Ringing in MLB Opening Day With New York Mets Chaplain

Msgr. Thomas Machalski is the current team chaplain of the New York Mets. He’s pictured with former Mets manager Bobby Valentine, left, and Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza. (Photo: Courtesy Msgr. Thomas Machalski)

Baseball is back! 

So what better way to usher in a new season than to catch up with New York Mets team chaplain Msgr. Thomas Machalski? 

You may know Msgr. Machalski as the pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Bayside. You may not have known though that he’s currently in his second stint as Mets chaplain. All prayers are more than welcome for the 2024 New York Metropolitans. 

The Maspeth native grew up in Holy Cross Church and attended elementary school there. It helped that his family lived right next door to the church. From his early years, baseball became a passion. 

“I really got into watching the Mets, and I became addicted to it,” said Msgr. Machalski, a Mets fan since the franchise’s inaugural season of 1962. 

After weathering several lean years in the beginning — and “lean” is being lenient — the remarkable happened: The Miracle Mets of 1969 somehow won the World Series. 

“I remember it well,” the monsignor said. “That was just awesome because nobody expected it. It came out of nowhere. It was just incredible.” 

Msgr. Machalski was ordained a priest in 1985 and served in many locations and roles throughout the Diocese of Brooklyn. Meanwhile, several years before Msgr. Machalski’s ordination, Mets fan-favorite Rusty Staub returned for his second stint in Flushing. 

Staub was a Catholic and played an important role in bringing Sunday Masses to Shea Stadium, which was the first ballpark in the MLB to do so. With these Masses came the role of team chaplain, and Father Daniel Murphy, a now-retired priest of the diocese, was the first to take on the role. 

Eventually, Bishop Ignatius “Iggy” Catanello served as Mets chaplain. However, as bishop of Brooklyn, his responsibilities often precluded him from saying Sunday Mass at the stadium. 

That’s where Msgr. Machalski first began filling in, and for this lifelong baseball fan, celebrating Mass in the ballpark — specifically the old New York Jets locker room at Shea — was such a thrill. When Bishop Catanello became ill in the mid-2000s, Msgr. Machalski assumed the role of Mets team chaplain full time. 

“I never envisioned this in my whole life,” he said. “It was something I thought of once or twice. How great would it be if I could be the chaplain of the Mets?” 

After spending a few years as chancellor of the Orchard Lake School District in Michigan, Msgr. Machalski returned to the diocese in 2017 to become pastor of Sacred Heart while also resuming his Mets chaplaincy. 

As team chaplain, he not only celebrates Mass at 10 a.m. before every 1:10 p.m. home game throughout the season, but he also is available for confessions and spiritual counseling. The Masses at Citi Field take place in the auditorium right above the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. 

Additionally, Msgr. Machalski attends the annual conference of ballpark chaplains hosted by Catholic Athletes for Christ, the organization tasked with bringing Catholic Masses to every stadium in the league. 

The two-day retreat outside of San Diego also invites retired and active ballplayers, front office personnel, and scouts to discuss ways they can provide faith-based support for the current players. 

Though the unique nature of celebrating Mass in a stadium has worn off for him personally, Msgr. Machalski has realized that the purpose of this Mass has nothing to do with its novelty. 

“The very first time it happened it was kind of enchanting and almost unbelievable,” he said. “At this point though, I’m a priest and I’m here to provide Mass and spiritual guidance to people. I’m doing what a priest does. 

“The stadium workers, the concession employees, the ticket takers, they [would] have no opportunity to go to Mass if it wasn’t for this. Their obligation and their spiritual needs are being met. That’s what’s most important.” 

Still, being able to incorporate his lifelong passion for baseball into his priestly ministry has truly been a win-win situation for Msgr. Machalski. 

Now let’s just hope some of that winning can rub off on the current Metsies. 

Play ball!