Tag Archives: catholic

Conversion to pro-life and the Catholic faith was providentially ‘unplanned’


Most Catholic audiences are familiar with Abby Johnson, the pro-life speaker and author who resigned as director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in 2009 after she witnessed an ultrasound of a 13-week-old baby being aborted.

What people may not know about Johnson, a feisty Texan known for speaking her mind, is that it’s not always easy for her to be “out front” on an issue that generates great controversy in secular society.

“There are times I’ve thought, ‘I don’t want to talk about this right now,’ and I’ve shied away from being bold,” said Johnson, who will be a featured speaker at the 2020 Legatus Summit West, to be held Sept. 17-19 in Colorado Springs, CO.

Johnson, 39, a wife and mother of eight children, will speak about being a strong public witness for Christ and the right to life. Her autobiography about her pro-life conversion, Unplanned, was adapted into a movie last year that grossed $21 million worldwide. She spoke recently with

She spoke recently with Legatus magazine.

What will you speak about at the Legatus Summit West?

 What I really want to talk about is living out our faith in a very public way. The people who are going to be at this conference are leaders in their fields, in their businesses. I think sometimes we worry, when we’re in places of leadership, about being too vocal about our beliefs or our faith, about what people are going to think and who we’re going to offend. I believe we’re in times when we must be very bold about our faith, our beliefs, and about Christ.

 What was it like to see your story onscreen?

I felt very vulnerable. It was definitely difficult to watch the first few times, seeing the worst version of who you were played out on a screen and realizing that millions of people across the world are going to see this as well. I just had to keep remembering why I did this. It wasn’t to make Abby Johnson a household name. It was really to make God’s mercy and his redemption known in every household.

What feedback did you get from people?

I started to hear all these stories of how people’s lives were changed, babies who were saved, people who went from “pro-choice” to pro-life. That’s really what it was all about: showing people the goodness of God, and that anybody can change their mind. Conversion is real.

How well did actress Ashley Bratcher portray you?

She did a good job. Unfortunately, she was cast at the very last minute. We didn’t have any time to spend together before she actually went to the set. She’s not Southern, so maybe there was a little bit of feistiness missing. My friends who watched the film said, “Oh, she was way too nice.” I wish we could have had some time together, but given the circumstances and the quick turnaround of casting, I think she did a great job.

What led you and your husband to enter the Catholic Church in 2012?

When I left Planned Parenthood, I left all of my friends and support network behind. All my new friends happened to be Catholic. My husband and I were raised with a covert antiCatholicism. We were against it, but our friends kept bothering us. So we went to Mass one Sunday, and we walked out thinking, “Huh. There’s something there we want to know more about.” As soon as we told our friends that, we found ourselves in RCIA, and all these questions Doug and I had our whole lives started being answered. Little by little, that’s where we found the Truth.

Studying church history led him on the road home


Father Doug Grandon is among the few who have been both a lay Legate and a Legatus chaplain.

“The amazing vision Tom Monaghan had was that those serving at the higher echelons of business deserve to be evangelized because they can influence so many people in a positive way for the kingdom,” Fr. Grandon said in a recent interview with Legatus magazine.

Father Grandon, 61, associate chaplain of Legatus’ Denver Chapter, his wife, Lynn, and four of their six children entered the Catholic Church in 2003 after he spent five years as an Episcopal priest. He joined Legatus as a layman in 2005. Three years later, he was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Peoria, IL, under the pastoral provision created by St. Pope John Paul II for former Protestant clergymen.

Today, Fr. Grandon is national chaplain for the Colorado-based Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). 

How was your religious upbringing?

I was a pure pagan. My family didn’t go to church. I heard the gospel at 13 and became a Christian at 14. I spent most of my life as an evangelical Protestant. I was a missionary in Communist Yugoslavia for five years, and then a church-planting pastor. I began reading more in church history, and I realized that my evangelical Protestantism was weak historically and liturgically.

What happened as you learned more about church history?

My wife and I became Episcopalian for eight years. The church sent me to England for my formation, and I served as an Episcopal clergyman for five years. My Episcopal diocese was evangelical, but also very “small-c” catholic. That’s where I learned about apostolic succession, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and the intercession of the saints. It eventually became very clear that we almost certainly couldn’t have apostolic succession, we didn’t have valid sacraments, and therefore I wasn’t a “Catholic” priest as I was told I was. I told my bishop that I had concerns about my ability to celebrate a valid Mass. He said, “If you have concerns, you should become a Roman Catholic.” So I did.

Describe your recent experience as a Legatus chaplain.

