Vianney star catches baseballs, Catholic faith

The chapel at St. John Vianney High School was packed with close to 200 people for the Easter Vigil, including a number of the baseball players who came to support their teammate who was baptized, confirmed and received the Eucharist for the first time.

Andrew Keck, a catcher on the baseball team who was named to the All Metro Team last season, said around Lent every year he had thought about becoming a Catholic. His mom was raised Catholic, he said, and didn't have him baptized, wanting him to make the decision on his own.

Keck attended a public grade school and didn't know much about the Catholic faith upon coming to Vianney, considering himself a Christian, however. "Vianney really opened my eyes," he said. He'd considered taking the step toward becoming Catholic but was unsure if it was right at a young age and while he was so busy.

"This year, something inside of me — maybe it was my Kairos retreat, maybe it was my religion teachers, maybe it was the campus ministry — but I felt this calling to say, "yes," to the Catholic Church. So I reached out to Father Tim (Kenney) and I asked him, 'Hey, what do I have to do to go about this?' He helped me from there."

In the end, Keck analyzes it as a calling. "I wanted to be a part of a community that was bigger than me. I am at a point in my life right now where I'm as strong in my faith as I've ever been, and it's awesome," Keck said.

Previously he'd go to various churches and wouldn't take Communion.

The 15-20 teammates at the Mass meant a lot to him. "That shows what Vianney is like, how good these guys are" he said. "They gave up part of their Saturday night to come out and support me."

Father Timothy Kenney, chaplain and director of campus ministry at Vianney, said "it was so humbling to see all of these young men giving up several hours of their evening after playing a tough baseball game that afternoon to really bless Andrew and to be with him for this 'Kairos' moment," a "special time," or a "God encounter that turned out so beautiful."

Vianney varsity baseball coach Scott Brown said his team was in a tournament that had been rescheduled for Good Friday. That morning, he had a campus minister at Vianney lead his team in the Stations of the Cross. They talked about the commitment Keck was making the next day.

Brown was impressed by the number of players who attended the Easter Vigil Mass. Two of Keck's teammates were his sponsors.

Keck's team is on a roll this year following a third-place finish in the state tournament with several juniors in key positions. Those seniors now are providing leadership focusing on each game with an eye toward a strong finish to the season. As a catcher, Keck enjoys being a captain on the field, setting up his teammates for success, especially helping the pitchers.

He said he uses the adversity he's faced in the past to be a better player today.

As a junior on the baseball field, Brown said, Keck relaxed and "had an absolute, fantastic year. He is one of our true leaders out there. I always had confidence in him and his ability. Some people take a little longer on the mental side. There is a big mental side when you jump from a lower level to the varsity. That's really helped him as a captain. He can commiserate with younger guys who are struggling and say, 'I've been there, I know what you're going through.'"

Vianney's pitching and defense has held strong in a long string of wins this season. A big comeback against Parkway South when down 8-1 after four innings was an example of the team's resilience, and a pickoff play and keeping runners from scoring on a hit by St. Louis University High School were examples of the plays that bring wins in big games, the coach said.

In a game April 24 against De Smet Jesuit High School, Keck showed his defensive skill as he ably blocked pitches in the dirt and jumped from his catching position to snare a pop-up down the third-base line.

Keck will continue playing baseball at Southeast Missouri State University. 

>> The journey

Father Timothy Kenney, chaplain and director of campus ministry at St. John Vianney High School, said Andrew Keck, the catcher on the baseball team and a newly baptized Catholic, has been involved in the life of the school community throughout his four years.

"I have been impressed by his athletic gifts, his outgoing spirit and social interactions with adults and students here, and in his desire to better himself as a human being. He is admired by many because he is so likeable," Father Kenney said.

All the sports teams at Vianney participate in-season in a weekly faith experience; in spiritual conversations; and in doing service as a team. They choose or elect an athletic apostle, who is trained by the athletic director and Father Kenney and given spiritual exercises to do with teammates. Keck was part of that experience.

Besides monthly Masses, Vianney has three formal times every day with prayer; every class begins with a prayer; and Communion services are held daily along with eucharistic adoration every Friday. These "counter-cultural faith experiences" aim to shape the culture of the school so that it is "normal and comfortable to talk openly about Gospel values, especially for young men," Father Kenney stated.

Earlier this school year, when Keck approached the priest and inquired about his desire to grow more into his faith and learn what would be involved in becoming baptized and entering the Church, Father Kenney prayed for him and asked Mary to intercede.

Every Lent, the priest offers an RCIA/Baptism class. This year, Keck participated in the class, along with another student, junior Myles Cyril Mao, and Kathy Marie LaBarge, the mother of a graduate and an incoming freshman. They stood before the student body on Ash Wednesday to receive a blessing and to witness their desire to grow closer to Jesus, the Son of Mary, and received the sacraments on the Easter Vigil.

Father Kenney asked Keck to choose a baptismal name, a name of a saint who could help inspire him on the path to holiness. He chose the name Peter, because Peter was a leader among the apostles, Peter was "the rock," and Peter experienced his doubts and confusion on his journey but persevered.

Father Kenney cited the Catholic Marianist mission of our school and how formation in faith and family spirit have been two pillars of the school. "We take our school mission seriously and truly on a daily basis try to promote the Marianist charism," he said. "The school is sponsored by the Marianists, but I often remind everyone that the Marianists exist for the Church." 

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