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Patrick Bertoni

By Patrick Bertoni | Photography by Tom Gennara | December 2018

A Faithful Impact

Gowing up with a tremendous passion and love for sports, I idolized many of the college and professional athletes that I watched playing in football or basketball games on TV. It was my dream to be that great of an athlete to someday play on the big stage. Going into my freshman year of high school, I heard a lot about a cool science teacher, Mr. Mark Moundros, from my three older siblings. They often talked about how he was not only a great person and teacher, but also a former captain of the University of Michigan Football team. I couldn’t believe it! This was a guy, a former walk-on, who had not only worked his way onto the team but become a captain, and whose name I had heard countless times from announcers as he was making play after play on the field – and he was a teacher at my school! I had all sorts of daydreams about getting to know this teacher and maybe one day following in his footsteps. Little did I know that this man would have such a tremendous impact on my life in ways far beyond the realm of sports.

Mr. Moundros uses his skill and knowledge of sports to coach high school football and basketball. I first got to know him as the coach of my freshman basketball team, and I came to really respect him as a man of great character. However, I feel that I began to benefit most from my relationship with Mr. Moundros when I joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) group that he leads at Chelsea High School. I soon began to realize that Mr. Moundros is an extremely faith-filled man of God who uses his faith to govern and direct all aspects of his life, and through our weekly FCA meetings he has set a remarkable example of this for myself and many other student athletes.

I was blessed to grow up in a family where my parents fostered a love for God and our Catholic faith. However, I never fully formed a strong relationship with Christ in my life until I began sharing my faith with Mr. Moundros and my peers through FCA. I began to realize that my faith is a daily journey, and not just something that I reserve for Sundays. I began to share openly about my faith, and to be able to pray in front of other people, including leading the pre-game prayer before our weekly varsity football meals as a senior. I would never have imagined that to be possible before I joined FCA. I have found the fellowship through this group to be one of the highlights of my high school experience. However, it has been the dedication and mentorship of Mr. Moundros that has made the difference. Each week, he shares a reflection on a topic that is relevant to the challenges and issues of our daily lives, and how we can draw upon our faith to find counsel and support for the struggles we face. He puts a very personal, practical, and faith-filled perspective into Scripture and prayer, and helps us find ways that we can strengthen our commitment to Christ.

Since my freshman basketball experience, I have been very fortunate to play on multiple basketball and football teams that Mr. Moundros has coached. He has shown me and many athletes the love that God has for us by granting wonderful and unique gifts to every individual. I remember at one of our FCA discussions Mr. Moundros commented that God probably doesn’t love any sport, but since he loves us so much, he is happy that we are able to show and use the abilities that he has given us in ways that we love, while praising him for our gifts and opportunities. This really opened my eyes to something I had never seen before: God does not only want us to go to church every week or pray each night before we go to bed. God wants us to realize that he is a part of everything and responsible for everything we have in our lives. In addition, Mr. Moundros has taught me that God wants us to be good stewards of our time and talents, to be thankful for our blessings, and to give back whenever possible. For the past two years, he has provided our basketball team with the opportunity to help with a Thanksgiving Day meal for the homeless in Ann Arbor, and he has led by example.

Having gotten quite close to Mr. Moundros over these past few years, I have come to realize that the love and grace of God take many forms. For Mr. Moundros, his love of Christ is exemplified through his care and compassion for every student who crosses his path. I have had many great teachers throughout my years in school, but none are so welcoming to so many students. Most teachers probably look forward to a planning period or lunch break to decompress from the noise and chaos of so many teens around them all day. In contrast, Mr. Moundros invites and welcomes students to come sit in his classroom for lunch, and I have been one of them on many occasions. There have been times, when having a stressful or rough day, that I receive a greeting from him in the hallway or eat lunch in his classroom and feel so much better as a result. Being in a secular school setting, Mr. Moundros is not able to openly share his faith with students in the classroom, but everyone knows that he is a man of God and has a deep abiding love for others. He is truly an example of St. Francis’ instruction: Teach the Gospel at all times, and use words when necessary.

As I look back on my faith journey over the past few years, I am amazed at the ways in which God works. Just four years ago, I was excited about the prospect of meeting and learning from a former standout athlete from Michigan’s football program. Since that time, to be honest, I have hardly ever heard Mr. Moundros speak about his college football experience, and he has never mentioned the fact that he was a senior captain of the team. But that is Mr. Moundros. He is the most humble man that I have ever met ... just another one of the many examples of how he puts on Christ in all that he does. He has been a tremendous influence in my faith life, and I am so thankful that God has blessed me with his friendship and mentorship, and even though my initial daydreams about sports were idealistic and naïve, I still want to follow in his footsteps – but this time as a man of God.

The question for the 2018 essay:  Tell us about the person who has been the biggest influence on your faith. What have been the results of their influence in your life?

THE 2018 FATHER CHARLES IRVIN ESSAY CONTEST WINNER

Every year, FAITH awards a $1,000 scholarship to a high school senior in our diocese, based on an essay on a topic related to life in the Church. Our goal is to promote insightful thought and excellent writing, and to encourage careers in Catholic journalism. There are many ways to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and good writing is one of them. We hope you enjoy this year’s essay by Patrick Bertoni, a parishioner at St. Mary, Chelsea.