Manti’s Mission, The Year of Faith & Me

I’ve been praying about how to broach a topic that I know may be a bit controversial here on the blog with some of my friends who are readers and wonderful Catholics. I’ve mentally written, revised and trashed this particular topic at least three times this week, in the end chickening out from actually posting it since I didn’t think I could do it justice.

But an article in today’s CNN Belief Blog emboldened me. For those I am about to offend, I apologize. I hope you will only pass judgement on me, and not upon the other subjects of this article. Although I don’t know him personally, I hold Manti Te’o in the highest of regard. I feel compelled to share a bit on how I’ve come to this feeling, and what this amazing young Mormon man has taught me about my own beliefs during this Year of Faith.

This article first starting welling up in my brain several weeks ago — on October 13th, to be precise. That day, two days after we christened the beautiful Year of Faith Pope Benedict XVI gifted us as a call to renew our faith and to share it with others, my favorite football team beat Stanford University 20 to 13 in an overtime game that had hearts beating around the country. As a 1985 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, I’ve watched more than my fair share of stressful games. During our four years at ND, my husband Greg and I more frequently witnessed losses than wins, and yet we fell in love not only with our football program, but more importantly with the spirit of Our Lady’s university. In honesty, as a graduate of Mater Dei High School in Orange County, California, the game that most mattered to me every year was the USC game. We could lose every other match, but if we beat the Trojans, I was a happy camper.

So the day we hung on to beat Stanford, I pondered in my head whether there could be a connection in any small way between Irish football and the Year of Faith. Scandalous? Perhaps. Catechetically offensive? Maybe? But I couldn’t help myself.

Before I go any further, let me acknowledge the fact that many of you reading this have already written off my Alma Mater. You argue that she is too secular, that recent leadership decisions have turned a blind eye to her Catholic roots, and that she no longer deserves to call herself a Catholic university. I will save my arguments on those points for another day, but I want to acknowledge your right to make them and to ask you to continue to pray with me for the University and her students.

This article isn’t really about theology. It’s about football, and being a witness to the things you hold most dear.

Perhaps it’s ironic that during this Year of Faith, one of my greatest role models for standing up for my faith has come to me in the form of a young man who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Born just a few months prior to my own son Eric, Manti Te’o is a 21 year old dynamo, a team captain who honestly seems to be one of the major keys behind Notre Dame’s football success this year. I’ve obviously never met him in person, but I’ve had the joy of watching him for the past few years. And this year in particular, his witness has shone as he’s led the Irish on and off the field, even in the face of tremendous personal loss and tragedy

If you’d like to learn a bit more about him, I invite you to take a few moments to watch this video:

A few weeks after Notre Dame beat Stanford, I turned to my dear husband and told him that if we managed to make it undefeated through this season, I would treat him to a trip to Miami for the National Championship game for our 50th birthdays. Greg agreed (knowing he’d end up being the one to pay for the trip) — undoubtedly looking at the schedule and realizing that it was a fairly safe bet that I was crazy. The path to the BCS championship would involve not only a few improbable Irish victories, but also a few other key teams being upset.

But I watched Manti, I pondered the potential witness of a team following their hearts, and I believed. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not pretending that God had any hand in my Irish defeating USC last weekend. But I am saying that in a world in search of heroes and great role models, a football team from a Catholic university can make a difference.

Watch our players enter the field, rush to the end zone and take a knee to pray, and imagine young men around the country taking that object lesson to heart. See a time-out public service announcement that features Notre Dame students serving the poor around the world and know that hearts are touched. Watch our boys sing the Alma Mater in the endzone with tears streaming down their faces and remember that the words they sing are devoted to Our Lady.

Odds are against me winning two tickets to be physically present for the January 7th BSC Championship Bowl Game in the alumni lottery. So instead of sitting in Miami with my hubby, I may watch Manti and his teammates from my couch. Regardless, I know that they will be giving their all because they have faith, and they believe.

Some of them are Catholic, some aren’t. So obviously my tie in to the Year of Faith holds true not for the team, but really for myself. Just as my Fighting Irish have held fast to a dream, committed themselves to personal excellence, and served one another and their community with passion and zeal, I’m called to do the very same during this Year of Faith.

For the moments when I’m tired and would rather nap than blog, for the days when witnessing to the Truths of the Church feels too tough, or for the times when the future’s path for my vocation is unclear, I’m reminded to keep pushing.

Football isn’t theological in any way. And you may not believe that a national championship pursuit has anything at all to do with the New Evangelization.

But I believe in looking at success and trying to emulate it in my own small, simple way. I’d love to possess one ounce of the passion, drive and commitment that have brought Manti and his teammates to this moment in time. Win or lose on January 7th, they are champions in my book.

Notre Dame, our Mother
Tender, strong and true
Proudly in the heavens
Gleam thy gold and blue
Glory’s mantle cloaks thee
Golden is thy fame
And our hearts forever
Praise thee Notre Dame
And our hearts forever
Love thee Notre Dame!

Who are models of courage, passion, strength and drive that you admire in your own faith journey? What can they teach us about giving our all when it matters most?

