Friendly Rivalry Through 7 Games

Two C.PP.S. priests living in one rectory learned about rivalry and reconciliation when the Cubs won this year’s World Series.

This year’s World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians presented a new roster of baseball stars to the world—and also brought a new level of fame to a couple of C.PP.S. members in ministry in Putnam County, Ohio.

Fr. Matt Jozefiak, C.PP.S., a Cubs fan, and Fr. Rick Friebel, C.PP.S., who roots for the Indians, live and minister together at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Ottawa, Ohio. Ask them how they came to root for their respective teams and they are both quick to answer.

“I grew up in Chicago, on the south side. I went to White Sox games with my dad,” said Fr. Matt. “I went to my first Cubs game as a teenager. I was 15, and I’ve been a fan ever since. What is that, 43 years as a Cubs fan?”

“I’ve been a Tribe fan all my life,” said Fr. Rick. “As a kid in Shelby, Ohio, where I was born, and then when my family moved to Cleveland when I was eight years old. I’ve been following them ever since, through failure after failure.”

Because that’s how the conversation devolves when you’re talking to a fan of the Cubs, who up until this year had not won a World Series for 108 years, and a fan of the Indians, who have not won since 1948. It begins with loyalty and pride, and then it moves into a spiral of hope and despair and years upon years of bitter disappointment, which both can recite chapter and verse, sometimes down to a particular play in a particular inning of a particular year.

But not this year. Amazingly, both teams made it through their divisional playoffs, then won the pennant and were in the World Series. Up until then, everything was pretty friendly in the rectory of Sts. Peter and Paul. “We had a Cubs flag, and when the Cubs were playing (during the playoffs), we flew that at the rectory. We had an Indians flag, and when the Indians were playing, we flew that,” said Fr. Rick. “When each team won its pennant, we had to get another flag holder for the World Series.”

Once the World Series rolled around, Fr. Rick thought that others might be interested in the unique situation in the rectory. So he called the local television station in Lima, Ohio, and also talked with a parishioner who is on the staff of The Lima News. The Lima News was the first media outlet to interview them, but many others followed: WTOL-TV in Toledo; the Findlay, Ohio, Currier; the Putnam County Sentinel; Fox Channel 8 out of Cleveland. The story spread and spread; they heard that it even went out on the AP wire.

“That part was a lot of fun,” Fr. Rick said. “I have an old friend who is a priest in the Diocese of Fort Wayne/South Bend. He saw the story and just laughed. He had to give me a call.”

Fr. Matt said he heard from a man who’d been away from the sacraments for years, but something in the funny story of the two feuding priests made him reach out. He actually sent a check to the rectory to buy tickets for the two to attend a game in Cleveland.

That game took place on All Saint’s Day, when both were presiding at Mass in the evening, and they couldn’t go. Instead, they donated the money to a fundraiser at Sts. Peter and Paul School (more on that later).

The series went on and on, down to a final seventh game. “We watched every game together, except for the last one,” said Fr. Matt. “I’m so used to the Cubs blowing it. I was waiting for that moment—and when it seemed like it was going to happen again, I went to bed. I told Rick not to wake me up. Then at 5:45 a.m. the next day, I got a wonderful text from a friend in Chicago that just said, ‘Yay.’ I turned on ESPN and learned that the Cubs had pulled it out. And my first thought was, ‘Oh my, is Fr. Rick ever going to be mad.’”

Fr. Matt may wish that he’d stayed up, because now for all time, Fr. Rick can call him a fair-weather fan who went to bed before the game ended. But for the most part, they’ve both been good sports, even including the time Fr. Rick got hit by a pie in the face.

The pie was a part of that school fundraiser. Students tossed coins into one of two buckets, labeled Cubs or Indians. The priest representing the losing team would get a pie in the face. That turned out to be Fr. Rick.

It happened in front of the whole school—the whole town, really, since it was outside the church’s main door.

“The principal offered me a garbage bag to put over my Indians shirt, but I said no,” he said. With Fr. Matt gleefully waving a Cubs fan behind him, Fr. Rick fearlessly took the pie to the face.

“It was very tasty,” he said.

The whole experience was wonderful, even with the pie in the face, Fr. Rick said. “It broke up the horrible division that was going on in the political world,” he said. “It was purely a fun thing. And the community was having fun with it too.”

Is there a lesson somewhere, from those ballgames and from that rectory, that the nation can use as it attempts to heal itself after a very divisive election season? Maybe, said Fr. Rick. He looks to the example set by his team and his hometown.

“I heard that after the seventh game, which took place in Cleveland, that Clevelanders were nice! There was real happiness in the streets! There wasn’t a lot of anger. There was sadness, but not anger,” he said. “There was reconciliation. So there’s something to take from that game which I think can go over into this election. People who are feeling a sense of loss: maybe they can take a look at the Indians’ fans, and how they handled it. Maybe we can look at the harmony that came from a baseball game, and try to bring that about in other ways.”