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A starting quarterback for Raven Football — the third in a row to do so — entered the Church on Sunday, in addition to a wrestler from Arizona whose story inspired many in the pandemic.
An outreach to school athletes is evidently working well at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
Of 12 students entering the Church through College Ministry’s RCIA program on Divine Mercy Sunday, six are football players, two are wrestlers and one new Catholic is a member of the women’s soccer team. Kansas City, Kansas, Archbishop Joseph Naumann performed the sacraments for the new Catholics (pictured, above).
The group includes Calvert Tsosie, a wrestler whose work for his Navajo Nation was covered by the media during the pandemic.
“This is a fantastic story,” said President Stephen D. Minnis. “We are so proud of Calvert Tsosie, who overcame so many obstacles during the pandemic with a real Raven spirit. And it is inspiring to see quarterbacks lead on and off the field.”
He credited longtime Coach Larry Wilcox, who retires this year, for creating a program that inspired students to become men of community, faith and scholarship.
“Who really helped bring me into this and I cannot thank enough is Father Ryan [Richardson] and everyone associated with the RCIA program here,” said Laskowski , who is from Baldwin City, Kansas, and plans to graduate in 2022.
A student RCIA team helps coordinate the program of instruction for these new Catholics through a series of “Emmaus Nights” — two-hour evenings featuring speakers and fellowship.
“This year’s class basically doubles last year’s class,” says Father Richardson, who runs Benedictine College’s RCIA program. “I think the main reason for the higher numbers is more intentional athlete outreach. I have been regularly spending time with the athletic teams and asking who would be interested in being baptized and receiving sacraments.”
Father Richardson said Laskowski’s faith journey inspired the whole team when new Coach Joel Osborn invited him to share about the faith in a session the team did on spiritual fitness.
“He gave a testimony in front of all the football players about how he came from not having faith to finding it here,” said Father Richardson.
“Guys, I don’t have it all figured out, but I’ve never been happier than I am right now. Christ is transforming my life,” Laskowski told the team.
Now he is in a Bible study with 12 other guys.
“The community here at Benedictine has really made me feel welcome to the faith and a part of something amazing,” he said.
Jacob Koester, ’17, (on the left in the photo above) the first of the quarterbacks to convert, said “I took two Theology classes with Dr. Swafford that had a huge impact on me. [He] is able to relate really well to athletes. I had a lot of misconceptions about the Catholic faith coming into Benedictine, and he was able to answer all of the questions that I had.”
“The Raven Football community played a big role in my conversion,” Koester said. “I was invited early on to join a football Bible study that really helped me grow and be challenged in my faith alongside several of my teammates.”
The next quarterback-turned-Catholic, Shaefer Schuetz, class of 2020, credited athletic director and defensive coach Charles Gartenmayer for helping build a positive atmosphere on the team regarding the faith. Click to read his story: “Rosary Led Championship Football Ravens to Become Catholic.”
Benedictine College theologian, Dr. Andrew Swafford, knows what it means to be an athlete learning about the faith. Click to read his conversion story, “Raven Football Player Broke His Leg and Found God.”
“For many football players, after they’re done, they often believe the highlight of their lives is in the rearview mirror,” Swafford said. “But for those who convert to a fuller life, who see football as preparation for life in the Spirit with Jesus Christ and the holy Catholic faith, the grand purpose of their lives is only just beginning when they leave football behind.”
He said the turning point comes when a student sees football as “preparation for life—and not an end in itself.” At that point, “truth, virtue, and the pursuit of deep and abiding excellence—authentic holiness — matters more than football stats, times, or weights.”
Another student who entered the Church is Calvert Tsosie (pictured, right), who came to Benedictine College in 2019 as a successful high school wrestler from the Navajo Nation in Arizona and was part of the first conference tournament to ever be hosted on the Benedictine campus. When the COVID-19 pandemic sent students home, it was particularly difficult for Tsosie.
The Navajo Nation was struck hard by the pandemic. By late April, the reservation had 2,141 positive coronavirus cases and 71 deaths. To fight the virus, Navajo authorities established a 57-hour curfew on weekends that was strictly enforced. Well houses were closed and water was in short supply at exactly the time that curfews made it hard to travel to get more.
Calvert got a friend’s flatbed truck and when he traveled to go online for his classes, he went to a wholesale store in Phoenix where he stocked up on cases of water and other supplies for the reservation.
Tsosie says he was grateful for the help he received from Atchison, and the service he gave to his neighbors became part of his journey to the faith. He said professors rallied around when he faced difficulties because of poor wi-fi availability on the reservation.
“I don’t feel like just another student, I feel like I’m part of a family,” he said. “I love the theology professors here, they opened my eyes and led me to the right path of God. Not just the theology professors — it would be the students, staff and coaches here that got me closer to the man Jesus.”
“The faith, the community, everything about Benedictine grabbed me by the heart and showed me who I really was,” he said. “It was an infinite beauty I was searching for in my life.”