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Former Bulls quarterback models life of service as Catholic priest
Story by Elaine Vitone, with photo by Mark Bolster
UB degree BA ’02, communication; Favorite sport basketball.“I just was never any good at it,” he says humbly, “so I had to play football”; His nieces’ nickname for him Frunkle Joe
As the starting quarterback through the Bulls’ first four years in Division 1A, Joe Freedy had it all: accolades from the press, one of the most recognizable faces on campus, and the kind of close friendships you build through working and playing hard together—and, certainly, partying together.
But despite his popularity, Freedy felt a “wound” in his heart.
“Nothing satisfied,” he says. “And then, through prayer, I was able to hear God very slowly and gently inviting me to follow Him in a particular way.”
By fall 2001, the start of his fifth and final year at UB, Freedy had made a decision: He would pursue his vocation to serve as a Roman Catholic priest.
In 2004, Freedy completed a master’s in philosophy for theological studies at Duquesne University and St. Paul Seminary in his hometown of Pittsburgh. From there, Freedy’s bishop sent him to complete the next phase of his priestly formation program—three years of theology—at Pontifical North American College in the Vatican, the site where many U.S. bishops have trained. On June 21, 2008, Freedy’s studies culminated in his ordination at Pittsburgh’s St. Paul Cathedral.
“It’s a gift that I’m very much unworthy of and so grateful for,” says Freedy, who has returned to Rome for more studies, then will join St. Bernadette’s parish near Pittsburgh. However unlikely Freedy’s story might seem, his friends say that, in hindsight, the priesthood fits him perfectly. They talk of his toughness on the field, devotion to his community, strength under pressure and genuine altruism. They recall a born leader who never lost his humility.
Bill Barba, PhD ’80, a clinical professor and chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in UB’s Graduate School of Education, was one of more than 20 of Freedy’s friends from UB who attended the ordination. “Joe’s conversion has had a powerful impact on a lot of us,” Barba says.
Now, Freedy leads in much more powerful—and often more subtle—ways than he did in his years as #15. A few years ago, Barba visited Freedy in Rome, and several times, they passed through an underground parking lot that’s known as a safe haven for beggars.
“Joe knew them all by name,” Barba recalls. “It’s all in quiet moments like that. It’s what you do when the spectators and cameras aren’t there.”
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