As athletics continued to galvanize communities among local Catholic high schools, win-loss records and individual statistics took a backseat this week when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia formally welcomed Archbishop-elect Nelson J. Perez as its new shepherd. His installation Mass is Feb. 18.

Instead of being asked about sports strategy or to reminisce about previous achievements, a random mix of student-athletes offered their thoughts regarding their new spiritual leader, along with a few poignant words of advice.

“My mom came to me today and told me that she personally knows the new (archbishop-elect),” said Archbishop Ryan junior softball player Dana Bell. “She is from St. Francis Xavier Parish in the (city’s) Fairmount area, but she worked in Juniata for a dentist and he was one of the patients.

“She told me he was one of the most sincere, kind people she has ever met, and she is so happy he is here. She said he was such a great, down-to-earth, fun and loving priest. She said everyone in his parish, from kids to adults, could tell that he loved all of them. I’m pretty excited about what he is going to bring to Philadelphia.”

Archbishop Ryan junior softball player Dana Bell. (John Knebels)

Bell’s suggestion?

“I would say that keeping an open line of communication with us students is an important thing,” she said. “Social media is such a big part of our lives as young people, and having a way to stay connected with all that is happening in the archdiocese would be something pretty special.”

And one more thing…

“Maybe if he is in the area, he can catch an Archbishop Ryan softball game and throw out the first pitch!”

Bonner-Prendergast senior baseball player and St. Mary Magdalen parishioner in Media, Nate Furman, shares a similar enthusiasm.

“Bishop Perez will be awesome for our archdiocese,” said Furman. “I’ve heard nothing but great stuff about him and we are super excited over here at Bonner-Prendie. The best advice I could give him as a student in Catholic school all my life is to be involved with the kids and families as much as possible. There are a lot of special people in this archdiocese, and their faith is what drives our schools and churches.”

Conwell-Egan Sean senior soccer and football player Luke Jackson, a member of St. Ephrem Parish in Bensalem, described Archbishop Perez as the “perfect man for this job.”

The archbishop’s resume “is filled with outstanding accomplishments, and Bishop Perez worked very hard for what he was honored with,” Jackson said.

“I am extremely excited to see what Bishop Perez brings to the table. I’m with him 110% on all of his decisions he makes and duties he will carry on. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him and our city, the City of Brotherly Love.”

Father Judge footballer Shane McGovern, a member of St. Cecilia Parish in Philadelphia, appreciates the timing of this celebration.

“I think it is a good fit and a nice change for us,” said McGovern. “Change is always good around here in Northeast Philly, and I think he will fit in perfectly fine and make some really good things happen and really turn people’s heads and make them realize that he is a great, influential guy who wants to make us better as a community of people.”

Archbishop Wood senior basketball player Izzy Larsen stressed the need to communicate effectively.
“Just like the pope, a social media presence could help the new bishop really reach out to everyone, even kids who may usually not hear from an archbishop or about the church,” said Larsen. “If used well, social media could really grow the relationship the archbishop has with students all over.”

Other responses:
James Welde, Bonner-Prendergast senior (basketball and football) and member of Annunciation Parish in Havertown: “I would make my way to a couple of schools around the diocese. Not many kids know who he is right now, so at least get his name out there and try to interact with a few of the schools.”

Jake Gandolfo, La Salle senior (football and baseball) and parishioner at Mary Mother of the Redeemer in North Wales: “I think that the best way to connect with the young would be doing his best to be relatable and helpful to that younger generation. If he can connect through giving guidance that really latches on to young people, then I think that will have a positive effect on those people’s view of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia.”

Archbishop Wood senior basketball player Izzy Larsen. (John Knebels)

Colin McVeigh, La Salle senior (baseball) and member of St. Helena Parish in Blue Bell: “Definitely try and visit schools and try to meet as many young kids as he can. His position allows him to be a role model for young Catholics, so if he can speak to various schools, he can definitely change lives.”

Brad Vespe, La Salle senior (football) and parishioner at Epiphany of our Lord in Plymouth Meeting: “Just be friendly and outgoing and build relationships with others.”

Vic Rowello, St. Joseph’s Prep senior wrestler and member of Holy Martyrs Parish in Oreland: “I am curious and excited to see how it pans out, hopefully being a continuation of the, in my opinion, amazing tenure of Archbishop Chaput.

“Personally,” Rowello said, “I’d say the best way to connect with young people is to not explicitly attempt to do so. By that I mean, as a young person myself, I tend to gravitate towards leaders who are genuine and consistent in their messaging – not watering it down or dressing it up due to perceived notions of what we find appealing.”

Ben Herron, La Salle junior (soccer and volleyball) and member of St. Rose of Lima Parish in North Wales: “I believe that he needs to be able to relate himself with the youth of Philadelphia and try and unite the people through faith.”

Ryan Maguire, Malvern Prep football player and parishioner at Saint Mary Magdalen in Media: “I would just say stay positive and stay in touch with the schools on a personal level. Act through the Lord.”

Anthony Leneghan, St. Joseph’s Prep football player and member of St. Jerome Parish: “My advice to him to connect with the younger Catholics in the diocese is to be genuine in everything he does, so we as the younger members in society have no questions about who he is as a person, so we will be more open to listen to him.”

Joe Wilbur, La Salle senior rower, St. Norbert Parish in Paoli: “I hope he will foster growth for the Tridentine Mass and for the promotion of faithful priests who are attacked for their orthodoxy from within and outside the church. I hope he will remain steadfast in excluding women from holy orders, and from every office of sacred ministry, as in accordance with divine law.

“Lastly, I hope he will uphold the most holy discipline of celibacy, which is exceedingly well-suited to Holy Orders. I pray that his marriage with his diocese be strong.”

Lauren Hagy, Archbishop Ryan junior softball player and member of St. Katherine of Siena Parish: “I think it is awesome that we are going to have a new archbishop that is actually from the area because he knows the needs of our city and how he can help improve the churches and Catholic communities in general. I was beyond happy when I heard the news.

“My advice to him,” Hagy said, “would be to share his knowledge of the Catholic faith through social media, because kids nowadays really connect with people through social media.”

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Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.