When Bishop Donald J. Hying of Gary, Indiana, went to the Feb. 26 boys basketball game between rival Catholic high schools in his diocese, he likely expected an enjoyable night of hoops.
Instead, the heated rivalry between host Andrean in Merrillville and Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond, spilled beyond the basketball court – entering the world of politics – prompting the bishop to issue a sternly worded statement that has garnered national attention.
During the game, a group of Andrean students produced signs and images of presidential candidate Donald Trump and began to chant, “Build that wall,” at the Bishop Noll team and fans, who are heavily Hispanic, according to Bishop Hying’s statement, issued Feb. 29.
Trump has pledged, if elected president, to “build a wall” along the southern border of the United States to prevent illegal immigration into the country. His pledge has been criticized as racist and even drew a comment from Pope Francis following his recent trip to Mexico. On the plane returning to Rome, on Feb. 17, he said building walls to keep immigrants out of one’s country is un-Christian.
While Bishop Hying was unaware of the chants and signs during the game, when he learned of them after the fact, he was disturbed.
“Any actions or words that can be perceived as racist or derogatory to others are antithetical to the Christian faith and will not be tolerated in any of our institutions. It was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind that such actions would be happening at a gathering of our Catholic high schools. This is not what we teach our students,” he wrote.
“Jesus is at the center of all we do and his message was and is one of inclusion and respect for all people. I take this incident to heart and again state that it is not to be tolerated, even as a childish prank.”
He noted that Andrean school administration addressed the matter as soon as they realized what was happening and confiscated derogatory signage. The bishop also wrote that officials from both schools and diocesan representatives met two days after the game, Sunday, Feb. 28, to plan future steps.
According to Indiana media reports, the story went viral when a woman in attendance posted photos online of the Andrean cheering section. Her posts drew the attention of several media outlets including USA Today, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and NBC, ABC and CBS news.
The principals of the two schools each issued statements pledging to address the situation, looking upon it as a teachable moment.
Addressing school students, parents and staff, Andrean principal Rick Piwowarski said he viewed “this challenge as an opportunity to remind our students and staff of their call to bring glory to God, while serving his people with love, compassion and mercy.”
He said the school, along with diocesan administrators and Bishop Noll administrators, will be taking steps, “to ensure that all of our students and staff understand their obligations of responsibility, acceptance and sportsmanship. We have, and continue to have, high expectations for all members of our school community.”
Craig Stafford, principal of Bishop Noll, and Paul Mullaney, school president, described the incident as “a teachable moment for everyone about responsible speech, social media and sportsmanship. Perhaps (the incident) was an unfortunate byproduct of irresponsible speech in today’s political arena.
“We are proud of our students. Our diversity is our strength. Bishop Noll will continue to educate our students in faith, social justice and to always respect all people, regardless of race, creed or socioeconomic status.”
Andrean and Bishop Noll high schools are two of the three Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Gary, to which Bishop Hying, a Milwaukee native, was appointed its fourth bishop in November 2014.
With information provided by Debbie Bosak, communications director, Diocese of Gary.