Brainchild of University of Detroit Jesuit sophomore Xavier Evoy brings team leaders together through common faith
DETROIT — Student-athletes from across the Catholic High School League gathered at Sacred Heart Major Seminary on Jan. 19 to share and reflect on how their fellowship on the field relates to fellowship in faith.
The first St. Sebastian Captains Day, which took place on the eve of the feast of St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes, was the brainchild of Xavier Evoy, a sophomore at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School.
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Evoy, who swims and runs cross country, thought it would be appropriate to gather team captains from the Catholic League for a day of prayer, fellowship and to reflect on how sports can be a vehicle for evangelization.
Evoy said he was inspired by Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron's pastoral letter Unleash the Gospel, as well as Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), which describes “an urgent need of for the young to exercise greater leadership.”
“I wrote a letter to the Catholic League, drawing upon several themes from Unleash the Gospel, talking about the need to evangelize the evangelizers,” Evoy told Detroit Catholic. “This workshop today is an opportunity to do so. The letter discusses how we start evangelizing early on, practicing with our teams and our communities. It’s a perfect way to start building healthy relationships.”
Captains from schools across the Catholic League braved the blustery conditions to gather at the seminary to hear talks from Kristin Sheehan, program director of Play Like a Champion Today, an independent organization out of the University of Notre Dame dedicated to working in communities to promote ethically responsible sports leaders, and Christopher Okoye, a Detroit Catholic Central High School alum and CHSL hall of famer who played in the NFL, USFL and now is a motivational speaker and author.
The morning allowed captains from various schools to share their experiences about what it means to lead a team in a league that places Christ at the center of everything it does, Evoy said.
“Sports are a big part of what we learn early on in relationships, both as teammates and as brothers and sisters in Christ,” Evoy said. “It’s a great way to get out of the classroom, meet guys older than you, younger than you, and a great opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds.”
Fr. Jeremy Schupbach, an alumnus of the Everest Collegiate Academy in Clarkston, celebrated Mass with the athletes. Fr. Schupbach recounted visiting the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome and noting the 12 pillars on the side of the church, each with a statue of one of the 12 apostles.
Fr. Schupbach noted the athletic physique of each of the apostles depicted in the marble statues.
Fr. Schupbach told the athletes the Italian Renaissance artist chose to depict the apostles in such a way as to emulate the works they did on earth building Christ’s church.
“I don’t think the apostles had physiques that would rival the world’s foremost bodybuilders, as they are depicted in those statues,” Fr. Schupbach said. “Carving them in that way is just one way to pay tribute to the fact that regardless of what their physical stature was like, their non-physical stature, the importance they had for the Church and the world, is absolutely unrivaled.”
Although the apostles had an important task assigned to them, their main priority was to be close to Jesus, Fr. Schupbach said.
“It says Jesus appointed 12, whom he named apostles, so they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach,” Fr. Schupbach said. “Before their mission to be sent forth to preach, their first job was to simply be with Jesus. This illustrates a spiritual truth that is pure gold. God always cares more about being with you and you being with Him, than whatever He will accomplish through you.”
It's in the DNA of athletes to be go-getters, to accomplish tasks, execute plays, carryout defensive schemes, and to win games, Fr. Schupbach said. But for all those accomplishments, as great as they are, they are hollow without a relationship with Jesus.
“No matter what you are seeking in life, whatever mission you are called upon, there is nothing as big as a priority for you as simply being close to Jesus,” Fr. Schupbach said. “I don’t care if your mission is to transform the entire world, it’s still No. 2. If it’s not, then whatever you are doing won’t be led by the Lord.”
After Mass, the student-athletes had time for fellowship and collaboration.
Okoye spoke to the group about his time at Detroit Catholic Central, overcoming being cut his senior year on the lacrosse team, taking up football as his primary sport, and playing at Ferris State University. Okoye was not drafted into the NFL, and had to work his way into the league as a free agent.
Each step was a challenge, he said, but one he knew he could accomplish through both faith in God and effort.
“A lot of times we (ask), 'What’s God’s plan? What is God going to do?'" Okoye said. "But what are you going to do to aid God toward the completion of His plan? ... Until you step up to the plate and do what you set out to do, it’s not going to happen.”
Athletes from across the league had the opportunity to speak in groups with students from other schools, discussing their role as team captains, what it means to be a leader and best practices for sharing the faith in a team setting.
Evoy considered the first St. Sebastian Captains Day a success, and hopes it will become a mainstay on the Catholic League's calendar as an opportunity for faith formation and building young men and women as champions for Christ on and off the field.
“I want people to leave this event feeling better about being part of the Catholic League and put Jesus at the center of any competition,” Evoy said. “We have diverse sports, diverse schools, and what brings us all together is the Eucharist, our faith, and that one element of unity will be a victory today.”