Catching up on two pieces of Keystone Catholic news.
The National Catholic Reporter says Pope Francis is considering a visit to Philadelphia in September 2015. It’s still too early for anything official, but it would generate big news if it materialized.
There hasn’t been a papal visit to the United States since 2008, when Benedict XVI came to New York and Washington.
Now, of course, the holder of the keys of Peter is a rock star. A lot could change by late 2015, but there should be a massive amount of interest in seeing this pontiff in person. He enthralled the multitudes in Brazil during World Youth Day last year – something that tends to get forgotten due to the avalanche of coverage over his in-flight interview on the way home (the one with the iconic line, “who am I to judge?”). But his connection with the poor of Brazil was historic in its own right, and he might surprise some people in a visit here with the force of his disapproval of the income gap between rich and poor.
All that said, Francis would have to know he’d be running into a potential buzzsaw in Philly.
The occasion for his visit would be the World Meeting of Families there in September 2015. No matter what’s on the agenda, any Catholic gathering involving families is inevitably going to draw media scrutiny to the church’s resistance to same-sex marriage — despite its rapidly growing acceptance both in the U.S. and the pope’s native Latin America. Also, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has a troublesome history on handling sexually abusive priests. The pope’s response to that will also dominate the narrative.
While the papal visit remains speculative, one concrete move the pope did make last week was to return Bishop Ronald Gainer to his native Pennsylvania. Bishop Gainer, who grew up in the coalfields of eastern Pennsylvania and rose through the ranks of the Diocese of Allentown, served as bishop of Lexington, Ky. – a mostly rural, mostly Protestant diocese that included the coalfields of eastern Kentucky. Now Bishop Gainer will be bishop over the Diocese of Harrisburg, which is five times as large as his previous assignment and has the political symbolism of being based in the capital.
Bishop Gainer was appointed to his Lexington post by John Paul II, arriving at a diocese traumatized by the resignation of its previous bishop, Kendrick Williams, who was accused in lawsuits of sexual abuse. Bishop Gainer worked to stabilize the diocese and increase the ranks of men entering the priesthood. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests criticized his handling of some priests accused of abuse. Bishop Gainer spoke out on a broad range of policy issues, calling for such things as immigration reform and broader health care for the uninsured, but he put a priority on opposing abortion, writing shortly before an election that the "defense of the sacredness of human life" represents "THE paramount issue of our time." Bishop Gainer’s appointment to the larger and politically visible Harrisburg diocese certainly seems like a ratification of such priorities, whatever the shift in tone under Pope Francis.
Bishop Gainer, by the way, is one of two Allentown natives rising in prominence in the Catholic hierarchy by way of Kentucky. Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, long active in Catholic Charities in Allentown and with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, now serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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Labeling Mike Weber (above) as a Western Pennsylvania product would be accurate. At the same time, it would be a bit of an understatement.
Growing up, Weber lived for portions of his life in Cranberry, Mars and Center and other northwest suburbs of Pittsburgh.
(For the record, he identifies himself as a Cranberry native.)
At this moment, Weber calls Western New York home as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.
While the Sabres have had a dreadful season with a 14-30-7 record, the rugged defenseman has enjoyed some personal success. He has appeared in 37 games already this season, a total approaching his career best of 42 and was named an alternate captain earlier this season.
Prior to his team's game against the Penguins last night, Weber talked about the journey from Cranberry (Mars and Center) to the NHL.
What's your road to the NHL been like?
"It’s been a long one. You grow up, you watch [Mario] Lemieux, [Jaromir] Jagr and seeing players like that, you don’t know if you have what it takes. You always dream you want to be there. You don’t know if you have what it takes. Though the years, I found a way to make my dream kind of come true. It’s just a lot of hard work. You have a lot of people telling you you can’t do it. You find a way to battle. My parents did a good job. Playing on two teams, I’d play on a AA team back home then they’d drive me across the border into Ohio. I played in Youngstown there for a AA team. Just trying to get as much ice time as I possibly could."
"There’s a local coach, Bob Hawthorne, he coached a Beaver County AA team for a lot years, won a lot of state championships and things like that. He always let me come out for extra ice team. You remember people like that that helped you out. A junior B coach here at the time for the Pittsburgh Junior B Penguins and gave me a chance at 14 years old to play. From there, drafted into the OHL (by the Windsor Spitfires) and got an eye-opener and realized that I could make this a job. 15, 16 years old when I went to Canada. It’s been awesome. I get goosebumps every time that airplane touches down at [Pittsburgh International Airport], coming home and playing in the NHL."
Was there a stigma against kids from Pittsburgh or other areas of the country that didn't produce as many players compared to places such as New England or the Upper Midwest?
"I think so. Now, you’re starting to see more and more coming up from out of Pittsburgh. It’s an exciting thing. It’s one of those things that people don’t realize how hard it is to get to the level and how hard you have to work and how many sacrifices you have to make family-wise and friendship-wise and kid-wise. You’re moving around a lot. If you want to play this game hard you have to move around and do anything to find your way [to the NHL]. I remember getting told a lot of times, it’s tough for a kid to make it from Pittsburgh. There’s a lot of us now in the league so it’s nice."
Do you keep tabs on other Pittsburgh-area players like the Blue Jackets' R.J. Umberger or the Avalanche's Nate Guenin?
"Those guys are a lot older than me but I’ve obviously met them and talked with them. Those were the guys that were first breaking through when I was a kid that were drafted and getting into the NHL and those were the guys you looked up to. If they could do it, I could do it."
