There was no mistaking the pitchers on the mound for St. Louis Cardinals players, even though they're part of an organization with plenty of cardinals.
Wearing her full habit as a Carmelite Sister of the Divine Heart of Jesus and wearing his Roman collar with black pants and shirt, Sister Maria Josefa Kreienkamp and Father John Schneier took turns in an honorary "first pitch" ceremony before the baseball Cardinals game at Busch Stadium Sept. 25.
Their form was perfect, with Sister Josefa's pitch coming up just short of the plate and Father Schneier's pitch landing squarely in the glove of Cardinals pitcher Sandy Alcantara.
Thanks to the Serra Club of St. Louis, 1,000 Cardinal baseball tickets were given to priests, seminarians and sisters of the St. Louis Archdiocese and their families for the game against the Cubs. However, the pregame ceremony along with repeated showings on the video board of a fan's spilled nachos when the Cubs shortstop dived into the stands were the lone highlights of Cardinals' 10-2 loss.
The Serra Club is an international organization that promotes vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.
Sister Maria Josefa, who attended St. Clement of Rome School in Des Peres, Cor Jesu Academy in south St. Louis County and St. Louis University, has been in the Carmelites for four years. A devoted Cardinals fan, she said she wasn't nervous because she practiced throwing a baseball with other Carmelite sisters for many evenings and she received tips from her dad and brother. The sisters also supported her through prayers and best-wishes. A Cardinals' employee reassured her that she'd do fine. "You've got a lot on your side — good weather and people cheering you on," he said.
A gathering of habit-clad Carmelite sisters came to the game early and made their way down to the first row to cheer Sister Maria Josefa, whose ever-present smile was even brighter when she took the mound. Sister Anna Maria Haycraft, on the field for the ceremony, recorded the throw with her phone. "It's been a good experience, fun for all of us," said Sister Maria Josefa, who described the first-pitch opportunity as "a great evangelization experience."
Father Schneier, who was ordained in May and is associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville, attended St. Ferdinand School, St. Louis University High School and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. He played third base and pitched on SLUH's baseball team the first two years and later was a team manager. "I'll be fine," he said beforehand when asked if he was nervous. Despite his previous experience as a hurler, he wasn't about to throw a fancy pitch. "I'll just keep it simple."
His mom, Patty Schneier, said her son started reading the sports pages of the newspaper at about age 4 and developed a love of the Cardinals. Who knew that he'd get a chance to throw out a first pitch by becoming a priest, she asked. "It's a dream come true for him," she said.
A new member of the Serra Club herself, she thanked the members for all their work, including financial support of families whose sons enter the seminary. "They recognize the beauty of every vocation," the priest's mom said. "We need holy vocations in every aspect of the Church — marriage, religious life, priesthood or single life in service to the Kingdom."
Her husband, Larry Schneier added that Serra's efforts are needed because priestly and religious vocations "are so critical."
In the stands, Sister Janice Fennewald, a School Sister of Notre Dame who works in her province's transportation efforts, is no stranger to baseball, with this game her 15th of the season. She praised the Serra Club's efforts and their "generous donation," adding that they do much more for priests and religious, including a recent visit to the Notre Dame motherhouse for Mass and lunch.
Another School Sister of Notre Dame, Sister Gerold Mobley, served in Baltimore many years before returning to St. Louis. "Last time I was here we had Stan Musial" on the team, she said.
Sister Laura Brown, a Daughter of St. Paul, said the event shows people in the stands that "sisters can have fun too. It's a witness for other people. A lot of them have never seen sisters out here. And we appreciate the tickets very much."
Michael Gerritzen is in his sixth year of organizing the Serra Club's annual night at the St. Louis Cardinals baseball game, taking over for his dad, Ray Gerritzen.
When Bishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., was a priest of the St. Louis Archdiocese, Ray Gerritzen took the priest and his mother to Cardinals games, noting how much they looked forward to it and enjoyed being with each other. Ray Gerritzen expanded the effort around 2002, under sponsorship of the Serra Club, to other priests and parents and then a further expansion to include religious and seminarians and their families. He said he was hoping the idea soared like a Mark McGwire home run — and it did, going from about 100 tickets given away to 1,000.
Bishop Naumann was invited back to throw out the first pitch in a game against the Kansas City Royals last year and wore a combined Cardinals and Royals jersey.
With more than 1,109 Serra Clubs in 46 countries on six continents, Serra brings to its members a deeply personal and spiritual experience through a variety of events and activities organized by the Serra International. Most importantly, it promotes vocations.
Formally recognized by the Holy See as the global lay apostolate for vocations in the Catholic Church, Serra is known for the sense of community its members receive from knowing that they are not alone in supporting the men and women who have dedicated their life in ministry and service to the Church.
Ann Moloney, Serra International Foundation development director, said the club promotes those who "are a living testament to faith in this world" by giving their lives to God "with all of their body, soul, mind and spirit."
The night at the ballpark makes an impression on people attending the game, she said. "It's an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work," she said.
The ceremonial "first pitch" by priests and religious is "a wonderful testament" to the joy of priests and religious, Moloney added. "They see that these people are people. How many seeds does it plant in the minds of kids who are here? It promotes acceptance of clergy and religious living celibate lives. It's better than a billboard."
For more information, visit www.serrastl.org.