Lent Remembrances: Sister Cecelia Joseph Olinger recalls when Jesus took precedence over basketball

With March Madness beginning this week, Sister Cecelia Joseph Olinger’s “Lent Remembrance” is particularly fitting. It’s an inspiring story of a young person’s faith taking precedence over sports.

“The Lenten memory I share is from the time I taught at Sacred Heart School in Poplar Bluff, Mo., from 1978-84. The event probably occurred in 1981 or 1982. As usually happens in most Catholic schools during Lent, the different classes would take turns leading Stations of the Cross. For some reason, I asked my students what they thought about dramatizing the Passion instead. They were willing, so we decided who’d take what parts. A few days later I told Nathan, who had the part of Jesus, that he didn’t have to memorize all of Jesus’ dialogue. ‘Sister, I already have.’                                                 

Nathan portrays the crucified Jesus in a dramatization of the Passion in Poplar Bluff, Mo.

“After the service, a mother said, ‘I wish the whole parish could see that.’ With so many students involved, that couldn’t be arranged in just two days, but I decided to do it the next year for Palm Sunday Mass. I got commitments from all the kids that they could be present, so we were good to go. A week before Palm Sunday, Nathan learned he would be in a big AAU basketball tournament the next weekend – in St. Louis, at least 150 miles away! He asked his parents, ‘What should I do?’ They wisely said, ‘You’ll have to decide for yourself.’

“That 7th grade boy said, ‘I promised Sister I’d be there, so I’ll do it.’ They went to St. Louis for the game on Saturday, came home and went to the 8 a.m. Mass on Sunday, came to the 9:30 Mass so he could be in the Passion, left after it was over and drove back to St. Louis for the rest of the game, maybe the last quarter or two. Believe me, that kid’s commitment to be there for the Passion – and of his parents to GET him there! –  was more inspiring to me than the service itself!

“P.S. Nathan’s team came in third out of 16 teams!”

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