Bishop John Barres used a botched Little League play from his childhood to teach Catholic school students Friday that God is always with them.
In his first foray into the East End as head of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Barres, who was installed Jan. 31, celebrated Mass, visited classrooms and even played a little basketball at Our Lady of the Hamptons Regional Catholic School in Southampton.
It was part of an effort to underscore how Catholic schools will be one of his top priorities as he leads Long Island’s 1.5 million Catholics.
Catholic schools are “critical to our future,” Barres said in an interview at the K-8 school, which has about 300 students. “Catholic education has formed so many leaders who step up in the world.”
At a Mass attended by students, teachers and parents, Barres recalled the time he played first base as a sixth-grader for the Cornerstore Pirates in Larchmont Little League in Westchester County. The team was undefeated, and it was the last game of the regular season.
“It was a really close game and it started to get darker and darker,” Barres recalled during the homily. “There I was at first base and it was a tie game.”
Near the end of the game, the shortstop fielded a grounder and tossed it to Barres — who committed an error. His team lost.
“We didn’t have an undefeated season because of my error,” he said. “And how do you think I felt? It was so bad that when the game ended I ran into the family car. I dove into the back seat and started crying.”
But, he added: “Is God still with us when we make mistakes? Of course. He loves us at that moment when we really blow it, right?”
Barres said he had to decide whether to wallow in his misery or move on. In the playoffs, he moved on — notching a number of hits and committing no errors. The Pirates won the championship.
Later Friday, Barres, 56, who played basketball at Princeton University in the late 1970s and early 1980s, gave students some tips on the game in the school gym. The bishop, who formerly headed the Diocese of Allentown in Pennsylvania, also listened to students practice tap dancing, play in a rock band and show off their science work.
He got rave reviews.
“I’m really excited to see him because I believe he is really connected with the youth,” said Gianmarcos Rivera, 13, an 8th grader from Hampton Bays. “He’s very humorous, which is also a character trait which is good to have.”
The school’s principal, Sister Kathy Schlueter, said she was “very honored” by the visit. “It’s a trip to come out east . . . Sometimes people here feel it is such a distance, people forget about us. But he did not forget us.”
Kathleen Walsh, superintendent of schools for the diocese, said Barres already has injected a new energy into the school system.
“I think he is going to breathe a new breath into our Catholic identity on Long Island,” she said. “His presence here speaks volumes to his commitment to Catholic education.”