Many tributes have gone out today for Joe Garagiola, baseball’s famed catcher and announcer, and recipient of the Baseball Hall of Fame Buck O’Neil Award for his achievements off the field.
What isn’t being mentioned much is that Joe was a practicing Catholic and his contributions to those he came into contact with. He likely didn’t realize the impressions he made on people through his celebration of faith.
As a young boy growing up in Cooperstown, my brothers and I were altar servers at St. Mary’s Church. Being a Catholic – and a Polish/Irish Catholic – in Cooperstown in the 1960’s was not what you’d call “cool” by any stretch of the imagination. It was pretty routine, though, every summer to wander down to the Otesaga Hotel with our friends and scout the lobby for baseball heroes to see if they’d sign a baseball.
These guys were superstars, and we didn’t often see famous people in our daily lives.
One of my earliest recollections as an altar boy was seeing Joe at Mass one Sunday morning during the summer. Here was one of our heroes, praying on his knees, in our little church. And when he received Holy Communion, I got to hold the paten under his chin.
I was amazed to see a guy like this – who had everything – still coming to church. What could he possibly need to pray for?
I came to realize much later in life that Joe was simply living his humble life, in the limelight, giving grace to God for his gifts, his family, and likely all of us who needed his prayers.
Today’s role models could take a cue from Joe and impress a generation.
Thanks, Joe – you’ll be missed.
–Tim Potrikus, LPi Vice President Custom Services