You're almost in between those older guys and some of the younger players such as the Blackhawks' Brandon Saad or the Rangers' J.T. Miller.
"Those are the young guys now that are coming up. That’s huge for Pittsburgh. Saad gets a Stanley Cup. It’s real exciting obviously what Lemieux and those guys what those guys have done for the city in the aspect of getting kids involved in hockey. They’ve got a beautiful arena now. Talking to my dad, there’s arenas and [remodeled arenas] and things going up all over the city. They’ve got more kids than ever playing hockey so it’s exciting."
What are your earliest memories of hockey?
"I remember listening to this guy [Root Sports announcer Paul Steigerwald] call all the games. A lot of times, if you couldn’t see the games, I remember listing to [WDVE-FM] to the games on my way from practice or on the way to tournaments."
What has this season been like? Your team hasn't had much success but you're having some individual success by playing in more games and being named an alternate captain.
"Statistically, it hasn’t been the best. It’s tough. We were finding a way to lose games and not scoring at all. It’s tough to stay on the positive side of things. Lately we’ve been coming around. I’m a guy, I try to keep it as level as I can. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in your career. You’ve got to try and find a way to keep it pretty level and come to the rink everyday with a willingness to put your skates on and find a way to make your self better and your team better."
(Photo: Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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Let's get back on track with some of these recruiting primers. Today, let's take a look at the running backs that will officially become Panthers next Wednesday...
Chris James (5-9, 212 lbs)
Notre Dame High School (Niles, Ill.)
Rivals: 4*, No. 22 RB
Scout: 4*, No. 22 RB
247: 3*, No. 40 RB
Qadree Ollison (6-1, 226 lbs)
Canisius High School (Buffalo, N.Y.)
Rivals: 3*, NR
Scout: 3*, No. 43 RB
247: 3*, No. 41 RB
Dennis Briggs (5-11, 190 lbs)
Shady Side Academy (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
Rivals: 2*, NR
Scout: 3*, No. 111 RB
247: 3*, No. 38 RB
Running back is sort of an interesting position for Pitt. Go back in time to last summer and things looked pretty dire; Rushel Shell had just left and the Panthers were heading into the season with Isaac Bennett as the only "experienced" back on the roster. Well, now six months later it looks like Pitt will be just fine at running back. James Conner burst onto the scene to seize the starting job and looks like a legitimate running back of the future for Pitt. Looking at the guys coming in, I think James has the best chance to play right away and, if he lives up to his rankings and expectations, the duo of he and Conner could be a legitimate one-two punch. Beyond that, though, I still expect Bennett and Rachid Ibrahim to be contributors next year. Ollison and Briggs are likely redshirt candidates, but, as we saw this year, running back is a position where a freshman can step in and play right away if either of them have to because of injury or other circumstances. The big name missing here is Washington (Pa.) RB Shai McKenzie, who committed to Virginia Tech. But, looking at the class and the guys Pitt has on the roster already, I don't think losing out on McKenzie will end up looming too large. Obviously, you always want talented guys on your roster, but, especially given where Pitt was six months ago, the running back position looks like it's set up pretty nicely heading into year three of the Paul Chryst era.
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The Pennsylvania Big 33 team was announced today and close to half the team comes from the WPIAL.
Fifteen WPIAL players were selected to the team, which will play Maryland June 14 in Hershey. Both quarterbacks are from the WPIAL. Also, Central Catholic had three players selected while Thomas Jefferson, Mt. Lebanon Gateway and Aliquippa all had two.
Here is the Pennsylvania team (college choices are in parentheses):
Quarterbacks - J.J. Cosentino, Central Catholic (Florida State); Lenny Williams, Sto-Rox (Temple).
Running backs - Terry Swanson, Aliquippa (Toledo); Dravon Henry (pictured), Aliquippa (West Virginia); Tyler Burke, Coatesville (Maryland).
Receivers - Montae Nicholson, Gateway (Michigan State); De'Quan Ware, Harrisburg (undecided); Troy Apke, Mt. Lebanon (Penn State); Thaddeus Smith, Cardinal O'Hara (Boston College).
Tight ends - Alec Bloom, Ligonier Valley (Connecticut); Evan Butts, Episcopal Academy (Virginia).
Offensive linemen - Mike Grimm, Bethel Park (Pitt); Ben Huss, Upper St. Clair (undecided); Cole Costy, Thomas Jefferson (undecided); Noah Bey, Scranton Prep (Penn State); Josh Walmer, Parkland (undecided).
Center - Eric Gallo, Council Rock South (Virginia Tech).
Defensive ends - Trey Klock, Lower Dauphin (Georgia Tech); Luke Carrezola, Neshaminy (Connecticut); Jawan Hill, McKeesport (undecided).
Defensive linemen - Alex Bookser, Mt. Lebanon (Pitt); David Shaw, Spring Grove (Maryland); Mitchell Sweigart, Penn Manor (Yale).
Linebackers - Chase Winovich (pictured), Thomas Jefferson (Michigan); Niko Thorpe, Central Catholic (Fordham); Zaire Franklin, La Salle (Syracuse)
Defensive backs - Tre Tarpley, Central Catholic (Boston College); DeAndre Scott, Imhotep Charter (Arizona State); Tyree Spearman, McDowell (undecided); Marlon Tyree, Erie Cathedral Prep (Bowling Green); Brandon Feamster, Downingtown East (undecided); Anthony Davis, Gateway (Temple).
Athlete - Rasaan Stewart, Perkiomen Valley (Villanova).
Kicker - Joe Julius, Central Dauphin (undecided).