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Catholic Life Features

Msgr. Leo McCarthy’s nephew pens book about his uncle’s life lessons through coaching


Longtime coach Paul McCarthy writes a brief tome on his uncle, Msgr. Leo McCarthy, a man who got knocked to the ground, both physically and metaphorically, and stood back up. “Don’t Lose Your Dignity” mixes biography with coaching strategy as it tells of the priest known for his tireless work coaching football and basketball for disadvantaged boys.

The book tells of Msgr. McCarthy’s coaching strategy, teaching that a strong body and strong character go hand in hand. A fitness buff and sports fan, Msgr. McCarthy often gained the attention of his players by performing acts of athleticism. Once he had their attention, he always taught his kids to do the right thing even when facing adversity and often apathy. His nephew describes him as a cross between Pope John Paul II and Vince Lombardi.

“Winning isn’t determined by what’s on the scoreboard. it’s determined by what’s truly in your heart!” he often said.

Msgr. McCarthy suffered disrespect from other players, his fellow coaches and helicopter parents. The author tells how his uncle was blindsided by a teenager on the football field and knocked to the ground.

“Father had been viscously assaulted, in public. Nothing was said or done about it. No one reprimanded the player who delivered the hit and he remained in the game,” Paul McCarthy writes, noting that his uncle also never said a word about it, knowing that the kids who attacked him was a part of the negative cycle of poverty and only acting on the orders of a coach.  

An assault of a different kind came in July of 2021, when several claims came forward accusing Msgr. McCarthy of abuse.

Following investigations by an independent review board, the allegations were determined to be unsubstantiated, Msgr. McCarthy was reinstated nearly a year later.

“It was hard to get him to talk about it,” said Paul McCarthy in an interview with WNYCatholic. “He was very embarrassed. He was publicly humiliated. He couldn’t even wear a collar in public. He couldn’t go into the church. He couldn’t go back to the school that he loved. So, he was heartbroken, but he always, he tried to keep up a brave face.”

Msgr. McCarthy died May 21, 2023.

The author, who has coached beside his uncle for nearly 40 years, was inspired to write the book after seeing the beyond-human dedication of Msgr. McCarthy. He recalled a cold, dark October night, when he did not have the energy or desire to show up on the field after a long day at the office. When he finally did arrive at the field, he saw Msgr. McCarthy there faithfully running drills with the players.

“I saw that and I thought, there’s something special that’s happening here, and I’m the witness to it. And he was humble in a way he didn’t advertise what he was doing. He didn’t talk about it or make a big deal out of it or draw attention to himself. But I was thinking, people should know what great work he’s doing with these kids day in and day out, and after long days and cold, rainy nights in October, he’s still out there, grinding it over every single night with these kids,” McCarthy said.

The books tile comes from a phrase that Msgr. McCarthy tried to instill in his players.

“I try to think of those words, ‘Don’t lose your dignity,’ that message. We would be in just literally physically dangerous circumstances and some very difficult situations, including the assault that I witnessed. But he would always say, it doesn’t matter what anyone else says or does, we will always do the right thing. You know, the title of the book, ‘Don’t Lose Your Dignity.’ I try, sometimes I fall short of that, but I try to at least. Because of course, when someone hurts us, when someone shoves us, we want to shove back. When somebody insults us, we want to insult them back. And when someone hurts us, we want to hurt them back. That’s our kind of a natural instinct. And I’ve tried to take away from that what Father has been teaching all of us all along is no matter what anyone else says or does, still we’ll do the right thing. We’ll strive to do the right thing at all times. It’s a great lesson.”

 “Don’t Lose Your Dignity,” by Paul P. McCarthy is self-published and available through Amazon.