About Lisa M. Hendey

Lisa Hendey is the founder and webmaster of and the author of The Grace of YesA Book of Saints for Catholic Moms and The Handbook for Catholic Moms. Lisa writes for several online and print publications, enjoys speaking around the country and is a frequent television and radio guest and host. Visit her at and connect with her at Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.

  • Sandy

    I know EXACTLY how you feel! This ’90 grad has also been inspired by Manti, so much so that I took a reckless chance in an all or nothing pool to get two tickets to the NC game…simply because I want the chance to say that I saw Manti Te’o play. I too have heard many people tell me that Notre Dame has sold out on its Catholic mission. However, I too will leave that to another time and place to comment. But, what nobody can deny is that Notre Dame athletes have exemplified sportsmanship on and off the field, none more so than Manti Te’o. I am so honored to call him a fellow alum. I certainly hope you win your tickets. Either way, I will blow a kiss to him for you! Go Irish!

  • Joe

    Yes it is great to have a guy like Manti on the team. He is a true leader. Too bad it is a Mormon man who has to give the example to the team. Too bad a real Catholic man didn’t step up and be the leader of the team. I did see Theo Riddick make the sign of the cross and good for him and God bless him. So yes we must pray that ND and its faculty and student body become integrally Catholic once again and not just Catholic in name only. God bless Manti and hopefully some day he comes into contact with a real Catholic.

  • Phil

    I am one of those who is embarrassed by the blatant secularism and PC culture displayed by Jenkins et al . I do find it ironic that articles are being written referring to the football team’s success and it’s POTENTIAL to restore pride to Catholic’s throughout the United States . The Board of Fellows should take note of that thought .

    I have told everyone who mentions Manti that he didn’t get that at Notre Dame . He learned respect and humility from super parents and family and he took his faith to heart . We can honestly say a Mormon is the best example on the team . Most of all , Manti is a man and he is not PC and he is genuine . I can see why Charlie said ” the coaches have a man crush on Manti ” when he signed his letter of intent . He is special .

    Pray for Our Lady’s University . She is in perilous times . Maybe a National Championship will shine more focus on what is going on and force a return to our roots . Let’s pray somethiing makes that happen .

    In the meantime remember ” He is Manti ” is the mantra . See you in Miami and as always — GO IRISH !

    Phil ’69

  • Garr Isacco

    Lovely article. I’m a ’66 graduate of ND and this past season has been a revelation to me. I don’t know much about the Morman religion and frankly was not that interested but Manti Te’o faith and strong belief in God under quite adverse circumstances has been an inspiration to me. He doesn’t “talk the talk”. He clearly has a strong belief in God which is important in his life and he lives his religion.

    I’m proud of Notre Dame and I do agree with the direction the university is going (Obama’s speech notwithstanding.) I wasn’t able to send my children there but do hope that one or several of my grandchildren can attend. I still believe Notre Dame tries to instill strong positve Catholic values in its students. I think the interaction with a good young Morman such as Manti actually enhances that.

    Like several of your responders I have applied for tickets for the BCS game, but if Lisa and her husband get tickets and I have to stay home, I can live with that.

    Go Irish!!

    Garr, ’66

  • Patrick Reynolds

    The word “Catholic” means “including or concerning all of humankind, universal.” Labelling people as Mormon, Jewish, Islamic and continually distinguishing how one is right and the others are wrong does not lead to greater understanding and acceptance. As Manti said, Notre Dame is a holy place and you don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate that.

    Patrick Reynolds ’84

    • lisahendey

      Patrick thanks so much for your comment. I in no way meant to imply “right or wrong” in my remarks here. Thanks for taking the time to visit and leave your thoughts.

  • Darby Kelly “67″

    What a great article. Martin Luther King would be proud. The strength of character is what counts, Manti has it.

  • john brady

    I am apprediative of the atricle ad the comments made by the various authors.

    The quesion that I raise is “Why do they spend so much time saying that he validates my beliefs and so little time saying that he is right!”

  • dick

    What a great, inspirational article! Manti Teo is certainly a class act and an example for young athletes to follow. The University of Notre Dame also provides a unique Christian environment in which students and athletes of any faith can grow and mature.

  • Matt

    Wonderful article and the comments are testimony to the force of author’s thoughts and words. Mr. Te’o’s public comments and moreover, his behavior demonstrate what in my mind should be the aim for faitfhful of all religions; to seek the face of God wherever you may find it.

  • Katie O’Keefe

    I have an artist that I follow who really inspired me with one of her pieces to turn my life around. Her name is Cassandra Barney and the piece is called “Atonement”. Interestingly, Cassandra is also a Mormon.

  • Diane

    Lisa, this is exactly how I feel, too. Manti is an inspiration, a young man of great character, the heart and soul of the team (he was a year behind my son and they were in the same dorm for awhile). As to Our Lady’s university, I agree with Dick and others above and will add that my two kids returned home more committed to our Catholic faith than when they left for college. I found a lot of faith on that campus and came to really love it. This year’s team is special and not only because they’re winning. There’s a great pic of Fr. Hesburgh blessing Te’o before they left South Bend for South Beach. We didn’t win the ticket lottery either, but will be watching. Go Irish!

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