SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
Robert Simi was born and raised Catholic but just over a decade ago found himself searching for what that meant. “Someone told me I was supposed to believe the Eucharist was the body, blood and divinity of Christ,” Simi said. “I was raised Catholic and I didn’t know everybody believed that.”
He wanted to know more, and to be able to ask questions that would help him learn the fundamentals of his faith, but wasn’t yet comfortable doing so in a church. Instead, he invited Erich Weiss, a seminarian he knew, to go to a baseball game with him and his friend Dan Quesnell (the principal of Divine Savior Holy Angels High School). Weiss invited his father, and the four tailgated before the game and seamlessly talked about sports and their faith over beer and brats. “That one experience changed everything for me,” Simi said.
That’s how Ballpark Day of Faith was born. In the meantime, it has continued to grow.
The next year, Simi invited a few more friends, colleagues, and Catholic educators he knew, and the group totaled almost 40. The number doubled the year after, and has increased each year since, totaling a little less than 1,000 in 2018.
Simi says the goal is to welcome people, no matter their background, into a space that feels safe and comfortable and in the limited time they have together, expose them to the beauty, truth, and joy of Catholicism through the Mass, and conversation.
This year, Ballpark Day of Faith will be held June 23 as the Milwaukee Brewers take on the Cincinnati Reds at Miller Park. Before the game, it’s anticipated that there will again be about 1,000 people in attendance to celebrate an open-air Mass with Fr. Paul Hartmann as the celebrant. Mass will be followed by a tailgate with food, music, and beer home-brewed by the Holy Brewers, parishioners from the St. Eugene and St. Monica parishes in Fox Point and Whitefish Bay.
A Carmelite Sister of the Divine Heart of Jesus from Wauwatosa will begin the game by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, continuing on with a tradition that began in 2018 of featuring a fully habited nun.
This year, organizers at the Ballpark Day of Faith are hoping to use the event to help non-profits raise money with their turnkey fundraiser by offering a $5 rebate for every ticket purchased over the 50 minimum (e.g. bring 50 people and get a $250 rebate; bring 200 and get $1,000). Simi said, “It sounds like it’s too good to be true, but it isn’t. Go to Mass, tailgate, enjoy the game, and raise money for your small group. Whether it’s a fifth-grade class, a youth group, or a men’s group, it’s limitless. Our hope is to draw people in but also to give back as much as we can.”
Another way Ballpark Day of Faith gives back is by sponsoring residents from The Guesthouse, a homeless shelter in Milwaukee. Each year, they’re offered tickets and a ride to and from the game free of charge with the hope they’ll find some respite from their daily struggle and refuge in the arms of Christ.
With more attendees expected than ever before — a busload of people coming in from Janesville, and students and alumni expected from Xavier University in Cincinnati — what began in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has inspired and encouraged many lives beyond it.
“We’ve seen that this event has brought people back to the Church,” Simi said. “We’ve heard wonderful stories from mothers, and wives, and sons about how their lives have changed because of it.” On this day that has become an annual tradition for many in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, all those involved in the Ballpark Day of Faith hope to open the door and draw the curious closer to the Sacred Heart of Christ and his Church.