BSM hockey chaplain: The key is prayer

| January 18, 2012 | 0 Comments

‘Mr. J’ helps team, school move forward spiritually

Spirit Benilde-St. Margaret’s School hockey chaplain Mike Jeremiah, center, leads prayer in the locker room before a game Jan. 14 against Robbinsdale Cooper. Joining in are, from left, junior Seth Chumley, sophomore Zack Hale, ninth-grader Jack Lawton and sophomore Nate Meyer. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic

The man known as “Mr. J” walked into New Hope Ice Arena Jan. 14 knowing he was different from the other hockey fans there to see Benilde-St. Margaret’s School take on Robbinsdale Cooper.

“I think I’m the only person who goes to a hockey game with a Bible,” he said.

He made this remark with a smile and with pride. And, the 20 hockey players crammed into the locker room that day were glad of it. Since one of their teammates, sophomore Jack Jablonski, crashed into the boards Dec. 30 during a junior varsity game against Wayzata and suffered a severe spinal injury and paralysis, they have been looking to team chaplain Mike Jeremiah, known as Mr. J, for answers.

And, so far, he has not disappointed. What else would you expect from the guy whom Jack’s parents, Mike and Leslie, asked for by name shortly after arriving at Hennepin County Medical Center with their son that night?

“You know, schools and churches aren’t about bricks and mortar,” said varsity hockey coach Ken Pauly, who invited the 62-year-old campus minister to be the hockey team’s chaplain at the beginning of last season.

“They’re about people,” he said. “When you look at those people who define ­Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Mike J has defined it for years. In our moments of joy, sad-ness and grief, he’s always at the center.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this, where people, the first person they ask for is J.”

On this day, Jeremiah inspired the players with a message of hope. He opened his brown, compact Bible to the Book of Revelation and quoted verse 5: “Behold, I make all things new.”

Part of that message was to help the players erase the disappointment of losing to Minnetonka two days earlier. But part of it was an ongoing reminder of how God continues to work in the midst of tragedy.

Jeremiah and Pauly both have been busy working on the spiritual side of life since the incident. Though the Red Knights are a top-10 hockey team in the state, Pauly admits it has been tough to focus on hockey, even to the point of feeling guilty about pushing aside his concerns for the Jablonskis for brief periods so that he can prepare for the next game.

In God’s hands

Same goes for all students at BSM. Surely, they have trouble keeping Jack, known as “Jabs,” off their minds long enough to study. Fortunately, thanks to Jeremiah and the campus ministry staff, they have regular outlets to pour out their prayers and concerns for their fallen fellow student.

The first prayer gathering was an informal affair at the hospital the night of the accident. With parents and teammates walking the hallways, Jeremiah decided it was time to seek divine intervention.

“We went into one of the small rooms there and just prayed together with the other parents,” he said. “Honestly, from that moment, this whole thing has been about prayer. From that night throughout the past two weeks, it’s been about prayer, about trust in God, about placing yourself in God’s hands — placing Jack and placing all of us in God’s hands.”

With 37 years at the school under his belt, Jeremiah was asked if he has dealt with a similar school tragedy. He immediately mentioned the death of a student, also a sophomore, back in 1977, which has an unusual connection to Jack’s accident.

“I got a call at 2 in the morning [Nov. 1] from a sophomore boy calling from Methodist Hospital,” he said. “Some of our guys were out trick-or-treating over in Golden Valley. One of the boys [Paul Hedrick] fell and they thought he was just joking around until they went up and he was nonresponsive. He was rushed to Methodist and died on the way.

“And, the sophomore who called me said, ‘Can we come over?’ And, I said, ‘Yeah.’ At 3 in the morning, I had 50-some sophomores in my living room at my apartment.

“Those are powerful moments. In fact, one of the hockey dads [of one of this year’s players] was a good friend of this boy [back in ‘77] and he came up to me that Wednesday night [after a team chapel service] and said, ‘You helped me through when Paul died, and now you’re helping my son during this tragedy.”

As the team and the school continue to move forward, Jeremiah is encouraged by what he has seen. Players are supporting each other and Jack is showing strength as he makes small steps of progress physically and giant steps spiritually. And that, Jeremiah says, clearly shows the hand of God at work.

“Jack is definitely, I’m sure, still going to have some difficult times, but this accident never touched his heart,” Jeremiah said. “It didn’t change the kid that Jack has always been.

“[There are] questions we all ask and we all wonder about. Honestly, what I?have told the kids and I always tell the kids is I wish I had answers for you. But, those are my questions, too. And, the most important thing we can do is trust in God’s goodness, and in God’s love. Because I believe in a God who is right there in the room with Jack and who has his arms wrapped around that kid and is loving him. That’s the kind of God I believe in.”

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