Msgr. Louis F. Meyer, longtime director of Catholic Youth Council, dies at 92

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Msgr. Louis F. Meyer, whose name is synonymous with the archdiocesan Catholic Youth Council, died May 14 after an illness. He was 92.

The man affectionately known as the "Soccer Priest" was much more than that. He was an athlete himself, declining an invitation to the New York Giants rookie camp in 1938 because he wanted to pursue the priesthood. He went on to help build the CYC, but he also helped make Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center a premiere facility, was the pastor of two parishes, led the archdiocese in its mission to support family life, became involved in civic issues and, in retirement, continued his ministry and was a chaplain at St. Louis-Lambert International Airport.

A Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. May 20, St. Mary Magdalen Church, 4924 Bancroft Avenue in St. Louis.

A St. Louis native, Msgr. Meyer attended Holy Rosary grade school, St. Louis Preparatory Seminary and Kenrick Seminary. He was ordained in 1944 at Kenrick by Cardinal John J. Glennon.

Just two years after being ordained a priest, Msgr. Meyer along with Msgr. Lloyd Sullivan took over the operations of the CYC, starting with 912 children participating. Today, the program boasts more than 90,000 participants each year and an estimated 2 million over the course of its history. It has expanded to include not only soccer, but other sports.

Msgr. Meyer was among 15 people who were inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Jan. 30. He already was a member of the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame, St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, St. Louis University Sports Hall of Fame and more.

Msgr. Meyer served as associate director of the Catholic Youth Council from 1947-60 and director from 1960-78. He retired officially in 1994 but remained active in a number of causes.

In 1969, Sport magazine featured Msgr. Meyer and the athletic program for its accomplishments. Msgr. Meyer and his predecessors often noted their desire to keep young people playing beneath the shadow of the church. Providing role models and helping young people develop the ability to make proper choices in their lives is what has made the CYC successful.

Msgr. Meyer told the St. Louis Review in 2009 that he was impressed when he went to visit Father Charles Maxwell at a boys' club in South St. Louis. What struck him was a phrase on the wall behind the priest's desk, "No one stands so tall as one who stoops to help a child."

"From that day on, that was sort of tattooed on me. I always kept it in mind. I also have realized that whatever I have accomplished was built on the work of Father Maxwell, Msgr. Lloyd Sullivan and a tremendous staff — people who love kids."

Msgr. Meyer noted that he became involved in the CYC after telling Father Maxwell that the basketball program he put together was lousy. Father Maxwell then suggested he run it.

Father Maxwell was appointed by Cardinal John J. Glennon in 1941 to direct the athletic, cultural and religious programs of the CYC. The program grew tremendously after Msgr. Sullivan was named director in 1947 and Msgr. Meyer came on board to assist and eventually succeed him.

In the 2009 interview, when the Msgr. Louis F. Meyer Youth Center on South Kingshighway was dedicated, Msgr. Meyer said the torch has been handed on to carry on the Church's successful work with young people. The "same spirit, same concepts, same love for reaching down and holding up children," is shown today by the CYC staff led by Msgr. John Borcic, current director, Msgr. Meyer said.

During the years Msgr. Meyer worked with the CYC, it was considered ahead of its time on integration and in girls' participation in athletics. Cardinal Joseph Ritter had called for the formation of CYC athletic leagues separate from the Muny League because of the Muny's refusal to allow a black team from Visitation Parish to play baseball.

Patrick Murphy interviewed Msgr. Meyer for "A Time for Champions," a KETC-Channel 9 documentary last year on how St. Louis came to dominate the soccer landscape. Murphy told the Review that Msgr. Meyer told him that even in the seminary, the soccer field was a sacred place, with seminarians being ordained "with a pair of soccer shoes in one hand and a Bible in the other." Kenrick-Glennon Seminary continues to field a team today, playing in a CYC league.

Msgr. Meyer also followed Msgr. Sullivan in serving at Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, for what Msgr. Sullivan affectionately called "the kiddos" who suffered from health problems. Msgr. Meyer joked that in their work the two priests had to "stand back to back so nobody could get at us."

In a letter marking the 50th anniversary of Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, Msgr. Meyer, a member of the hospital's board of governors, wrote that "from the beginning, there was certainty about the hospital's mission — providing the most compassionate and technologically advanced health care possible to any child in need, regardless of ethnic or religious background or ability to pay."

A gifted communicator, Msgr. Meyer noted that "I was ordained by Cardinal Glennon and personally knew the civic leaders who devoted years of their lives to founding this medical center. While they are no longer with us, sometimes I imagine them walking down Grand Boulevard to see today's magnificent campus, then standing in the lobby to witness the hustle and bustle and feel the vitality that has grown stronger with the passage of time. I am sure that they would be amazed and humbled to realize what has become of their dream. Many would have tears of gratitude in their eyes."

As an assistant pastor from 1955-66, Msgr. Meyer served at Epiphany Parish in South St. Louis with Msgr. Sullivan, who was pastor of the parish. Msgr. Meyer earlier served as an assistant pastor at Our Lady of the Presentation Parish in Overland and again with Msgr. Sullivan at the the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (Old Cathedral) Parish.

He was named pastor of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in South St. Louis in 1966 and then St. Joseph Parish n Clayton in 1995. He tackled parish work with enthusiasm. St. Mary Magdalen was known for its outreach to youth and for outreach to elderly.

An example of his energy was seen at a New Year's Eve dance at St. Mary Magdalen where he spent hours walking up to each table and introducing himself, engaging everyone in conversation.

An avid runner, he was in great shape and never showed his age. He once noted that he fulfilled three ambitions — to be a good golfer, to be a scuba diver and to fly an airplane.

Early on, he served as a teacher at DeAndreis High School and Incarnate Word Academy.

His involvement in the community was widespread. He was on the board of the USO. He served many terms on the St. Louis Metropolitan Youth Commission and was on an advisory board to the juvenile courts. He joined a number of other priests and Cardinal John J. Carberry in supporting a bond issue election for a new city jail, calling it a moral issue.

Gov. Warren E. Hearnes appointed him as the state's delegate to the President's 1970 White House Conference on Children and Youth. In 1962, he was among a group that met at the White House with President John F. Kennedy on solutions to the problem of school drop-outs.

In 1978 he was named director of the newly formed archdiocesan Commission on Family Life. He served on the archdiocesan Commission on Human Rights, the archdiocesan Board of Consultors, Priests' Council and Catholic Charities board.

His desire to involve young people in sports stemmed from his youth, when his pastor, Father Gerald McMahon, would take the soccer players to the old Sportsman's Park to watch semi-pro games. He played center forward on soccer teams, was a member of the George Sisler All-Stars in softball and was a center fielder on the Muny League All Star baseball team.

He later reflected on a trend to de-emphasize sports among seminarians. "If you do not have priests and seminarians interested in sports they lose this contact with the youngsters." 

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