I love our Chapter members and have a very special relationship with them. I did a mission to Romania with some FOCUS university students in March. When I returned, everybody who came from Europe was asked to self-quarantine [for COVID-19]. I quarantined in my basement, where I celebrated a daily Mass on my dresser. God put it on my heart to contact our Legatus families. We have 75 or more families in our very large Chapter. I called every family. I found that they needed to talk to somebody. Some of them wanted to talk for a half hour. Sometimes they would cry. One Legatus wife had the virus, and I was privileged to go anoint her. Any Legatus chaplain would love his people like that.

What’s something that people are surprised to learn about you?

I have a collection of about 100 Soviet antiChristian propaganda posters dating from 1917 to the 1980s. When I was Episcopalian, I taught four winters in Moscow. My first winter there, I began discovering these posters in flea markets and antique shops. I began buying them. They were fairly inexpensive. Every now and then someone asks me to do an exhibit and give lectures on religious freedom today and Soviet Communism’s attacks on the Christian Church.

What books are you reading?

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, a great fictional read. I also immensely enjoyed J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. If you can endure the profanity, it’s profoundly wonderful and significant.

Empowering leaders for much-needed Catholic evangelization


Tim Flanagan estimates that the Catholic Leadership Institute, the Pennsylvania based nonprofit organization he founded, has provided parish leadership training to some 20 percent of all priests in the United States.

“They’ve gone on to have significant growth and impact in their parishes in the areas of evangelization with the programs they’ve brought through the training they’ve received, with the pastoral plans and visions they’ve put together,” said Flanagan, chairman of CLI.

Under Flanagan’s direction, CLI has gone on to provide leadership formation and consulting to clergy and lay leaders in more than 100 dioceses in the United States and around the world. For his efforts, Flanagan, 77, a member of the Philadelphia Chapter, is the recipient of Legatus’ 2019 Bowie Kuhn Award for Evangelization, which is named for the former Major League Baseball commissioner who was a devout Catholic. Flanagan recently spoke with Legatus magazine.

How does it feel to be given the Bowie Kuhn Award for Evangelization?

I’m really honored and humbled. Bowie was an outstanding Catholic leader who certainly was a great evangelizer. He started Baseball Chapel, a ministry for professional baseball people to deepen their Christian faith, and expanded it to over 100 major and minor league clubs in the United States. They currently minister to over 3,000 people.

By way of an interesting analogy of evangelization, the Catholic Leadership Institute has provided world-class leadership formation for over 3,000 priests through our “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” program, and they’ve gone on to strengthen their parishes and develop them into really strong, faith-filled communities.

What is Catholic Leadership Institute’s mission?

 We are equipping leaders and igniting hope in the Church. We do that by providing bishops, priests, religious, deacons, and lay people with world-class pastoral leadership formation and consulting services that strengthen their confidence and competence in their ministry, which enables them to articulate a vision for their local Church to call forth the gifts of those they lead, and to create more vibrant faith communities rooted in Jesus Christ.

What made you want to commit your life to developing Catholic leaders?

 In 1989, on a corporate retreat, I was asked to write out a personal mission statement. While writing, I felt called to bring leadership to the Catholic Church. I had seen it in academia, in the military, and in business where millions of dollars were being spent to develop human potential, but I hadn’t seen that in the Church. That was an epiphany for me.

 How much of leadership is dependent on personal temperament, talent, and aptitude?

 There is such a thing as a born leader, and that’s a certain percentage of the population. There are people who you just look at and you know they have the skill sets to have followers and lead people. But we’re all called to leadership through our baptism in terms of evangelization. Anybody who was created by God has great potential. If they’re given the training and the skills, they can be more effective as a leader.

How has being a Legate impacted you spiritually and professionally?

Legatus has had a very significant impact in my life in allowing me to meet wonderful Catholic leaders, hear outstanding speakers at our chapter meetings, attend the Summits, and observe other Legates who have very meaningful Catholic-based lives. All that really opened up my own desire to explore my faith. 

Professionally, Legatus has had a very high impact on the development of our organization. As we started to expand across the United States, it was always by working through other Legates in other chapters in other cities across the country

Celebrating a Holy Catholic Easter: A Guide to the Customs and Devotions of Lent and the Season of Christ’s Resurrection

Fr. William Saunders
TAN Books, 224 pages

For Catholics, Lent and Easter are all about ashes, fasting, fish on Fridays, palm branches, and those Easter Triduum liturgies, correct? Well, as Fr. Saunders relates in this fine book, there’s actually a whole lot more to these liturgical seasons that make them so rich in opportunity for spiritual growth. Here he explains the fuller meaning behind the familiar Catholic observances and takes us deeper: historical backgrounds, tips on preparation for one’s Lenten Confession, the significance of Holy Week liturgies, and the glorious feasts of the Easter season right up through Pentecost. Be prepared to experience these seasons of penance and new life like never before.


