,” Rivera said.

Holy Angels pastor Father Tom Kennedy with Alexis Enriquez.

To show their support, members of the youth group participated in fundraisers at Clifton High School to help pay for their classmate’s medical expenses.

“I hope this conveys to her that she’s not alone,” Dowden explained. “Her being here with us makes the day extra special.”

Alexis’ presence wasn’t the only highlight of the gathering. Her mother, Olga, received her First Communion and also was confirmed. Fr. Tom Kennedy, who concelebrated the Mass with Bishop Vann, said the extra effort by students to include the Enriquez family in their Confirmation Day exemplifies what it means to be Catholic.

“It’s a confirmation of their sense of community and claiming their faith,” the pastor explained. “This is a lifetime memory of Church.”

Standing in front of the bishop, Alexis took the Confirmation name Sacred Heart of Jesus and was enriched with the special strength of the Holy Spirit. At the end of the Mass, she returned to the front of the crowded sanctuary to receive another sacrament — the Anointing of the Sick. As the congregation lifted their arms in prayer, Bishop Vann anointed the teenager’s hands and asked God to heal her body, mind, and spirit.

Alexis enjoyed visiting with friends, but the best part of her Confirmation Day were the prayers, she said.

“I felt it. They gave me courage,” the newly confirmed cancer patient explained before attending a low-key cake and punch reception in the hospital cafeteria. “Everything happens for a reason. I didn’t go to transplant because God needed me to be part of this.”

Alexis Enriquez was sitting in a hospital room at Cook Children’s Medical Center May 14 when doctors delivered some disappointing news. The 15-year-old high school freshman, undergoing treatment for a third bout of leukemia, was scheduled for a curative bone marrow transplant May 24. But troubling lab results forced her medical team to postpone the surgery.

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