A Catholic college wins big, bringing student athletes into the faith

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Benedictine College
Courtesy photo

When Matthew Gabriel arrived at Benedictine College three years ago, he was focused on one thing: baseball.

Now, he is focused on evangelization.

Baptized as a Methodist, Gabriel did not care about the Catholic faith that is present on the campus of Benedictine College, which is listed in the Newman Guide as a faithfully Catholic college.

On Divine Mercy Sunday, however, he was one of 19 Benedictine students to enter into the Church and now wants to share his new faith with the world.

“In my past life, I was addicted to sin, I didn’t really have much to live for, I struggled with depression, anxiety,” Gabriel said. “But coming to Benedictine college, I have had positive people in my life who are practicing Catholics and truly show you God’s love. Now that I am a confirmed Catholic, I really hope to have a similar impact on somebody else’s life.”

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, celebrated the baptism and confirmation liturgy on Divine Mercy Sunday, welcoming the largest group of catechumens and candidates that Benedictine has had in recent memory.

Coaches prioritize spiritual growth

Of the 19 students who entered the Church, 17 are student athletes. Father Ryan Richardson says that the large group was the result of an increased outreach to student athletes by the college’s campus ministry team and the athletic department.

“For all the coaches, one of the priorities for their team is spiritual development,” Richardson said. “At the beginning of this semester, Charlie Gartenmayer, the athletic director, and myself conducted a survey of all of our student athletes and just asked them a few questions about their faith background to better understand where they are coming from.”

The final question asked athletes was if they were interested in learning more about the Catholic faith.

40 responded yes.

“I then personally sent an email to each one of them and just said, ‘Hey, I’d love to sit down with you and talk to you about your interest in Catholicism.’ And so from that, I explained to them what we do with RCIA, explained to them the process and just invited them to join the Church,” Richardson said.

Athletes mentoring athletes

When RCIA began, each candidate and catechumen was paired with a 1-1 mentor who walked with them throughout the process.

Many mentors were athletes themselves, providing a sense of community and understanding during the formation process.

“My mentor was a guy who’s also on the baseball team,” Gabriel said. “We would have weekly meetings, go to adoration and mass together, and he really did a great job and took it upon himself to help me grow and answer any questions and also pushed me to be a witness to other people’s faith.”

But the RCIA process was not a one-man show, it was a team effort, often involving the athlete’s teammates providing additional support.

“One of the most beautiful things was seeing how guys on their team walked on this path with them,” David Krymowski, a senior at Benedictine and the RCIA coordinator said. “Being able to be a part of a person’s formation helped them grow closer as a team as well. These teams are now engaging and entering into something bigger than their own team, they are participating in the Church.”

For Gabriel, he experienced that full participation after his confirmation when he received the Blessed Sacrament for the first time, a moment that he simply described as “amazing.”

“When I received the Eucharist for the first time, I almost started crying because I’ve been looking forward to that for so many months,” Gabriel said. “It’s hard to describe, but I really felt the Holy Spirit there,” he said. “Finally being able to receive the Eucharist, and to finally be able to participate fully in the Mass, that was amazing.”

Jack Figge

Jack Figge has written for multiple diocesan papers, including covering World Youth Day 2023 for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas. In addition to his local coverage, he has written for the National Catholic Register, FOCUS and Catholic Vote.