Pep Rally for Catholic teachings closes out Catholic Schools Week at Donovan Catholic

Gene Zannetti addresses Donovan Catholic students during an assembly held Feb. 1 in St. Joseph Church. Courtesy photo

By Lois Rogers | Correspondent

Catholic Schools Week drew to a strong finish for Donovan Catholic’s students Feb. 1 when nationally known athlete and motivational speaker Gene Zannetti shared a very Catholic perspective on how to connect the dots between faith and the fast living world of today.

Zannetti, a former nationally ranked, All-Ivy League wrestler, entered St. Joseph Church on the Toms River campus to rousing cheers and applause from hundreds of students. After leading the group in prayer, he launched into a non-stop pep-rally that held up Catholic teachings as the perfect training program for learning, serving, leading and succeeding now and in the future.

Connecting with the kids instantly, he defined himself as “someone who knows what it’s like to be a Jersey kid,” growing up in Edison just across the Raritan Bridge who summered in Belmar and other spots along the Jersey Shore.

He focused on meeting the kids on that homeground not only geographically but philosophically where family, faith and sports are concerned, telling them how he grew up in a parish and was an altar server but went through a period when he wasn’t completely committed to Jesus.

A one-time All-Ivy League wrestler, Zannetti holds master’s degrees in exercise science, sports psychology and clinical psychology. Along with Wrestling Mindset, the program he founded with his brother Jeff, Zannetti created Spiritual Strength, a faith-centered company that provides coaching, workshops and retreats.

While life was pretty good, Zannetti assured them it significantly improved once he did make that turn toward Christ. That was about three-and-a half years ago when his younger brother’s call to the priesthood caused him to question his own lifestyle which, he admitted, was casual where relationships were concerned.

Describing himself as a lifelong romantic, now happily married and soon to be a new dad, he urged them to seek pathways that will lead them in such a direction. “Don’t get sucked into the way the world thinks,” he said. “We’ve been lied to by the way the world thinks. It’s not the plan God has in mind.”

“…You need to know who you are and what you believe,” said Zannetti, who urged them focus on more than themselves” through prayer and the realization that God is in control.

Mary Beth DeBlasio, Donovan Catholic’s coordinator of campus ministry, who asked Zannetti to take this closing, keynote spot, said the students were definitely inspired by the session.

“From what I had read about his ministry, he seemed like the right person to help our young people connect the dots between their faith and their everyday life,” she said.

While they know everyone is called to holiness, the young people sometimes think that is defined solely by “serving others and going to Mass,” she said. “Gene reminded us that living a life of holiness means ‘I am profoundly changed by my relationship with God.’”

Zannetti, she said, “challenged all of us to invite God into all aspects of our lives, not only the ones we want him to see.”

His approach resonated with students. Freshman Jaden Anthony said that he really appreciated Zannetti’s charge to them to be “fully in with your relationship with God. You have to pick a side … God or Satan” and that it was important to realize that “you can make a decision at any point in your life to change,” for the better.

Zanetti’s sports analogies were appreciated by senior Matthew Melon, especially when the athlete said that “stats aren’t everything. It’s about team success, being unselfish and working for cohesiveness among the team.”

Freshman Analise Piemonte found it “fascinating that after Zannetti chose to follow God, he accomplished his goals, realized what he wanted to do and met his wife.

“He told us there is a connection between your personal relationships and your faith,” that faith brings people together, said Piemonte. “It’s great to see an athlete live his faith.”

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