One…Two… Three… • Parishioners exercise their mid-sections by doing sit-ups. Photo from St. John the Baptist Parish Facebook page

One…Two… Three… • Parishioners exercise their mid-sections by doing sit-ups. Photo from St. John the Baptist Parish Facebook page

By David Kilby | Correspondent

Coach John McKenna and Father Brian Woodrow work as a tag team, bringing together the well-known coach’s training skills and the enthusiastic priest’s community-building skills, to form the St. John Athletic Club in St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown.

Coach McKenna is in his 16th season as athletic performance director and assistant football coach in Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, and has been a strength and football coach for 32 years. He was the first strength coach inducted into the New Jersey Coaches Hall of Fame, and his training program, initially for younger athletes, teaches the basics of cardio, strength and conditioning while also enhancing athletic ability. It has been copied and highlighted throughout the country.

Father Woodrow, pastor of St. John Parish, has trained with Coach McKenna for a few years, and started talking to him about starting an athletic program that trained the body, mind and spirit.

“I don’t think you just train the body,” Coach McKenna said, reflecting on the development of the parish club, as dozens of club members did their exercises on the lawn by the parish religious education building. “You train the character. I believe you have to train the whole package (body, mind and spirit) together.”

He said that the program has formed relationships outside church.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “That’s what the church should be. It should be an event. We brought everything together. We’ve got to train the whole culture. We’ve got all ages here, whole families here.”

All summer long, there was a consistent number of about 45 people coming to the training evenings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. July 29 was the last evening for the summer, but the club will start again in the fall.

Coach McKenna is looking for ways to build the program. The club already has a collection of apparel available through

Zach Tharp, who met Father Woodrow during his senior year at NDHS, helps Coach McKenna train the club members. He said when he was in high school he and Father Woodrow talked about the similarities between religion and weight lifting.

“I always believed in having strong faith,” he shared. “People love coming out, getting in better shape. It builds a sense of community in the parish.”

Trent Potosky, parishioner, noted that playing sports helped him stay fit when he was younger. But as he got older, he found it difficult to find something to keep him in shape. He tried a fitness gym, but said it wasn’t working for him, especially considering the cost. “Then this (athletic club) opened up and it’s been great,” he said.

Lorraine Kosztyu said she heard about the program through her husband who is a Trenton fireman. “He just loved the workout and coach’s enthusiasm. And you meet new people. It’s like a family.”