WASHINGTON — Anthony Federico is one of three seminarians from the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., studying at Theological College in Washington. But he's the only one of them to inadvertently create an internet outcry.
Federico, who is 33 and in the third year of his theologate at Theological College, grew up in Connecticut, a big fan of Major League Baseball's New York Yankees and the National Hockey League's Hartford Whalers.
Not only was Federico a fan, he was a participant: hockey, baseball, soccer, swimming and tennis, from youth leagues to high school at Notre Dame in West Haven, Conn. At Providence College, Federico majored in theology — not the keenest choice for finding a job in the big, wide world.
However, his passion for sports landed him a job at ESPN back in his home state. In an interview with Catholic News Service, Federico said he saw it as "vindication" that he could get gainful employment despite his theology major. He worked there seven years, first in the tape warehouse finding and shuttling vintage footage where it needed to go.
Then Federico got an assignment in ESPN's "mobile group" in digital media work — a job he considered a plum. Then came the incident that changed Federico's career path.
In 2012, a little-heralded guard named Jeremy Lin, a Taiwanese-American, started playing terrific basketball for the New York Knicks, gaining international fame. Those in the know started gushing about Lin's emergence.
Eventually, Lin's star dimmed. ESPN had a story about it. It was Federico's task to write the headline. He wrote "Chink in the Armor" never intending it, he said, to be an ethnic slur against Lin.
But the damage was done, the blowback immediate and intense, and the fallout inevitable. Federico got fired within days from the only job he'd had his adult life.
Federico, the eldest of five siblings, moved back in with his parents, who did their best to shield him from "the daily hate mail and death threats," he said.
Over time, Federico picked himself up dusted himself off. In a meeting he attended with representatives of a Stamford, Conn., startup just to give advice, he walked away with a job offer to be a consultant, and would spend his lunch hour walking around Hartford.
He came upon a church that had a weekday Mass at 12:10 p.m. After dismissing the thought at first with "I'm not a daily Massgoer," Federico went inside one day and got hooked. Soon, colleagues asked him what he was doing with himself during his lunch hours. "Come and see" was his reply.
On one visit, he noticed the "struggle" of the parish priest, who was in the confessional before the noonday Mass, but didn't have enough time to hear everyone's confession before he had to prepare to celebrate Mass. "I thought, 'If we just had more priests ... ohhhh, I get it, Lord,'" Federico recalled.
That was the moment he knew his vocation.
"I had a good deal. I was making money, traveling a lot. I thought I had the life I was supposed to have," Federico said. "I was content with my life, but not happy." He added family and friends were "surprised, but not shocked" with his decision.
Federico said he had considered priesthood as early as age 15, but always distanced himself from the idea. When he went to the Hartford archdiocesan vocation office, the personnel knew him already — not from his ESPN notoriety, but because he had applied a couple of years before only to be "nervous, scared, afraid" of following through. "I was looking at it through the no's, not the yes," he added. This time "I am doing this in freedom," he said.
This marks Federico's fifth year at Theological College, which is the national diocesan seminary of The Catholic University of America and directed by the priests of the Society of St. Sulpice. His first two years were for an undergraduate grounding in philosophy, as well as to acclimate to seminary life.
And while he's getting his classwork in, and living in rectories and learning from pastors during the summers, Federico hasn't renounced his love of sports.
He said he and his fellow seminarians have won four intramural championships at Catholic University, which is across the street from the seminary. Theological College also won the Vianney Cup, a soccer tournament for four East Coast seminaries.
And while some laypeople participate in "iron man" triathlons — swimming, bicycling and running — Federico was the 2015 winner of the "iron seminarian" competition that takes in the decidedly different pursuits of darts, pool and ping-pong.
And, if all goes according to plan — provided it's God's plan — Federico will be ordained to the priesthood in spring 2019.
>> Vocations events
Souls and Goals
What: Annual soccer game pitting Clergy and Co. vs. Kenrick-Glennon Seminary Lions to raise money and awareness for vocations.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9
Where: CBC High School, 1850 De La Salle Drive, Creve Coeur
Information: visit www.soulsandgoals.org
Men's Discernment Retreat
What: Retreat gives men 18 to 33 years old another opportunity to discern whether God may be calling them "to embrace a vocation to the priesthood."
When: Friday, Nov. 10 to Sunday, Nov. 12
Where: Kenrick-Glennon Seminary
Information: contact Renae Novak, Vocation Event Coordinator, at (314) 792-6465 or Rnovak@archstl.org; or Father Brian Fallon, at email@example.com.
Junior and Senior Retreat
What: Formerly one of two "Come and See" weekends for high school freshman through seniors, the focus of this retreat was changed to focus solely on high school juniors and seniors.
When: Friday, Nov. 17 to Sunday, Nov. 19
Where: Kenrick-Glennon Seminary Information: call (314) 792-6465, or email Rnovak@archstl.org or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Single women ages 18-40 will have a chance to discover and explore religious life.
When: Friday, Dec. 8 to Saturday, Dec. 9
Where: Three communities of Catholic sisters will open their houses and convents for the Camino, starting with the Religious Sisters of Mercy at the Mercy Center — 2039 N. Geyer Road in Frontenac. After an overnight stay there, the Camino will visit the Ursuline Sisters in Kirkwood and the Daughters of Our Mother of Peace in High Ridge. Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and the Daughters of Charity also are participating
Information: Transportation and meals will be provided. The cost is $25, with scholarships available. To register or for questions, contact Sister Priscilla Moreno, RSM, at email@example.com or (314) 703-1933. For information, visit www.stlouisreview.com/jBl