Former Big East Champion swimmer turned friar speaks to athletes
In early March, Varsity Catholic at Seton Hall University had the privilege of welcoming Brother Seámus Mary Laracy of the CFRs (Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal). Before Br. Seámus joined the CFRs he was a Big East Champion swimmer at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Br. Seámus was eager to share a message of encouragement to the student-athletes at Seton Hall.
When I first shared the idea with Br. about coming to Seton Hall and sharing his story of sport and faith, I asked him how he lived out his faith as a college athlete. His response, after a short pause, was, “I didn’t.” I asked him if he was a good swimmer at Rutgers. He paused again and said, “I was pretty good.” I asked him what “pretty good” meant; he said with a smile, “Well I went to the Olympic trials.”
To no surprise, Br. Seámus was equally as humble when he visited Seton Hall. He quickly shared some of his statistics of his swimming career before he spoke about faith. He mentioned that he was ranked in the world in the backstroke, that he was a Big East Champion, and that his fastest time at Rutgers stands to this day as the school record. Following his collegiate career at Rutgers he qualified for the Olympic trials but fell short of qualifying for the Olympic team. Br. Seámus had a well accomplished career in his sport.
He shared with us where and how he found his faith again. He was raised in the Catholic faith but did not make it a priority when he went to college. He spent as much time possible focusing and training on how to get faster times in the pool, and that his identity was found as a swimmer. He finally realized after being out of swimming for a few years that he could never prove his value or worth to God in a swimming pool or anywhere else. There is nothing anyone can do to earn the love of the Father.
He then encouraged the athletes to have the virtue of humility, to see ourselves as we are in God’s eyes. He told them “We can’t take ownership of our talents, they are a gift we are to use to glorify God.” He added that we must also know our faults and weaknesses and to “confront ourselves in all aspects and that despite our shortcomings Christ is calling us to greatness.”
Brother warned us against a false humility. He told the athletes to embrace their athletic gifts and use them for the glory of God-not the glory of ourselves. He said it is a gift that we do not get the glory and thus nothing to do with our value. The greatness of the gift is to give God the glory. He finished talking about humility by saying “If you recognize your talents as a gift from God, we won’t find our value in them.” He continued by saying “all of our value is being loved by Him and by being in a relationship with Him. Being an athlete is a way to glorify God and we should give everything we have to Him. Our lives only make sense in the light of God.”
After his talk he answered some questions. The students were surprised that the life of a CFR consists of almost 5 hours of prayer every day. One of the questions was what would Brother have done different than if he knew what he does now, a great question. Brother Seámus answered that if he would have had a prayer life then, he would have competed with less stress and anxiety. He said that he thought his times would have been much better in the pool if he would have had that peace when he was competing. The students questioned him, “you really think you would have been better if you just would have been praying?” Brother responded without hesitation, saying he had no doubt he would have swam faster if the Lord was in his life and the same was true for the athletes present. He encouraged them to pray and not become stressed with their performance, but give any anxieties to God. If they did that, they would compete more relaxed and with less pressure on themselves.
Brother Seámus concluded the night by encouraging us to become like the saints who are the real “superstars and models” we should be trying to model our lives after.