By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
RADNOR – When two dozen young men and women assembled at Archbishop Carroll High School for meetings of Catholic Athletes for Christ (CAC) on March 3 and 17, they may not have realized they were pioneering an entirely new ministry for a group founded primarily to support the Catholic faith among mostly professional athletes.
At the first meeting, they watched an inspirational video presentation by former Los Angeles Dodgers star Mike Piazza, had a presentation taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, prayed for various intentions and played Wii games.
Sophomore Sean Price, who runs track, thought the presentation showed “it is really cool to love God,” he said. “You can be a good athlete as well as live out your Christian Faith. I’ll definitely keep coming.”
“Sports are a powerful part of our culture; this faith forum is taking sports and using it as a venue to faith,” commented Father Stephen DeLacy, campus minister at Archbishop Carroll.
CAC was founded in 2006 by Washington lawyer Ray McKenna, who for some years served as a volunteer chaplain with sports teams.
“I realized there was a real void, a real need for an evangelical presence to minister to Catholic athletes. They have nondenominational chapel services, but they don’t have Mass,” said McKenna, who was in Philadelphia for the March 13 Men’s Spirituality Conference at Archbishop Ryan High School. “We are working so Catholic athletes can go to confession, receive the sacraments and have priests available to give them spiritual direction.”
Among the athletes, past or present, who have become closely involved the group, according to McKenna, are Jack Del Rio, head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars; Mike Sweeney of the Seattle Mariners; Jeff Suppan of the Milwaukee Brewers; Lou Carnesecca, former head coach at St. John’s University; Kellen Clemens, quarterback of the New York Jets; and Piazza, who was also at the conference.
“A lot of Catholic athletes, especially ballplayers, wanted a closer venue to go to Mass, especially when they were on the road,” Piazza explained. “Ray wanted Mass at all of the big league stadiums, some did have it, some didn’t (including the Phillies) and we are still working on that now.”
As for CAC, once the seed was planted, “it was amazing to see it grow,” Piazza said.
The high school ministry was begun in the Philadelphia Archdiocese by Larry Meigs, CEO of Visiting Angels, a company that provides non-health care home services to the elderly.
“I heard about it from Ray McKenna. I met him two years ago at the Washington Pro-Life March,” he said. “There is an enormous need for kids to develop intimacy with the Lord. This gets them familiar with Scripture and brings the sacraments to life.”
It was first introduced at Carroll because Meigs has a son there, he explained. Also, one does not have to be an athlete to belong to the high school groups. Most who come are in an athletic program, others just have an interest in sports.
“All students are welcome,” Meigs said.
Sean Farrell, a sophomore who attended the sessions and is involved in basketball and track, believes the CAC program was well-received by those who attended.
“I liked it. It is really interactive, and it showed famous athletes that are good Christians,” he said.
For more information on Catholic Athletes for Christ call 610-585-4076 or visit www.catholicathletesforchrist.com
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.