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QB Brett Favre’s faith made an impact, too

GREEN BAY, WI (Catholic Herald) - While the sports world stopped to listen to the March 4 announcement of Brett Favre’s retirement, Catholic leaders in Green Bay and Mississippi also paused to reflect on the impact the future Hall of Fame quarterback had on and off the field.

Fr. Richard Getchel, pastor at St. Agnes Parish on Green Bay’s west side, presided at Brett and Deanna Favre’s wedding in 1996, and baptized their daughter, Breleigh, in 1999.

“I thought he would return, so it surprised me,” he said. “I’m happy for him and the family. I sent Deanna an e-mail. She wrote back thanking me for my concern, which was nice.”

Norbertine Fr. James Baraniak, chaplain for the Packers, attempted to reach the Favres in the days prior to the announcement. He was unaware of the pending retirement. Instead, Fr. Baraniak sought to share a special invitation.

“I received a proposal from the pope’s advancement team for Brett, Deanna and Mike McCarthy to attend a papal Mass in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Ironically, I spoke to Coach McCarthy on Monday evening, likely right before he spoke with Brett. I finally caught up with Deanna, and we had a nice long conversation. She explained that it was an intense time, so they weren’t answering any calls from the 920 area code. When I shared with her the proposal, she said if it was entirely up to her, she would give me an answer immediately, but she had to talk to Brett. ‘You know that husband of mine,’ she said.”

Both priests spoke of their admiration for the Favres. St. Agnes was the family’s home parish while they were in Green Bay. Breleigh and older sister Brittany both attended Holy Family School. Deanna was a regular participant at “Green and Gold Day” at the school, said Fr. Getchel.

‘New guy’s a priest!’

Fr. Baraniak first met Favre 12 years ago on a team flight. It is a moment, he will never forget.

“I didn’t get the memo to dress formal on the plane,” he said. “I was wearing a polo and khakis. When he saw me on the plane, he pointed me out and said, ‘New guy.’ When he later saw me in my habit, he was really surprised. He said, ‘New guy’s a priest!’ That was our introduction.”

Fr. Baraniak was with Brett and Deanna in Oakland when Irvin Favre, Brett’s father, died in 2003.

“They are very impressive people,” he said, “so there is a bit of sadness. For very young people, they have done very well considering all the difficult times they have faced.”

Favre’s playful demeanor was not only displayed on the field, said Fr. Baraniak. It was sometimes showcased at the team Mass prior to home games.

“There are more people at the Mass on the road, so at home, I really saw that personality,” he said. “I remember I was getting ready to start a Mass, when Brett interrupted me. Jeff Thomason (former Packer tight end) was wearing a wild shirt. Brett stood up and said, ‘Excuse me, Father, but JT, I just want to know if you’re wearing one of those shirts that if you stare at it long enough an image appears?’ Everyone was laughing.”

The Favres are members of St. Thomas the Aquinas Parish in Hattiesburg, Miss. Fr. Tommy Conway, pastor, said he will miss trips to Green Bay for Packer games, but is happy for the family.

“It’s a massive relief for Deanna,” he said. “She loves the Packers, but she was concerned that something would happen to him. I think Deanna has shaped Brett Favre into the man he is today. I give her an awful lot of credit. They have faced adversity in their lives and they are both better people for it.

“I told Brett when he left for this past season that I was praying for two things for him,” Fr. Conway added. “I wanted him to remain free of injury and to have a whole lot of fun. He was able to accomplish both. He really enjoyed the coaches and his teammates.”

Catholic faith and charity

One way the Favres live out their faith is through their numerous charitable efforts, including the Brett Favre Fourward Foundation and the Deanna Favre Hope Foundation.

“I would hope that they will continue their charity work,” said Fr. Getchel. “They may have to cut back, but I think it will always be important to them.”

“What is great is that you see them doing it together,” said Fr. Conway. “Deanna is actually very shy, but she believes in the cause, so she has taken on the role of being the face for breast cancer research. We are so proud of what Deanna and Brett have accomplished.”

Bishop Robert J. Banks, bishop emeritus of Green Bay who has spoken with Favre several times at the annual Bishop’s Charities Game, said the retiree’s popularity goes beyond his success on the football field. People relate to his struggles with addiction to painkillers, deaths in the family and Deanna’s battle with cancer.

“He’s faced some tough challenges and he’s handled them so well,” he said. “He wasn’t trying to hide from things. I admire how, in Deanna’s book (“Don’t Bet Against Me”), he let it all be told. He went through the early part of life like a lot of our young Catholics, but it turned out well for him.”

Loyalty, unpredictability and humility come to mind about Brett, said Auxiliary Bishop Robert F. Morneau.

“Brett was here for 16 years,” he said. “This is almost unheard of in professional sports. I believe that Packers fans interpreted this as a sign of fidelity; that Brett really wanted to be here. He seemed to be saying, ‘I love this organization and its many and varied members.’ People responded to this with deep affection and admiration.”

Fr. Getchel said he plans to see the Favres in the future. Fr. Conway stayed with him during trips to Green Bay and Fr. Getchel has a standing invite to visit Hattiesburg.

“The day they got married, I could never have imagined they would be here after all these years,” he said. “I think they will be lifelong friends. Brett will always be a part of Green Bay. Bart Starr hasn’t lived here, but he has always had a foot in Green Bay. I think it will be the same for Brett.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more of them,” said Fr. Conway. “I know they love Green Bay. He went out on top. He can always go back to Green Bay and be welcomed like the flowers in May.”

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This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of the Catholic Herald (www.chnonline.org),official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wis.

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