Sports

Catholic Athletes for Christ Celebrates St. Joseph

Msgr. Thomas Machalski, left, and MLB umpire Mark Wegner, right, at Detroit Tigers spring training in Lakeland, Fla., several years ago. (Photo: Courtesy Msgr. Thomas Machalski)

Baseball is a game of signs. Paying attention to a coach’s signs can ultimately lead a team to experience success on the diamond.

In baseball as in life, we must be aware of the signs around us. Just in time for the holidays, Msgr. Thomas Machalski received an important sign — leading to a spiritual journey to honor St. Joseph.

An avid baseball fan, Msgr. Machalski is the pastor of Sacred Heart, Bayside. Since 2012, he has been a member and has served on the Board of Directors of Catholic Athletes for Christ, an organization whose mission is to serve Catholic athletes and share the Gospel of Christ in and through athletics.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Msgr. Machalski has met with members of the organization virtually to conduct Bible studies on Friday evenings. As he prayed, the thought kept coming back to him that the group should do the Consecration to St. Joseph leading up to Christmas.

Through his prayer, he deciphered the sign. He presented the idea to Ray McKenna, founder and president of Catholic Athletes for Christ, who gave Msgr. Machalski the blessing to begin.

Normally done in person among small prayer groups in parishes, the virtual 33-day Consecration to St. Joseph started Nov. 8 and continued through Dec. 13. What made this consecration even more special to Msgr. Machalski was the fact that he was joined by current and former MLB players and umpires who are members of the organization.

Participants from all over the country included MLB umpire Mark Wegner, retired pitcher Jeff Suppan, Chicago Cubs pitcher Joe Wieland, San Diego Padres pitcher Craig Stammen and former MLB catcher Darrell Miller. They were also joined by front-office and scouting personnel from around the country.

“When I’m sitting in front of my computer and I have everybody’s face on the screen in front of me, it’s kind of like being right there,” Msgr. Machalski said. “You see everyone, and you hear everyone. It’s just not being in the same room with them.”

Each week, the group followed along with the book “Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father” by Father Donald Calloway, a Marian priest and author. For about an hour each time, the participants read various selections from the book, talked through the discussion questions and engaged in prayer to St. Joseph.

In between the Sunday sessions, the group took part in individual readings to keep up with the 33-day consecration. All of the Sunday sessions were recorded so that anyone had the ability to catch up if they missed one. Overall, the consecration served as a timely preparation for the Christmas season.

“I always felt sorry for St. Joseph, because I felt he was the forgotten person of the Holy Family,” Msgr. Machalski said. “We obviously pray to Jesus as our Lord. We very regularly ask for Our Lady’s intercession when we pray to the Blessed Mother. But I don’t think most people very often pray for the intercession of St. Joseph.

“We really came to a better understanding of who he (St. Joseph) was and the mission that was entrusted to him by God to be the head of the Holy Family.”

Just like Msgr. Machalski, Wegner, who began his professional career as an umpire in 1998, also took the timing of this consecration as a sign. As a father of five and husband soon to be married 25 years, Wegner said he felt a special bond to St. Joseph.

“Without a doubt, this was an answer to my prayers from over the past few years in trying to figure out the best way to be a husband and father in today’s world,” said Wegner, who has worked MLB All-Star, playoff and World Series games. “It was an incredible experience. I started seeing St. Joseph as the husband of Mary and the father of Jesus and all the struggles he had in doing that.”

In what can be seen as a coincidence, Pope Francis declared Dec. 8, 2020 through Dec. 8, 2021 as the Year of St. Joseph in honor of the anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as the patron of the Universal Church. This announcement was made right as the Catholic Athletes for Christ group was wrapping up its consecration to St. Joseph.

All told though, this wasn’t a coincidence. It was another sign … a sign from the Holy Spirit.

“I don’t think it was a coincidence that as we were finishing this, the Holy Father made that declaration,” Msgr. Machalski said. “I think it was divine providence to be quite honest.”

Plus, according to Wegner, the Holy Spirit had to have played a role: “Umpires and players getting along … there must be something holy about that!”


Contact Jim Mancari via email at jmmanc@gmail.com.

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