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Making Time
for Mass

New York Mets turn to Brooklyn bishop for Sunday liturgy

By James Breig

Every Sunday in the spring and summer, Catholic baseball players have a problem: How to get to Mass and the ballpark at the same time.

The solution for the New York Mets is to bring Mass right to the stadium, and the team has gone right to the top for the celebrant: Auxiliary Bishop Ignatius A. Catanello of the Brooklyn Diocese.

 

Glory Days: Bishop Catanello is flanked by former Mets' star Mike Piazza (left) and winning manager Bobby Valentine (1996-2002), both of whom faithfully attended Mass before Sunday games.

“I grew up a Brooklyn Dodgers fan,” the bishop said. “When they moved to California [in the late 1950s], a lot of Dodger fans left them. The thinking was, ‘They left us, so we’ll leave them.’”

When the Mets were founded in the early 1960s, those jilted fans – including the future bishop – had a new team to cheer.

Bishop Catanello was ordained a priest in 1966, served in parishes and as an educator, led efforts in ecumenical and interfaith relations, and was elevated to the episcopacy in 1994. In 2001, he added a unique role to his priesthood: He became the Mets’ Catholic chaplain.

“It was almost a fluke,” he recalled. “On Memorial Day weekend that year, the previous chaplain called and asked me to cover for him. I said Mass at Shea Stadium,” which was then the Mets’ home. They moved to the newly constructed Citi Field this season.

The next step for Bishop Catanello was to concelebrate with his predecessor. When that priest retired, the bishop stepped up to the plate to become the chaplain.

Two Catholics associated with the Mets at the time -- manager Bobby Valentine and catcher Mike Piazza -- have become particularly close to Bishop Catanello. “I witnessed Mike’s marriage and baptized his children,” he said. “Bobby would give me his office, and people would come in and out for counseling and confession or just to talk.”

At Shea, the bishop celebrated Mass in the locker room of the New York Jets, the football team that shared the facility. “Now, Mass is held in a mini-auditorium on the fourth floor of Citi Field,” the bishop said. “It holds about 60 or 70 people and has a stage. It’s a lot nicer than the locker room.”

The liturgy is celebrated at 10 a.m., and attracts about 50 people, including Mets players and members of the visiting team, as well as ticket agents, police officers and stadium staffers.

At 11 o’clock, the bishop meets with anyone who wants to talk.

Although he is a Mets fan and loves baseball, Bishop Catanello said, “I seldom stay for games. I have to get back to the parish.”

He called his Sunday assignment “lots of fun, especially for a fan. I never thought I’d be doing this. Everyone is very nice to me. The team even gave me a special badge so I can go around the stadium.”

Although Mets and Yankees fans are often at odds, the bishop’s ecumenical background came out when he said, “I’d do a guest appearance for the Yankees if they want me to.”

James Breig is former editor of The Evangelist, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y.