Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Joe Freedy from Quarterback to Priest

Joe Freedy is one of the athletes discussed in Patrick McCaskey's personal chronicle, Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout published by Sporting Chance Press. The discussion below is based on that in Sports and Faith. It is Freedy's photo, taken by Mark Bolster, that graces the cover of the book designed by Don Torres.

A decade ago, a Buffalo newspaper’s sports headline read: “University of Buffalo Bulls Defeats Ohio Bobcats 44–0.” In that game, Buffalo quarterback Joe Freedy threw for a season-high 296 yards to lead the Bulls to a stunning victory. UB had moved up to Division 1A and wins had been few that season and would be for the next few years. Freedy’s offense piled up 538 yards total and life was sweet for the handsome young man who commanded his team. He had good friends, a pretty girlfriend, and a good family. He was loved and respected.

Joe Freedy would go on to graduate the following year after he put up some solid career numbers on the University of Buffalo gridiron. Upon graduation, he had many options. He chose what many would call an unlikely path for a handsome young quarterback—the priesthood. Joe Freedy had developed an interest in a religious vocation as a young boy. It is a common consideration for untold numbers of boys, but one that often fades in time as manhood approaches. It was not something he talked about much and he had put it on the back burner.

His family was a quiet Catholic family—going to Mass, praying at meals, and following the tenets of the faith. Perhaps life was also just a little too busy to notice Joe’s interest much with five children running about. Nevertheless, Freedy parents’ faith had spoken volumes to their son.

A “big man on campus” in high school, Freedy had natural athletic abilities that made it easy to compete and excel. But at the University of Buffalo, everyone on the field was a gifted athlete. Without a solid work ethic, Freedy found himself so far down the depth chart, it seemed like he had no chance at all to ever play. He turned to other means to become popular. He partied hardy. But before long, he found himself miserable. Like many other young men who travel down the wrong path, he was pulled back on track by a young woman who exuded an honest dignity and femininity. And in her goodness, he was able to reflect back on her his own sense of masculinity.

Through an odd twist of fate, injuries to other players on UB’s football team pushed Freedy into position to play. He responded and grew in maturity.

Off the field, he took a harder look at his parents and began to get a better appreciation of their faith and character. Scot Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper helped him develop a whole new appreciation for his church and helped renew a sense of vocation in him. As Freedy was drawn again to the vocation of the priesthood, he was torn with having to break away from the young woman who had helped to right him. After circumstances pulled them geographically apart for a time, his sweetheart found someone else. A period of painful adjustment followed.

After college, it was time for Freedy to channel his zeal into his vocation and his calling to serve others. “It was a huge tug on my heart,” Freedy said, “but the Lord was calling me to this.” He had to break from his friends to dedicate himself to preparing for his ministry. He received his master’s degree in philosophy from Duquesne University and attended the Pontifical North American College at the Vatican.

Monsignor Sciera of Pittsburgh counseled Freedy on his vocation and when they were both in Rome, the monsignor brought him along to a private chapel in Saint Peter’s, where the monsignor said a private Mass alongside the pontiff. Freedy remembered feeling the Pope’s holiness in a tangible way as John Paul II came into the chapel. The pontiff was ill and it was painful for him to move about, but the Mass was a highly charged faith experience.

After John Paul II death, Freedy received the first papal blessing of Pope Benedict XVI along with thousands of others in Saint Peter’s Square. He also visited with Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity at their mission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

After completing his courses at Pontifical North American College in Rome, Father Joe returned to the Pittsburgh Diocese where he has served in parish work. He is currently director of vocations for the Diocese. He is looking to help those other quarterbacks who may receive the special signals outside the huddle that he himself received.
Copyright 2012 Sporting Chance Press.
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Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine sports books. Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout is a personal chronicle of Chicago Bears Senior Director Patrick McCaskey that looks back at decades of spiritual enrichment and life lessons from athletes, coaches, religious and everyday people. McCaskey recalls the stories of those who strived to make the cut on and off the field—plus people who left comfortable lives to serve the under-served in extraordinary ways.

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