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Mormon linebacker helps lead Catholic Notre Dame to national championship game
Manti Te'o is a practicing Mormon and is a captain of the Notre Dame football team.
November 27th, 2012
11:33 AM ET

Mormon linebacker helps lead Catholic Notre Dame to national championship game

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - It was a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter that sealed the University of Notre Dame football team's Saturday victory over the University of Southern California - and earned the No. 1-ranked team a trip to the national championship game.

Leading the bruising Fighting Irish defense was senior linebacker Manti Te'o, whose play this season has earned him consideration for the Heisman Trophy and has helped lead a storied squad back to the top of college football after years of floundering.

But Te'o initially struggled with the decision over whether to attend Notre Dame. The Catholic school's star linebacker is a committed Mormon.

Te'o gave voice to that struggle in his announcement in 2009 that he'd attend the Indiana college, which was broadcast live on ESPN. “I’ve prayed hard about it and my family has thought hard and long about it," he said.

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Graduating from Punahou High School in Hawaii, Te'o had his choice of the best football programs in the country. His Mormon faith was a serious factor in the decision-making process, said his former high school coach, Kale Ane.

"A lot of that weighed on him," Ane, who coached Te'o for three years, told CNN.  "The final weight was getting his message out on a broader scale.  A Mormon at a Catholic school was a good way to say, 'You can keep your faith no matter where you go.' "

The University of Notre Dame's undergraduates are 83% Catholic, according to the admissions department.

"It hasn’t been an issue," said Notre Dame Athletics spokesman John Heisler, speaking of Te'o's membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "I think there was more an issue when he was being recruited to him having access to his religion in South Bend and here on campus."

“The emphasis here is that this is a place of faith and it really doesn’t matter what your faith is,” Heisler told CNN, noting that he himself is not Catholic.  “Faith is really important to people here.  Whether you’re a Catholic or a Mormon, it’s a place of great faith.”

Indeed, three other Notre Dame players are also Mormon, according to the local Mormon bishop.

Manti Te'o urges the crowd to cheer at the University of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame was founded by Edward F. Sorin, a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, in 1842.  That Catholic ethos extends to the football team to this day.

A mural of Jesus with raised arms on the side of the college's library faces the football field and has been dubbed "Touchdown Jesus."  Football fans visit the campus replica of France's Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes to light candles for the team before every game.

On Saturdays before home games, the football team is led in a Mass by Father Paul Doyle, 69, a 1965 graduate of the university.  Another Catholic priest from the university travels with the team for away games.

"We have Mass in the big church on campus, in the Basilica," said Doyle, who has been the team chaplain for a decade.  "I say the Mass, then the team gets something to eat.  I’m with them throughout the game.  When they come into the locker room after their warm-up, I'm standing there giving them a blessing."

Just before the team takes the field for the game, Doyle leads them in the Lord's Prayer.

"We used to say the Hail Mary in the locker room, but more than half of our players aren’t Catholic," Doyle said. " It’s odd for the non-Catholics to pray a specifically Catholic prayer."

Doyle said the team switched to the more ecumenical Lord's Prayer after then-Coach Bob Davie asked him to make the change nearly 10 years ago.   The prayer is used in virtually every Christian tradition, though the LDS church does not routinely use it in worship.

Doyle is also a chaplain in the residence hall where Te'o has lived for three years. At one point, they lived across the hall from one another.

“Manti tells everybody he has found it helpful to not have to worry about telling people he’s a God-fearing person.  People take that for granted around here,” Doyle said.

“Manti is a very religious guy. He seeks out his Mormon congregation and attends off-campus faithfully,” Doyle said.

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Te'o has been a member of the local Notre Dame Ward - the Mormons' rough equivalent of a Catholic parish - in Mishawaka, Indiana, for four years, according to ward Bishop Jim Carrier.  The five counties in and around South Bend, Indiana, are home to about 2,000 Latter-day Saints, Carrier said.