Order: Amazon

Habits for a Healthy Marriage: A Handbook for Catholic Couples

Richard P. Fitzgibbons, M.D.
Ignatius Press, 280 pages


Husbands and wives are imperfect beings. So no matter how great a marriage, there is always room for forming a more perfect union. Bad habits can creep into a relationship, and vigilance is required. Here Dr. Fitzgibbons takes some of the commonly seen marital issues such as selfishness, anger, pornography, and infidelity and suggests how they can be avoided — or healed. It’s a matter of working on the virtuous habits that make marriages strong, like the image of the love between Christ and His Church that the husband-wife relationship signifies. It’s a powerful resource for couples wishing to improve their union no matter their starting point.


Order: Amazon

Bending back the sword of fear

With the long-held American tenet of separation of church and state, it would seem that wearing one’s faith on his sleeve in business might be ‘imprudent.’ After all, by the late 19th century, non-Catholic governments became the norm in Europe and in the Americas – and certain principles were instilled to keep Catholics ‘in line’ with dictates of civil authority. Catholicism and its unique teachings were to be granted no special treatment. And so an intolerable intimidation has trickled down to this day.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

It is the sword of fear pointed particularly at Catholics – in business, in government, in education, in everything.

The virtue of fortitude lets an executive act unapologetically and with confidence that God has his back. It’s the grit that lets him follow Divine instinct. It’s what prompts the CEO, judge, university professor, or administrative assistant to state plainly what he or she personifies as a Catholic – whether derided for it or not. High-octane guts trump human respect, and make some of the greatest leaders what they are.

But fear is the great underminer of fortitude, and there are reasons why.

Living in a continual state of moral compromise gives rise to fear – leading to heightened anxiety about others’ opinions or of being exposed. It’s been said the more one runs from God, the greater his unrest.

Next, the Church today is less likely to have her princes and shepherds draw clear boundaries clarifying longstanding right and wrong. Rather, many clerics pursue affirmation of the culture. The perception of losing centuries-old Church support makes Catholics more fearful, and more lax.

Third, among man’s deepest instincts is self-preservation, which kicks into high gear amid fear of loss – of business, income, stature, loved ones, health – even death. It takes supernatural muscle to go beyond the limitations of self-preservation and forge ahead for the selfless purposes of God.

Fourth, many contemporary Catholics recoil from living sacrificially or embracing hardship – errantly perceiving it as a lack of self-sufficiency. This exacerbates their fear of pain or even mild discomfort – making them ‘soft,’ less able to stand immovably firm on the tougher aspects of faith.

Finally, a close ‘relative’ of fear is uncertainty – which makes people queasy about circumstances and imagined outcomes. It keeps them inert, unable to take bold steps. The early 20th-century communists and Nazis exploited uncertainty, and kept people in constant suspicion of each other so they’d remain fearful and easily controlled.

Years ago when I was a legal writer, the attorney who owned the firm hosted Christmas parties at his spectacular country estate. He was devout Greek Orthodox, and one year gave us a special house tour. Matter-of-factly, he led us into a glorious room with a large spotlighted Bible on an ornate brass bookstand, flanked with candles in gilded holders, fresh poinsettias, and a spectacular gold-carved cross. Illuminated paintings of Christ and saints’ icons lined the walls. His wife led us in religious Christmas carols around their piano.

A godly leader, he made his faith evident in every setting. Many of us are still affirmed by his example.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s editor.

Business travel: pilgrimage or occasion of sin?

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph 6:11)

The ordinary experience of a Catholic business traveler provides opportunities for both spiritual growth and evangelization. It also can be a time where we might be tempted to sin and compromise our commitment to virtue. As someone who travels constantly for business, I thought I would pass on some of my habits formed to make these trips into mini-pilgrimages.

Begin the trip well

  • Pray the rosary while waiting to board the flight.
  • Make the sign of the cross and pray the rosary again upon takeoff.
  • Make the sign of the cross and offer a blessing before eating any in-flight food.
  • Make another sign of the cross upon landing.

While these slightly conspicuous Catholic practices might attract looks, they also frequently create an opening for dialogue with other faithful or those searching for spiritual comfort.

Take a stand at check-in

  • Request in advance that there be no alcohol in the minibar. Stop patronizing hotels that demand an exorbitant fee for alcohol removal.
  • Insist that “adult” cable channels be disabled or that the cable be completely disconnected.
  • Ask for the location of the nearest Catholic church and its weekday Mass schedule.

