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home : features : people of faith

8/17/2017 8:30:00 AM
Albany native chooses faith over pro baseball career
FOCUS missionary works at NJ college
GARRETT (LEFT) LEADS THE Seton Hall baseball team in prayer before a game. Read about his work at https://garrettandmeg.wordpress.com/blog.
GARRETT (LEFT) LEADS THE Seton Hall baseball team in prayer before a game. Read about his work at https://garrettandmeg.wordpress.com/blog.

One of the biggest decisions in Garrett Bernardo's life was between playing professional baseball or becoming a missionary.

A native of St. Mary's parish in Albany, Mr. Bernardo, 24, graduated from LaSalle Institute in Troy, spent two years at the University of Maine and then got his degree in business management after two years at Anderson University in South Carolina.

The common denominator throughout his education was America's pastime.

"Baseball has been a part of my life ever since I can remember," he told The Evangelist. "My dad played baseball professionally for the Texas Rangers organization, and my dream was always to make it to the big leagues."

But, after graduating, Mr. Bernardo was thrown a curve. "The opportunity to become a FOCUS missionary intervened," he said. "God drafted me as a missionary to be a part of the greatest team I could ever play for."

FOCUS -- the Fellowship of Catholic University Students -- was founded 20 years ago. Its members work to connect college students to Jesus and Catholicism. More than 660 missionaries serve on 137 college campuses in 38 states and three sites in Austria and England.

Since 1997, Mr. Bernardo said, "more than 20,000 students have been involved with FOCUS." The result has been hundreds of vocations to religious life.

Mr. Bernardo served at Seton Hall University in New Jersey during the past academic year and will return for a second year in the fall.

Looking back on his life, he credits his family with changing him from a ballplayer to a missionary. "My parents raised all of us kids in a faith-centered household and always had us going to church on Sundays," he said.

In fact, the Bernardos went to two churches every weekend. His mother, Mary Jo, is a Catholic, while his father, Rick, is a Protestant. "We would go to Mass with our Mom," he explained, "and then drive over to the church my Dad attended and play the drums" as part of the choir.

The Bernardo children were raised to see faith as part of their everyday life. "Mom was always very prayerful, and we prayed before bed every night," Mr. Bernardo said. "Dad was always reading us Bible stories and taught us Scripture verses to memorize. They set the example by the way they lived out their faith."

The family remains so tightly knit, he said, that "no matter how far apart we may be geographically, we always will remain close and be a huge part of each other's lives. We definitely hold one another to a high standard. That all stems from my parents. They have shown us love through every phase of life, always putting God first in everything and putting the needs of us kids before themselves."

As a campus missionary, Mr. Bernardo has learned that many young people abandon religion because "they do not really understand the fullness of the faith. If people were made aware of the life God wants them to have, they would never refuse it."

The problem, he continued, is that "our culture tells us to do what feels good. With a God-centered heart and mind, you don't have to settle for what the culture offers. You can strive to always be better and become the best version of yourself. When you give Him your life and surrender your own plan for His sake, He gives back a hundredfold."

When Mr. Bernardo himself was choosing his career, "I took a leap of faith and said yes to God in serving Him in this mission. Ever since, I have seen God do things in my life that I never could have imagined and open my heart in ways I never knew possible."

He did not expect to experience some failures while spreading the Gospel.

"Rejection is definitely prevalent," he said, "when your main job is to help college students realize that partying, abusing alcohol and participating in the hookup culture is an empty dead end. But, knowing that God could be using me to plant a seed in a student's life that could potentially save their soul for eternity...there's almost no words for it. What a gift and what a blessing to be a part of."

Though his experience with FOCUS has been brief, Mr. Bernardo might have a new goal in mind.

"I am open to priesthood, if that is where God is calling me," he said. "I have grown such an appreciation and admiration for the vocation to religious life and priesthood this past year through the time I have been able to spend with so many priests, brothers and sisters. We'll see where God leads me!"

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