Sean Clancy, head football coach for Lawrenceville’s Notre Dame High School, pictured left,, is eager for the Catholic Athletes for Christ, of which he is co-moderator, to be successful. At right is Jim Treacy, CAC co-moderator. Courtesy photo
Sean Clancy, head football coach for Lawrenceville’s Notre Dame High School, pictured left,, is eager for the Catholic Athletes for Christ, of which he is co-moderator, to be successful. At right is Jim Treacy, CAC co-moderator. Courtesy photo
" To be a student-athlete, the body, mind, and spirit have to move and grow together for the young people to really become the adults that God has intended them to be. If you’re not listening to your faith, you’re not going to become what God intended you to be. "

As head football coach at Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, Sean Clancy’s main goal is to put his players in a position to succeed on the field. As the new co-moderator for the school’s Catholic Athletes for Christ organization, Clancy hopes to perform the same function for the student-athletes to succeed in life.

“I want to put the kids in positions to have the opportunity to talk about their faith, to grow in their faith, to give them opportunities for their leadership,” Clancy said. “To give the juniors and seniors the opportunity to demonstrate to the freshmen and sophomores what it is to be a member of the Notre Dame Community, what it is to be an athlete and a Christian. It’s an opportunity for the younger kids to learn and for the older kids to pass on.”

Clancy was quick to acknowledge that the late coach John McKenna and his right hand man, Jim Treacy, were already doing that for the group since they started as moderators when CAC began in the Diocese of Trenton in 2013. McKenna – who was one of the faces of the organization – passed away last summer.

It left a massive hole to fill, and Clancy knew stepping in for McKenna was like being the quarterback who replaced Tom Brady.

“I’m certainly never going to replace him,” Clancy said. “All I can do is the best that I can. John was such a great role model. He was always talking about the body, mind, and spirit, and how all of that is intertwined. He was such a great guy and always so upbeat and so focused on the kids. Great men and great women do small things with great love and he did small things every day with great love.”

Clancy knows he will never be McKenna. But he knew someone had to step in because the position is so important.

“The kids get so much out of it and it’s such a great opportunity to give them [a chance for] leadership and to really explore their faith,” Clancy said. “John was so into it and such a great guy. I really wanted the program to stay strong, and I wanted to celebrate John, too, because it’s so important to the kids.”

He extolled the help he is getting from former Notre Dame chaplain Father Jason Parzynski. “He has been a big resource for us, helping us with our Bible studies.” Clancy also acknowledged Treacy, who is one of Clancy’s football assistants while also coaching two other sports for the school.

“Coach Treacy and John were at the first meeting they ever had for Catholic Athletes for Christ,” Clancy said. “He has been a great resource for the kids for keeping Coach McKenna’s legacy alive as well. And he helps me a ton.”  

The duo is overseeing a group that includes 217 student-athletes, including 100 football players, at Notre Dame. On Dec. 14, they accompanied their 12-person council (six boys, six girls) to St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, for the Diocese’s annual CAC Leadership Conference. Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrated Mass for the conference, and Dan Duddy – former coach for Donovan Catholic, Toms River, who helped develop the DOT organization – was the keynote speaker. A plaque was presented to Notre Dame in honor of McKenna’s work.  

The give-and-take amongst the student-athletes impressed Clancy, a lifelong parishioner of St. Paul Parish, Princeton.  

“It was fantastic seeing the faith the kids and their ability to communicate with each other show,” he said. “You have six schools bringing kids together. We had breakout groups, and [in] the group I had, the kids were answering questions, talking about their faith and really [were] able to communicate with each other. It always amazes me how young people now can talk about their faith; I know when I was that age it just wasn’t something that we did.”

Clancy continued by saying, “They’re happy to do it, and in a really in-depth, liberal arts sort of way. They acknowledge that anything you believe without questioning it isn’t faith. Faith requires you to look at it and review it and to question it and to [then choose to] believe certain things” that go beyond easy explanations.

Aside from the bi-weekly meetings that are held, Clancy and Treacy have brainstormed some new charity events for Irish athletes to participate in. They include the Polar Bear Plunge at Seaside Heights in February, a Mud Run in the spring and a Color Run in June. They are also working on a CrossFit event in March to honor McKenna, the proceeds of which will go toward a memorial scholarship being set up in his name.

These functions are designed not only to keep McKenna’s name alive, but also to keep alive the ideals that he taught during his time at NDHS.

“The goal of a Notre Dame education is to build the body, mind and spirit,” Clancy said, echoing McKenna’s philosophy. “You can’t separate any of those pieces out. To be an athlete is to be a person of faith. To be a student-athlete, the body, mind, and spirit have to move and grow together for the young people to really become the adults that God has intended them to be. If you’re not listening to your faith, you’re not going to become what God intended you to be.”