Alcohol and pornography can be sources of temptation. They also are at the foundation of much human sex trafficking, and business travelers form a prominent client base. Be part of the countermovement by taking a stand.

Sanctify the room

  • Travel with a vial of holy water and bless the hotel room immediately.
  • Place a small crucifix and blessed saints’ medals on the desk and next to the bed.
  • Carry spiritually nourishing material, such as the Legatus Timeless Prayers for Busy People.
  • Free hotel wifi is overwhelmingly used for pornography, and Catholics are not immune from this temptation. My work computer prevents me from using hotel networks. Sticking to business electronic devices is a good strategy. If using personal devices, software such as Covenant Eyes can offer protection.

As there are no eyes on you in your hotel room, invite God’s eyes and spiritual protection into that space.

Begin pilgrimage upon waking

  • If possible, get up early, pray, and exercise.
  • Visit that Catholic church identified at check-in — if not for Mass or Confession, then at least to offer an oration.
  • Be on high alert about business entertaining. I frequently make excuses to drink nothing at all or have at most one or two glasses of wine.
  • Speak openly about your Catholic faith and other wholesome subjects such as family and books. Never join in any vulgarity.
  • Get back to the hotel early and call home. These are trusted best practices, but we must be equally committed to keeping our business guests and colleagues spiritually safe too.

Return home with spiritual impact

  • Drop a note to the hotel management requesting pornography blockers on the hotel wifi. (Let’s start a movement!)
  • Thank hotel management for any signage in the hotel alerting guests to signs of human trafficking.
  • Drive like a Christian.
  • Use the constant irritations and stresses of travel to imitate Christ. Forgiveness is the antidote to stress.
  • Consume no alcohol on the flight home. Look forward to a glass of wine with your spouse instead. The armor of God is effective. Use it and stay safe!

JONATHAN TERRELL is the president of the Washington, D.C., Chapter. He is founder and president of KCIC, a Washington-based consulting firm that helps companies manage their product liabilities.

New children’s books enliven evergreen lessons for life

Children are both a gift from God and our future, so writing for them is no small undertaking. It takes a special talent to translate the world into a simpler, more innocent place full of possibilities. For two Legates, Chuck Ormsby and Anthony DeStefano, writing children’s books is a labor of love in which they impart character-building, evergreen lessons.

Godly insights for everyone

Anthony DeStefano and his wife Jordon are members of the Jersey Shore Legatus Chapter. He has worked successfully in politics and business, and is a member of the board of directors of Priests for Life and Rachel’s Vineyard. He has also been an EWTN television host and appeared on many national television and radio programs.

And through it all, he writes.

Stefano is an award-winning, best-selling author of 20 books for adults and children. His first book, A Travel Guide to Heaven, (2003) has been published in 15 languages and in 20 countries. Another book for adults, Hell: A Guide, will be out in June.

DeStefano’s latest children’s book released in October, The Seed Who Was Afraid to be Planted, is the retelling of Jesus’ parable of the seed in verse, beautifully illustrated by Erwin Madrid, an animator on the Shrek franchise. The story is about a seed wanting to stay in a cozy drawer rather than get buried in the ground. Faced with his biggest fear, the seed undergoes a transformation into a beautiful tree that nurtures the creation around it. It imparts the lesson that no matter how small or scared we may be, God has plans for us more wonderful than we can imagine.

Speaking specially to Catholics

This new book is his first with a Catholic publisher. “Now is the time to start writing Catholic books with the Church,” he explained. “I’ve had the sense over the last three years—and I think all Catholics have had this sense—that the Church is going through troubled waters. I’ve had a conviction that instead of focusing on the general market where I’ve had a lot of success, I should write for a Catholic-specific audience.” It also helped that DeStefano had met the publisher of Sophia Institute Press, Charlie McKinney, and was very impressed. Sophia will also publish his next two children’s books: Our Lady’s Wardrobe in April and The Grumpy Old Ox next Christmas.

DeStefano’s stories, which reflect Godly values and insights, have attracted readers across denominational lines and even no denominations. The Seed Who Was Afraid to be Planted, he explained, is also a message that applies to everyone.

Facing the universal phobia – fear

“I believe the biggest problem that people face—not just children—is fear,” DeStefano said. “People are afraid about their money, and job, and families, and health, and most of all they are afraid they don’t have what it takes to overcome their problems.” Unless we help children deal with their fears, he said, it can manifest into much bigger problems that could last a lifetime.

