His solid reputation preceded him. Coach Mark Nolan’s roots as defensive coordinator at Brophy College Preparatory helped secure the Broncos’ first state title in football and laid the foundation for continued success when Nolan himself was recruited to Denver. He strengthened the football program at University of Colorado and led nearby Regis Jesuit High School to state playoffs each of his six years there.
Still, when he returned to Arizona last year — this time as head coach for Notre Dame Preparatory in Scottsdale — Nolan found a way to leave a different kind of legacy. He launched what is becoming an annual Rosary Rally. It’s not just for his team either. It’s for all area Catholic high school football teams.
The idea was to “start our semester and football season and school year with God first and foremost,” Nolan said during the latest Rosary Rally Aug. 6 at St. Bernard of Clairvaux in Scottsdale.
Jonathan Hink, a senior at Bourgade Catholic High School, began his 13th year of Catholic school three days later. He intended to soak up senior year opportunities including his final year of wrestling beginning in November.
“There’s a lot of people that you meet during the tournaments,” Hink said, paying no matter to the fact they are also the opponent. “You befriend them. It’s not a serious competition.”
It’s more important, to strengthen one another along life’s journey, many Catholic school students and certainly their teachers, coaches and administrators would say.
“We’re made for ultimate victory,” not just on this earth, but for eternity, Fr. John Parks, chaplain at Notre Dame, told the football players.
Therein lies the purpose of Catholic education that Coach Nolan — who also teaches social studies and physical education — modeled so well. From preschool through college, Catholic schools provide opportunity and high expectations for growing spiritually, academically, socially, emotionally and physically. That prepares students to be noble citizens of earth, and ultimately, heaven.
“We may think we’ve succeeded as parents if our kids become doctors, lawyers or successful in business,” said David Roney, a St. Thomas the Apostle and Brophy College Preparatory dad who is starting his freshman year on the Diocesan School Board, “But if we haven’t prepared kids for a relationship with Christ and set them on the road to an eternity with Him we haven’t really succeeded at all.”
This whole child approach gives hope for the future, said Jeff Glenn, incoming president of the Diocesan School Board.
“What I always sense is the passion and desire of our students, coupled with a belief that all things are possible with Christ,” he said.
Glenn, who grew up Protestant and came into the fullness of the faith more than 20 years ago, had two sons in public school and one who graduated from a Catholic high school. He noted Catholic school students he encountered at community events or at the schools themselves hold a sense of joy for their own future.
“And when I look around our community, so many of our graduates are making a difference,” Glenn said, “even if quietly in the ‘background’ of our community — not receiving public praise.”
That’s certainly the case for Cienna Jaime and Jacey Salisbury, two eighth-graders at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tempe. The girls gave themselves a lofty summer assignment: about six weeks to market and execute a Rosary Project aimed at offering a Rosary for 50 different people who have cancer or are otherwise homebound in the community.
They want to pray with the men and women in their home, but understand if they’re too sick or frail to accept company. Their own home or places like the St. Peregrine Cancer Shrine in Mesa are suitable places of prayer too. They scheduled their third Rosary at the exact time of a patient’s procedure.
Spiritual life of junior high school students at Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Offering a rosary during a home visit with a food box from St. Vincent de Paul inspired them. Salisbury said she gained confidence leading prayer at home and at school. Seventh-graders at Our Lady of Mount Carmel led a weekly Rosary in the church for fourth through eighth grades. The entire school offered intercessions for those who needed it each morning before class too.
The girls launched a Mini Vinnies program through St. Vincent de Paul and hope to invite fellow classmates, parish teenagers and others to join. Adult Vincentians plan to regularly open the pantry after school to foster a workable time for the youth to pack the boxes. The prayers will continue too.
Salisbury wanted to keep the good feeling of knowing she is helping someone going, but more importantly, wanted to reach the homebound. “So they know why we’re there: so we can give them food, and if they need help, that we can also pray with them,” she said. Also, “so we know how to be around people who need help so when we’re older we can help people beyond just praying for them.”
John Borst, 24, described Catholic schools as places to learn not just the “what’s,” but the “why’s” of life and how to be God’s servant.
“The world around you can be scary. When you focus on the Holy Spirit and what you’re called to do, you can cut through that,” Borst said. “Then you don’t have to worry about temptations as much.”
Borst, who graduated from both Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale and Brophy College Preparatory, said he learned “little scattered seeds” in school that have taken root and given him something to draw back on when out in the real world. He’s already had instances of “Oh, I remember this. We learned about this.”
“It’s kind of scary. I just moved out of the house and just got this job. It really helps knowing I got this life wrapped in Jesus,” Borst said.