By Father Stephen Perzan
On Oct. 25, the great 1964 Cardinal Dougherty High School championship basketball team was inducted into the school’s hall of fame. While that team had many outstanding players like Mike Kempski, Earl Williams, Phil Sirianni, along with the late Maurice Savage, what many people might not know is that it also produced three hall of fame priests!
Two of them -Msgr. Kenneth P. McAteer, pastor of St. Ephrem Church, Bensalem, and Father James A. Callahan, pastor of Christ the King Church, Morrell Park, Philadelphia, were ordained with me in 1973. Father Joseph M. Corley, pastor of Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Darby, got a little bit of a late start on his way to the priesthood and was ordained in 1975.
As a loyal CD Cardinals’ fan, I had watched each of them in their various roles on the team, but never did I get to meet them until the seminary.
Father Callahan, best known as “Slim,” was a junior on that ’64 team and so spent a good deal of his time on the bench, yet he remembers what a thrill it was to be there when it all was happening. “Cardinal Dougherty was just so much a part of my life. I grew up around there and even being able to practice with such a great team was for me, a neighborhood kid, a dream come true,” he said. Slim entered St. Charles Seminary in 1965 after playing another year of hoops and experiencing a sensational senior baseball season in which he was selected to the All-Catholic team as a third baseman.
In high school Msgr. Kenneth McAteer didn’t have the physical makeup of a basketball player, but that didn’t stop him. Where Msgr. McAteer couldn’t play, “Mac” – as he’s known to most – made himself available to the players and the school as its team manager and a sometimes scorekeeper. Mac always had a zest for sports and his enthusiasm to be with the “big guys,” although a “little guy,” made him a favorite among all the team players. Graduating with the 1964 Dougherty winning squad, Msgr. McAteer, then as now, was known for his generous and encouraging heart.
Father Joseph Corley was a junior on the ’64 team, arriving there after having honed his basketball skills playing freshman and junior varsity ball. The ability to play sports along with its character-building qualities had initiated in “JoCor” a deeper appreciation and understanding of the world around him. He came to play with people from other parts of the city, from different races and even faiths. It was also through the sport of dribbling that he came into contact with many great priests, like Msgr. Francis Schmidt and Father John Nevins.
All three of these members of the 1964 team, so different in personality, WEREt so alike in a way unknown to each of them. on the backboards and hardwood floors of a gym; in their devotion to a team and its members, in their love for the game of basketball, God was planting a seed within them.
The 1964 team lost its last game of the season in a hard-fought but anguishing loss to Germantown High School. But what it did not lose was the spirit of God’s love and devotion that has come to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia through the priestly service of these three championship priests. That’s some spanine coaching!
Father Perzan is parochial vicar at St. Helena Parish in Philadelphia.