The idea for the book came to DeStefano during adoration while reading the parable of the grain of wheat that fell to the ground and had to die in order to grow. “It hit me like a bolt of lightning; Why not retell the parable of the seed from the perspective of the seed?” he explained. “The message is about trusting God and allowing him to transform your fear into something wonderful.”

Taking the worst, pulling out the best

It is a message that relates to Christ himself, according to DeStefano. “Jesus is the best example of the seed who was planted,” he said. “He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, and He died and was buried in the earth. It was the worst evil that ever took place in the world: the murder of God by His own creatures. But three days later, the Resurrection represents the greatest good that could ever happen. The gates of heaven were thrown open and all of us can receive everlasting life. If God can take the worst thing and pull out the best thing, He can pull good out of our life.”

Imparting such a vision can transform a child’s whole life, DeStefano said. “It can help prepare children to understand other deeper truths— including the love God has for us, the beauty of creation, the temporary nature of bodily death, the meaning of resurrection, and the joy of heaven.”

Far-reaching love for kids

Attorney Chuck Ormsby, member of Pennsylvania’s Bucks County Chapter, also has deeper messages in his whimsical children’s books. They reflect his own commitment to God and children alongside his full-time work at his law firm, Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC. He has specialized in corporate law for over 30 years alongside raising three children with his wife, Linda, and building schools in Uganda.

“I went on my thirteenth trip there this past Halloween,” he said. “Previously we built a school in the jungle where a genocide took place,” Ormsby said. It all began in 2007 when Ormsby accepted an offer from visiting priest, Father Joseph Sserugo, to visit Uganda. He came to build a primary school on a one-square-mile piece of land that had been a place of genocide, thereby turning it into a blessing. Pope John Paul II high school was later built and is currently educating 600 students.

There is also a vocational school begun by Ormsby with another 150 students. Students can be sponsored at the Pope John Paul II High School, to defray yearly tuition. And there are also opportunities for covering their room and board at the local university (go to bridgetouganda.org to learn more).

Out of the mouths of babes

Ormsby’s foray into writing children’s books as a hobby has a humbler beginning. “We were driving in the car and one of the kids asked, ‘Why is Dad’s head ‘shaped like that’ —round and bald,” he explained. “My wife said, ‘So water runs off. If it had a dent in it, water would well up and he’d have a problem; puddles would form, birds would come drink and trees would grow.’” Thus was born Mr. Puddlehead, published in 2016 by Archway Publishing.

The brightly animated story in verse is reminiscent of Dr. Seuss. The moral behind the silly story is: accept the way God made you, and see the puddles in your life as a blessing.

Life lesson from grandma

On another day, Linda came home from pushing a grandchild in the stroller with a sticky mess on the wheel that had picked up a napkin and a cigarette. From that came the story of Mrs. Sticky Wheel. She is in too much of a hurry to clean off the mess so ends up coming home with a dog, a cat, a duck and a pig stuck to the stroller.

On the first page of the second book, Mrs. Sticky Wheel marries Mr. Puddlehead. On the last page is the moral:

“She learned a lot from this haul
Address your issues when they’re small
Or better yet so not to stall
Avoid your problem after all.”

A third book is in the works. When his oldest of five grandchildren, Tiernan, recently explained that his superhero power is never getting tired, Ormsby envisioned his next book – a story where the villains are such a pest, while the superhero needs no rest.

Stay tuned.

PATTI ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer.

Rallied By Rock-Solid Faith

Pittsburgh Steelers great “Rocky” Bleier — the January Summit East’s opening night keynote speaker — relied on his Catholic foundation as he struggled to overcome war injuries, to become a four-time Super Bowl champion.

In the stifling heat and humidity of Vietnam, Rocky Bleier walked through the grass and brush of the remote Hiep Duc Valley, 35 miles from Da Nang, stirring up memories of a half-century before. It was August 20, 2018, 49 years to the day since Bleier was badly wounded when his Army platoon, vastly outnumbered and surrounded By Viet Cong, came under intense fire there. Four U.S. soldiers were killed in the attack, and Bleier was among the 25 wounded.

Revisiting the battle scene for the first time as part of an ESPN special, The Return, which aired earlier this year, Rocky found himself overcome with emotion.

“I think about those guys that got killed,” he said. Among them was a 19-year-old infantryman nicknamed Hawaii, engaged to be married, whom Rocky had come to know well. “He’s down, and he’s not moving,” Rocky remembered. “He took two rounds…and he dies.”

Bleier, who was drafted into the U.S. military during his rookie season as a running back with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was among the fortunate ones who returned home alive. But his wartime injuries, said doctors and everyone else, would prevent him from ever playing professional football again.

Rocky was determined to prove them wrong. Aided by the strength of his faith, he would do just that.

