Allentown Catholic bishop teaches fundamentals of basketball, faith

Bishop John Barres spins a basketball for admiring Catholic School students.
Bishop John Barres spins a basketball for admiring Catholic School students.

.- At a recent Catholic Youth Organization basketball clinic in Pennsylvania, Bishop John Barres of the Diocese of Allentown gave young athletes a few pointers on improving their game and their faith life.

The Feb. 1 event, called “Buckets with the Bishop,” took place during Catholic Schools Week at the former Cardinal Brennan High School.

Bishop Barres, who played basketball for Princeton, spent time teaching the kids basic basketball skills, helped them make connections between sports and the Catholic faith and even took on Fr. Joel Kiefer in a three point shooting contest.

“I believe that a team sport like basketball teaches young people sacrifice, leadership and generosity – all qualities that are key to the building up of a vibrant Catholic Church,” Bishop Barres told CNA on Monday. “I found in basketball, when I dedicated practice, drills, basketball camps and games to Christ, the experience became so much richer.”

When asked how “Buckets with the Bishop” came about, the Allentown bishop explained, “At a Mass honoring Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J., at St. Casimir's Church in Shenandoah, PA, two altar servers named Ian and Matt said that they heard that I had played basketball at Princeton and would I mind joining their CYO basketball teams at the Cardinal Brennan gyms in Frackville, PA to give them some tips.”

“They were so enthusiastic and I loved their initiative – there was no way I could say no!” he continued. “One thing led to another, the parents and coaches got behind it and we ended up having a packed gym for 'Buckets with the Bishop.'”

“My sidekick in the video is Fr. Joel Kiefer, a 1992 graduate of West Point who served in the US Army in harm's way in such places as Haiti and Somalia,” Bishop Barres explained in reference to a YouTube video of the event. “He is an inspirational young priest who will be the instrument of many young men coming to the priesthood in the Diocese of Allentown. He actually beat me in the 3 point contest!”

When asked how long he has played the sport, Bishop Barres responded, “I've been playing basketball since I was four years old when we moved into a new house and I discovered a basketball court in the backyard.”

“I played high school varsity basketball at Phillips Academy (Andover) – my teammates are still lifelong friends. I played three years of JV basketball at Princeton University during the Coach Pete Carril era. Coach Carril since his retirement at Princeton in 1996 has been an assistant coach for the NBA Sacramento Kings and we are still loyal friends. He was present at my ordination as a Bishop on July 30, 2009.”

“When my Princeton and Andover teammates saw the video of me draining some three pointers, they joked that they wished I had shot that well when I played with them at Andover and at Princeton!” Bishop Barres remarked.

The Bishop of Allentown also mentioned that he handed out cards to each player.

One side “is a picture of me as a Bishop with a quote from Paul's Letter to the Philippians I used to use at Princeton when I entered the game in a pressure situation—'I can do all things in He who strengthens me,'” said Bishop Barres, adding that the other side “is a picture of me as a Junior at Princeton going up for a layup in my Princeton basketball uniform at Jadwin Gym.”

“I make the point that the leadership skills I learned as a Princeton point guard, dedicating my basketball experience to Christ, prepared me to be a 'point guard' in the Catholic Church as their Bishop and Shepherd in the Diocese of Allentown,” the recently installed bishop said.

Bishop Barres concluded by saying that “I believe strongly that a Catholic athlete, whether he or she is learning to dribble a basketball or whether he or she is playing in the NBA/WNBA, can connect their basketball experience to personal prayer, love for the Eucharist and the Bible, love for Mary and a missionary spirit to light the world on fire with their Catholic faith!”


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