Summer session builds Catholic athletes for Christ
By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent
Usually when two football teams gather together on the field, there are rivalries, winners and losers. However on July 10, students from Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, assembled on their Monsignor Walter E. Nolan Field with players from Monsignor Donovan High School, Toms River, for a day of strengthening both their physical and spiritual lives; a day of learning how to be Catholic athletes for Christ.
The schools came together through the collaboration of their coaches, John McKenna from Notre Dame and Dan Duddy from Monsignor Donovan, and their chaplains Father Joseph Jakub and Father Patrick McPartland, providing athletes with time to celebrate Mass, run practice drills, share a meal and listen to guest speaker Father Brian Woodrow, who serves as diocesan liaison to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite.
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As Notre Dame chaplain, Father Jakub explained, “The Catholic Athletes for Christ is a program that will be initiated in all of our Catholic high schools this school year. It is being spearheaded by Father Alberto Tamayo, secretary to Bishop [David M.] O’Connell.”
The goal of Catholic Athletes for Christ is to provide an integrated network of sports-oriented clergy and lay people to serve Catholic athletes, coaches and staff in the practice of their faith and to utilize the unique platform given to them to reach the world for Jesus Christ and His Church.
In his homily, Father Jakub appealed to the young men to model the lives of the apostles and St. Benedict and lead by example.
“By living a life of virtue, especially in high school, others will see your example and want to aspire to be like that.”
Father Brian Woodrow also encouraged the young men to look toward their ancestors in faith to find men of strength and character to emulate.
He shared the story of St. Leo the Great, the fifth century pope who was able to save Italy from the invasion of Attila the Hun.
“Because of the faith of God that was in that holy pope, with his fearlessness, with his faith in God, God was able to use him and overcome every, and any, obstacle that the Church had in its way.”
“That was one man. You are one group,” he continued. “Imagine what we can all accomplish when we support each other, first and foremost in faith and then allow ourselves to grow physically strong, spiritually strong and as a family.”
He recalled the day’s strength training exercises and encouraged the young men to also strengthen their faith as they build their muscles and their physical strength.
“Take everything you learn in athletics, apply it to your faith and you will be unstoppable.”
Nyheem Ross, who will be a senior at Notre Dame in the fall, found the day to be rewarding and affirmative. “I think it was really productive, I got to meet a lot of new people and I had a good time,” he continued. “Faith plays a big part in the game. We are all brothers. I trust them, they trust me. I would do anything for them.”
Sophomore teammate Dominic Conte agreed.
“It was great, I learned a ton. It was fun.” He was especially struck by Father Brian’s story of the great pope who is also a doctor of the Church.
“That story without a doubt was my favorite,” Conte offered. “I didn’t know anything about that.”
Dan Duddy, who has coached football at Monsignor Donovan for seven years, also serves as pastoral minister for athletics at the high school.
“It is so important to incorporate faith and spirituality with [the players’] number one focus right now, which is athletics,” he said.
“As Catholic leaders we have to hold ourselves accountable as coaches and Catholic men. I am looking forward to more events like this with more teams,” he shared enthusiastically.
Father Woodrow, who wrestled when he was a high school student at Mater Dei Prep High School in New Monmouth, serves as chaplain for Capital Health System and is in residence in Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Trenton. “Wherever the gifts and talents God gave me can be applied, I’ll be there,” he remarked when speaking of this recent ministry.
And should Notre Dame and Monsignor Donovan meet as rivals on the football field one day, each team will no doubt give their all vying for that win, but right now they are a committed faith community as they shouted in their final huddle “1,2,3 family,1,2,3 brotherhood.”