Bishop O'Connell and the high school students in attendance at the 2019 Catholic Athletes for Christ meeting held Sept. 17 gather for a photo on the front steps of the Diocesan Chancery. John Batkowski photos
Bishop O'Connell and the high school students in attendance at the 2019 Catholic Athletes for Christ meeting held Sept. 17 gather for a photo on the front steps of the Diocesan Chancery. John Batkowski photos
" We recognize you as the future leaders of our Church and country. "

Athletes from six Catholic high schools assembled Sept. 17 in the Diocesan Chancery, Lawrenceville, for the annual Catholic Athletes for Christ Leadership Day, with the aim of this year’s meeting being to foster new relationships with one another and focus on building the future of CAC in the Diocese of Trenton.

PHOTO GALLERY: Catholic Athletes for Christ 2019 meeting

“As your Bishop … I pray for you every day,” Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., said in meeting with the students and school faculty members. “The Diocese is proud of you – win or lose.”

The Catholic Athletes for Christ program is designed to encourage young people to make the connection between their Catholic faith and athletics. Bishop O’Connell is a member of the national organization’s episcopal board.

Ray McKenna, president of the national Catholic Athletes for Christ, said that being a Catholic athlete provides a space both in and outside of the locker room for students to share about faith. “You have a great opportunity to share who you are, the special person God made you to be, with others … don’t waste that.”

JoAnn Tier, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, also encouraged the students, saying, “We recognize you as the future leaders of our Church and country and … CAC continues to prepare you for that leadership.”

Reflecting on the years he has participated in CAC at Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, senior Brendan Byron said, “CAC is a good way to keep a close bond with your teammates. You’re better connected with the faith and with each other.”

Junior Jake Lauro from Red Bank Catholic High School, Red Bank, had similar thoughts. “I like the community and the people … These people are my friends, and I can talk about God with them. It’s cool.”

During the morning, students gathered in small groups to meet new people from other schools and discuss topics such as their favorite sports teams, families and interesting facts others might not know about them. That fellowship led to deeper discussions, as students were asked their opinions about the CAC program, including room for improvement. Responses ranged from more time spent serving their local communities to interacting with other CAC groups in the Diocese on a regular basis.

When asked what was most enjoyable about participating in the program at their schools, Sean Mulligan, a senior at Notre Dame High School shared, “We do things [in CAC] that other groups don’t do. We were able to meet the head coach of the Eagles football team, and we spoke with him about God and sports.”

Fellow senior Maddie Fitzgerald of St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, added that in CAC “everyone [from different sports] comes together, and this gives us opportunities to help other people in our community.”

After hearing feedback by one representative of each small group during the discussion period, Notre Dame Coach John McKenna gave assurance to everyone present that the feedback from students would be important to the future of the CAC programs at each school.

“The board is going to take all of these suggestions and do our best to give back to you what you want from us, because together, we’re stronger,” McKenna said.

Students then made their way to Notre Dame High School, located adjacent to the Chancery, to pray a decade of the Rosary in the school’s grotto before eating lunch. After lunch, students enjoyed a presentation by Coach McKenna and Father Jason Parzynski, the school chaplain before heading back to their respective schools at the end of the day.