A Catholic Upbringing

Robert “Rocky” Bleier – the nickname dates to his infancy – grew up in Appleton, Wis., the oldest of four children of Bob and Ellen Bleier. The family lived above the tavern his father owned, Bleier’s Bar, just a halfblock from St. Joseph’s Parish. His paternal grandparents belonged to that parish, and so his father and siblings all attended St. Joe’s grade school.

“When I was growing up there were only two kinds of kids in my world, public school kids and Catholic kids,” Bleier recalled, “so being Catholic was the only thing I knew.”

Rocky sang in the choir, served at the altar, and learned “some of the toughest lessons” from the Notre Dame Sisters at St. Joe’s and, later, the Christian Brothers at Xavier High School. That Catholic education and upbringing “set a foundation and belief that became essential throughout my life,” he said. “It set an order and discipline that got me through the toughest of times.”

Bleier was a three-time all-state selection at running back at Xavier, and although not a “blue chip” recruit he garnered interest from a number of college coaches. After visiting three campuses, he made his decision. “I did what every good Catholic boy was taught to do, and that was to go to church and pray for guidance,” he said, “and then like every good Catholic boy I did what my mother wanted me to do — and that was to go to Notre Dame.”

It proved to be a good choice for him. “College can be an age of question as you are trying to figure who you are, where are you going, what is important in life, what you believe. During this period you need solitude, a time for reflection, a place to go,” Bleier said. “I found that solace in walking the lakes on campus and ending up at Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine,” the famous grotto near the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. That’s where he would stop to pray in preparation for every Notre Dame football game and at countless other moments in his years in South Bend.

At 5-10 and 177 lbs., Bleier was small for a Fighting Irish halfback, but in his junior year he became a starter for Notre Dame’s undefeated 1966 national championship season – the year the #1 Irish tied #2 Michigan State 10-10 in the season’s penultimate game to secure the title in what has been dubbed “The Game of the Century.”

In 1967, he was a team captain as the Irish went 8-2. Although injury forced Rocky to miss the final game — a 24-22 win over the University of Miami — his team and coach Ara Parseghian awarded him the game ball.

Pittsburgh … And Vietnam

Selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 16th round of the NFL-AFL draft, Bleier made the final roster in 1968 but played sparingly his rookie season. Then his life took a dramatic turn: with the Vietnam War raging, he was drafted into the U.S. military. At season’s end, he was inducted into the Army, and following advanced infantry training his unit was shipped out to Vietnam in May 1969.

The following August, Bleier’s unit was on a recovery operation in Hiep Duc when they were ambushed by Viet Cong soldiers. Several of his platoon mates would be killed or wounded in the attack, and Bleier himself was shot in the left thigh. After crawling 200 yards behind a hedgerow, “I said the most fervent prayer of my life,” he wrote in his 1975 memoir Fighting Back. A short time later, an enemy grenade landed near him and blasted shrapnel into his lower right leg, blowing away part of his foot and leaving him in agonizing pain. It would take several excruciating hours and heroic efforts from some of his fellow soldiers to carry him two miles to a helicopter for evacuation.

While Bleier was undergoing treatment for his injuries in Tokyo, doctors told him it would be “impossible” for him to play football again. But soon he received a postcard from Art Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers: “Rock, the team’s not doing well. We need you. Art Rooney.” With several surgeries and a long rehabilitation ahead of him, Rocky was determined to “fight back” and return to the gridiron, even in the face of near-unanimous skepticism.

Field Goal: Back To The Team

But return he did, through sheer determination, perseverance, and hard work. In 1970, the Steelers placed him on injured reserve. He was waived twice, but always re-signed by Pittsburgh. He spent the next three seasons playing on special teams, amassing just four carries from scrimmage and eight kick returns in that time. In 1972, he was on the sidelines when Franco Harris scored on the controversial “Immaculate Reception” play in the closing seconds of a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders. When he signed his one-year contract for the 1973 season, Rocky briefly contemplated retirement, but instead focused on strength training and bulked up to 216 lbs. In 1974, he became a starter alongside Harris. In 1975, he won the first of his four Super Bowl rings with the Steelers.

During the 1976 season, Bleier and Harris became only the second backfield duo ever to rush for more than 1,000 yards apiece in a season. Perhaps his greatest moments came in Super Bowl XIII against the Dallas Cowboys, when he caught a second-quarter touchdown pass from quarterback Terry Bradshaw and later recovered the Cowboys’ last-minute onside kick attempt to seal the 35-31 victory.

