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Blessings and Victories A Profile of Harry Flaherty ’84

By Mary Trank ’82

Harry Flaherty ’84I’ve never been part of a sports huddle of any sort, but I found myself at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School on Thursday, May 16, 2002, attending the weekly 7 a.m. interdenominational “huddle” of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), a nationwide youth organization founded in 1954. FCA counts itself as the largest Christian youth organization in the United States. According to its printed literature, weekly huddles are intended to provide athletes with “encouragement and fun within a positive peer group” as well as to “nurture Christian growth and hearts for service.”

The huddle I attended before the beginning of the school day at Rumson-Fair Haven was led by Harry Flaherty ’84, New Jersey state director for FCA. His territory also extends to New York City. Flaherty met me out in front of the school a few minutes before seven. I recognized him immediately from his years playing football at Holy Cross. I remember him more than he remembers me. He was a two-time All American. And I was a fan.

Shortly before seven, Flaherty began unloading boxes of donut holes from his car, as well as “Path to Victory” New Testaments with shiny, colorful covers. Once inside the door of the downstairs, tiered classroom, he passed around the donuts to the teenagers who arrived, a few at a time, until they reached a critical mass of around 25 students at 7:15 a.m. He later supplied copies of the scripture to those students who had not brought their own. Included in the gathering was an alumnus, a college freshman who had finished with his second-semester exams and had come back to the high school to pray with the group.

While Flaherty was getting organized, my attention was divided into thirds. With one third of my brain, I was paging through my new “Path to Victory” New Testament. I discovered it includes, in keeping with the sports theme, a section at the front with “Winning Formula 1” and “Winning Formula 2.” These are 10- and 30-minute sets of guidelines for prayer. Both the 10- and 30-minute “winning formulas” end with the injunction to “pray for others.”

A second third of my brain was paying attention to Flaherty greeting kids, each of them by name. “What do you say, big man?” he said loudly and warmly to one teenager. To another he says, “Let me see that smile!” He is perpetually cheerful and welcoming, either up close at the door or from across the room, where he retreated to set up the music he would later play.

The final third of my brain was taking in the truth that was these kids. As they settled into their desks, which Flaherty and some of the early arrivals had arranged into a semi-circle, I listened to the group sitting to my right. One girl asked another if she had spoken to a certain boy the night before. “Online for about a second,” was the answer. Another girl called out to Flaherty that she would have to leave early for morning detention. I heard a girl remark, “I think I’m going to do Pretty Woman for my paper.” The visiting college freshman talked a little about his year. They sounded like ordinary kids. And then Flaherty began to lead them, and they sounded like something more.

Flaherty began with a verse from scripture, John 15:19, in which Jesus says to his followers, “You do not belong to the world but I have chosen you out of the world.” Flaherty also included a commentary from his daily prayer book about the passage. One line of it read, “We don’t always feel welcome here on earth.” He played a song, “I Can Only Imagine.” It called out with rock music from the boom box in the center of the room. Flaherty provided photocopied lyrics to the group. The song was about heaven.

As Flaherty brought forth the scripture passage and commentary, he asked the teenagers, “What does it mean to be in the world and not of the world? The world says that success equals money and fame.”

After he played the song, Flaherty said, “I want to get your thoughts as you listen to the song. What kind of comfort do you get from this song?” One student said, “Everybody has questions about heaven, but we just don’t talk about them much.”

Flaherty introduced other scripture passages, and after the group turned to each of them and a different student read each one aloud, he spoke. “I don’t know what could be a greater comfort than to know that God is in charge.” He told the students that God’s word and their souls would last forever. He asked them to ask themselves what they are doing about God’s word and what they are doing about their souls.

To these student-athletes, he mentioned Dave Szott, who is in his 13th year in the NFL, currently on the New York Jets 2002 roster. “He does nothing but praise God,” Flaherty said. He mentioned paralympian Jean Driscoll. “She shares her faith in Christ with everyone she can,” Flaherty said. “That’s why God’s word is so important,” he said. “It changes people’s lives.” The huddle ended after prayer requests were received and offered up. Flaherty closed with the words, “Lord, we ask your blessings upon the rest of the world.”

One gets the impression from being around Flaherty that he may be the hero to one or another of these boys or girls. He doesn’t say so, but I think he knows. What he does say, quite a bit, is the simple message you hear on the answering machine when you call the Oceanport home that Flaherty shares with his wife, Janine, and their five children: “God bless you.”

Mary Trank ’82 is a writer for The Two River Times (Red Bank, N.J.). This article first appeared in her “Matters of Faith” column.

 

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