Athletic achievement, personal fumbles, and salvation


GLASSBORO – “What I give to the Lord, he has returned to me tenfold.”
These were the words of keynote speaker Joe Klecko, former NFL star, to a group of 50 men here at the Catholic Men’s Conference, held at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish, all day on Sept. 14.
The conference was co-sponsored by Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish and the Knights of Columbus, St. John Neumann and Our Lady Queen of Peace councils.
Klecko, who played in the National Football League for 12 years, recalled growing up a “cradle Catholic” in Chester, Pa. After playing football at Temple University, Philadelphia, he was drafted by the New York Jets in 1977, and soon formed a fearsome defensive line with three other players that was known as “The New York Sack Exchange.”
In 1981, with 20.5 sacks, Klecko led the Jets to their first playoff game since 1969 and was honored with his first All-Pro selection.
As this success went his head, he noted, “fear never entered into my head; I knew I was one of the strongest out there on the field.”
After the 1988 season, playing with the Indianapolis Colts, Klecko retired as one of the only NFL players ever to be named to the Pro Bowl at three different positions (Defensive End, Nose Tackle and Defensive Tackle).
Soon after retirement, however, he found himself getting into trouble with the law and filing for bankruptcy.
It was when he was at his lowest, he said, that he turned to something greater for help.
“I turned my life over to God during this struggle and became a daily communicant. I received strength from the Eucharist,” he said.
Klecko now lives in Colts Neck, N.J., and serves as a representative for various construction companies. With his wife, Debbie, he has five children. Sunday Mass and nightly rosary prayers are part of family life.
Klecko also spoke out against abortion, same-sex marriage, and the culture of materialism (“money is insignificant”).
The NFL star capped off a day that began with a morning devotion by Father Jason Rocks, parochial vicar; a presentation on St. Joseph by Father Joseph Adamson, senior priest; a talk on the cross by Father Jim Casadia, pastor; and a presentation on the political and social issues affecting Catholics from Jim White, former Supreme Director and former N.J. State Deputy of the Knights of Columbus.
Mass was celebrated in Our Lady of Lourdes Church, with Father Casadia and Father James King, parochial vicar at Infant Jesus Parish, Woodbury Heights.
Bryan Dickerson, a Knight with the St. John Neumann Council and one of the conference organizers, called the day the start of what is hoped to be an annual tradition.
“The day was to encourage Catholic men to take a greater role and participate more fully in the Catholic Church.”
With Joe Klecko’s presentation, Dickerson felt it was “good to hear from an atypical athlete, who talks not about himself, but about Jesus and the church. It was personable and humbling.”