The Rooney family was Catholic, as was Steelers head coach Chuck Noll, which gave a certain ethos to those years in Pittsburgh. “There is a certain belief foundation of doing what is right that prevailed,” Bleier said of the Steelers organization in the 1970s. “No one wore their religion on their sleeves, but it made it easier to feel a part of the family.”

Bleier retired after the 1980 season, ending his career as the fourth-leading rusher in Steelers history. His remarkable story and his grit on the playing field had won him the admiration of football fans everywhere. That same year, his book was made into a TV movie, and last spring it was reissued with two new chapters. Today, Bleier is a popular motivational speaker and operates a retirement planning firm in Pittsburgh.

Amid all the daunting challenges of his life, Bleier credits the “foundation” of his Catholic faith for carrying him through.

“I didn’t have to ‘turn’ to my faith, it was always there,” he reflected. “As a famous football coach once said, ‘You pray to God as if it is up to Him, and you prepare as if it is up to you.’ Praying, wishing, wanting, and hoping aren’t enough to succeed, although they are an essential part of that foundation. One still has to put the time and effort into it.”

Return To Hiep Duc

Bleier’s return visit to Vietnam was unexpectedly emotional, as the ESPN special reveals. In the muggy Vietnam heat he remembered the events of August 20, 1969, and wept openly for the men who died that day.

“After 50 years, I saw the changes in Vietnam — the growth, commerce, buildings, townships, cities, the natural progression of time,” he said. “Not as I left it: villages, jungles, rice paddies, trails.”

Vietnam is “still a police state, a communist country, so I asked myself: ‘for what?’” he said. “We lost that war, [but] more importantly we lost 58,000 soldiers…. Not that they died in vain, but we should never had been there to begin with.”

Yet his takeaway from that visit was positive, too. “I am more proud today of having the opportunity to serve my country,” Bleier said, “because no matter what injustice one might feel they have to endure, there is not a better country to live in.”

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer

When Catholics come home

Tom Peterson knows the exact date his life changed forever.

June 11, 1997.

It was the date of my spiritual reversion,” Peterson, 58, a member of the Legatus Atlanta Chapter, said.

Peterson, who never missed Mass but said he did not make God his first priority, went on a married men’ s weekend retreat. That weekend, the Holy Spirit touched his heart and gave him an ”epiphany of faith” that led him to understand that his priorities were not in right order.

A couple of months later, while attending daily Mass, Peterson asked God what He wanted him to do with his life. That night, Peterson said he had two dreams, one pertaining to the prolife movement, and the other focused on evangelization.

The next morning, Peterson’ s two apostolates were born: VirtueMedia and Catholics Come Home.

Many thousands respond to ‘evangomercials,‘ TV show

“It’s been an exciting adventure, definitely fueled by the Holy Spirit,” said Peterson, whose betterknown apostolate, Catholics Come Home, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. In those two decades, hundreds of thousands of lapsed and fallenaway Catholics have seen the apostolate’s commercials – “evangomercials” – on television welcoming them home to the Church.

Dioceses that have partnered with Catholics Come Home have reported seeing increases of tens of thousands of people returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Mass after the apostolate began airing its commercials on local television.

Millions of people around the world have visited the apostolate’s website. Peterson also hosts a Catholics Come Home primetime television show on EWTN, where he spotlights reversion stories of people who embraced their Catholic faith after years of being away from the Church.

“Our messages have always been positive,” Peterson said. “They’ve been inviting. They’ve been merciful, and we use the tone that Jesus uses in the Sermon on the Mount. We have found that they’ve been very effective because people don’t find them judgmental or condemning. They find them hopeful and inviting.”

Former ad exec, several legates turn talents toward Christ

Peterson has been a member of Legatus for more than 17 years. He helped found the Legatus chapters in Phoenix and Atlanta, holding leadership positions for both chapters. He was on the Legatus’ International Board of Governors for two terms, where he served as vice chairman. Peterson began Catholics Come Home after a 25- year career as an award-winning ad executive.

Several Legates have played key roles in making Catholics Come Home to become a successful apostolate. Legates Jack Hake from the St. Louis Chapter and Russ Scaramella from the Phoenix Chapter are advisory board members for Catholics Come Home. Robert Trussell Jr., a Legatus member in Lexington, Kentucky and founder of Tempur-Pedic, is the chairman of Catholics Come Home. David Fischer from the Fort Worth Chapter is the apostolate’s treasurer.

“Scripture tells us, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,’” Peterson said. “Many of us Legates have been blessed with incredible intellect, business savvy, talents, and gifts. Through the vision of Tom Monaghan and through the Legatus infrastructure, we have a group of like-minded people to bolster our hope and pave a way for us to be more sacrificial and more energetic and passionate in sharing our faith with these God-given talents He’s given us.”

