A local man of faith who's been an integral part of the local youth and scholastic sports scene for the past half century is offering a prayer of encouragement during COVID-19.
Fr. Gerald Bartko, a Niagara Falls native, long time Western New York coach and official and one of the biggest pure sports fans you'll find anywhere, said a prayer written by St. Francis de Sales “way back when” fits the bill in these troubled times.
“I just think it fits because if you're in trouble or having a hard time, don't panic because the same God that helped you and me today will be there tomorrow as he was yesterday,” Fr. Bartko said.
“I thought it fit with the coronavirus thing and how everyone is let down with the baseball and softball and all sports postponements all over. We're going though a tough time.”
Fr. Bartko, voted the 2019 New York State Umpire of the Year by the state umpire association, said he was planning on umping about two dozen local games this year, but obviously those are all on hold.
“Over the years, playing coaching officiating spectating various sports, I have experienced inevitable ups and downs. Ws and Ls,” Fr. Bartko said.
Lockport's DeSales Catholic High School was established in 1946 by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. Fr. Bartko taught French, German, Latin, Spanish, Italian and a religion course and coached at DeSales Catholic High School until its closure in 1988. It has since reopened as a Catholic middle school.
“Hang in there everyone,” Fr. Bartko said. “Let us keep on learning and appreciating that our Lord is with us in the best of times and the worst of times.”
Today, Fr. Bartko frequently visits the Niagara County Jail, offering counseling services, sacraments and Mass to inmates.
“The importance of caring about and supporting each other — giving our best efforts and never backing down from a good challenge — has been invaluable in living everyday life to the fullest. Facing the challenge of our COVID-19 pandemic and the curtailment of so many daily activities we have grown accustomed and perhaps taken for granted, we hear about a medical vaccine that hopefully will help us get back to things as they were.
“I couldn't help thinking that perhaps we all might profit from a ‘spiritual vaccine’ that's always available and invaluable — a prayer.
“Here's one from the patron of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales — and incidentally the patron of journalists — that can help us all keep things in a healthy perspective, ie., real:
“The same everlasting God who cares for us today
“Will care for us tomorrow and every day.
“Either He will shield us from suffering
“Or give us unfailing strength to bear it.
“Let us be at peace then and
“Put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.”
— St. Francis de Sales