Ad efficacy tested first – proof in the pudding since

Peterson used his advertising talents in launching Catholics Come Home’s first test campaign in Phoenix in 1998. After that initial campaign, local pastors reported seeing several thousand people return to the sacraments.

“We tested the effectiveness of the ads through focus groups and dial testing. It was scoring very highly so we knew it was safe, and it could be effective to run the ads,” Peterson said. “And then when we did, we saw that tens of thousands of people were coming back to church.”

Several years later, a Catholics Come Home campaign drive motivated as many as 92,000 Catholics to return to Mass in Phoenix.

“I am deeply grateful to Catholics Come Home for the projects they have undertaken in support of the Church and of virtuous living. I highly recommend them,” Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix said in a testimony posted on the apostolate’s website.

Around 37,000 Catholics reportedly returned home to the Church after the Catholics Come Home campaign ran in the Archdiocese of St. Louis during Advent 2011. That translated to an 8.3 percent overall increase in local Mass attendance.

“I can’t tell you how many times Catholic families shared with me how proud they were when they saw the commercials talking about our Catholic faith,” Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis said in a testimony also posted on the apostolate website.

“We are thrilled when one person comes home and responds to us, or checks out our website,” Peterson said. “But it’s also heart-warming to see such large numbers when we partner with archdioceses or dioceses around the world who welcome them home to the sacramental church in their parish family”

Evangelizing means not being afraid – but Christ-like

Peterson noted that Catholics Come Home was founded during the pontificate of Pope St. Pope John Paul II, who called for a New Evangelization and asked Catholic organizations during Jubilee 2000 to reach out to inactive Catholics and welcome them back into the life of the Church.

“John Paul II reminded us not to be afraid,” Peterson said. “That phrase is a similar call to arms that is in the Bible at least 365 times, one for every day of the year. It’s there to remind us, with all the scandals and other challenges of secularism, that now is not the time to cower in fear. Now is the time to boldly preach the Gospel, the good news of Christ, to those who are drowning in secularism and who need this message of hope.”

Person said he has found that most people fall away from the Church after becoming distracted by life’s demands. Over time, they slowly drift away and stop attending Mass. Many of them do not have deep-seated animosity toward the Catholic faith. They just need someone to invite them home.

“The invitation is critical,” Peterson said.

For people who are estranged from the Church because of trauma related to sex abuse or other deeply personal reasons, Peterson said God calls upon Catholics to show them love and warmth, to provide a listening ear and a compassionate attitude; in short, to be Christ- like.

Ramping global message – effort for hope in Christ

“Now is not a time for despair. Now is a time to ramp up our enthusiasm and our efforts, knowing full well that Christ has already won the war,” said Peterson, who added that Catholics Come Home plans to ramp up its evangelizing efforts in the coming years.

Peterson added that the apostolate has plans to expand internationally, publish more books, and release a web app designed to help people identify and combat the hidden vices in their lives, to focus on building their will power and strengthening virtue.

Peterson said one of his most important messages in his evangelization efforts is, “Don’t lose hope. With God, all things are possible.” In many of his talks, Peterson begins with a phrase attributed to St. Teresa of Avila.

“Jesus has so many enemies and too few friends. It’s important for us, his few friends, to be good friends,” Peterson said. “Doesn’t that tie in with the message of Legatus, to be ambassadors for Christ, to study, live, and share the faith?”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer

Real Catholics who’ve come home

Michael Mark (and his father, age 90), in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. Michael left the faith when his mother died and he felt God didn’t answer prayers to heal her. He returned after years of substance abuse, after seeing a Catholics Come Home ad, crying, and feeling God’s healing mercy in Confession and in his parish. Now he is like “Mother Teresa” giving care to homeless men in a hospice run by the archdiocese.

Chris Ahrens, Denton Texas, former Marine and Firefighter. After having a son, he felt he was disciplined in everything but faith. He visited Catholics Come Home website and began his journey back to faith. Soon after returning, he helped his mother come home to her Catholic faith, too.

Daniel Bui, University of TexasAustin grad living in Houston, high school teacher. Daniel was raised in Vietnam in a Buddhist family that converted to Protestant Christianity when they moved to Texas. Upon looking deeper into faith, he discovered the truth of Catholicism and now serves at Latin Masses. He also has discerned the priesthood.

Thomas Manns, Vancouver BC, Canada. When his girlfriend left him after high school, Thomas became a loner, a literal hermit. He was struck by a car, and nearly killed. Upon reading the Catholics Come Home book, Thomas returned to church, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and traveled out of his city for the first time in decades, including attending a Catholic men’s conference.