A common practice in the LDS Church, which has no professional clergy, is having members give testimonies during Sunday worship services.

"I asked (Te'o) to talk about what influenced him to come to Notre Dame and how he used prayer in prompting him to make that decision," Carrier said.

Carrier said Te'o spoke about leaning toward attending the University of Southern California. But as he prayed about his decision, coaches from Notre Dame called to check in. “He said he just felt an overwhelming feeling it was where he needed to go," Carrier said. "He said, 'It was an answer to prayer for me.'"

Te'o's faith has spurred speculation about whether he will  serve on a two-year Mormon mission, as the church encourages male members between 18 and 25 to do.

Carrier said that Te'o has decided to forgo his mission, a move not uncommon among the growing ranks of high-profile Mormon athletes.

"Young men are encouraged to serve as missionaries if they are able," said LDS church spokesman Michael Purdy. "However, each individual must decide whether or not to serve a full-time mission.”

Former Brigham Young University quarterback Steve Young opted not to participate in a Mormon mission.  Instead he jumped to the NFL, eventually leading the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl victory and earning a place in football's Hall of Fame.

“It’s a tough position to be in," said Ane, Te'o's high school coach.  "I think he has such a small window to compete and get his message out. I think (Te'o's) thinking he wants to do as much as he can in this mission as opposed to a mission in another country.”

Carrier said Te'o's decision to skip a mission was a difficult one.

"He felt like he could do more staying playing football than going out and serving a mission," the bishop said.“He understands his role and the pressure put on him of being such a good role model, and he understands that’s part of his responsibility.”

Te'o has been vocal about the role his faith plays in his life and how he leaned on it earlier this year after both his grandmother and girlfriend died in the span of less than two days during football season.  His girlfriend died after battling leukemia.  Te'o stayed with the team throughout the ordeal, playing one of the best games of his career the following Saturday.

Editor's note: Since this story was first published, Notre Dame officials and Manti Te'o have called the story of the death of his girlfriend a hoax.

"Four years ago I made the decision to come here and I didn't really know why," Te'o told a pep rally before that game. "It's times like these I know why. I love each and every one of you, and I can't thank you enough."

"I know one thing for sure - I will see them again," he said of his grandmother and girlfriend after their deaths. "I have faith and have peace knowing I will spend the rest of life after this with the people whom I love."

The lines spoke to the Mormon emphasis on families that are bonded for eternity. But then Te'o returned to a mode more familiar to Notre Dame. "I love you guys," he told the crowd. "Go Irish!"

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Mormonism • Sports

soundoff (276 Responses)
  1. Mojo JoeJoe

    You people are retards

    November 28, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • End Religion

      Like my momma always used to say, JoeJoe is like a box of chocolates. Never know wutcha gonna git.

      November 28, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  2. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    Football trumps Catholicism at the University Notre Dame.

    So what?

    This was the most interesting observation to me in this article:

    "The University of Notre Dame's undergraduates are 83% Catholic, according to the admissions department."

    "We used to say the Hail Mary in the locker room, but more than half of our players aren’t Catholic," Doyle said. " It’s odd for the non-Catholics to pray a specifically Catholic prayer."

    I'd say there's a disproportionate representation on the football team by adherents to what Pew calls "historically black Protestant churches" compared with the student body at large. And why not?

    Like any BCS college football program, Notre Dame recruits the best athletes they can.

    November 28, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  3. Kateri

    Yeah newsflash people Notre Dame is a Catholic U niveristy but they just don't educate Catholics . Big deal

    November 28, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  4. William Gallagher

    Notre Dame has wonderful tradition of success on and off the field in college football history! And Manti Te`o is a latter day Saint at Notre Dame! No pun intended. Go Irish!

    November 28, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  5. Gern Blanston

    Big deal. YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE CATHOLIC TO GO TO NOTRE DAME!!!!!

    November 28, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  6. ug

    And this is really news huh.

    November 28, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  7. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    Putting the kibosh on all religions in less than ten seconds: Priceless!!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    November 28, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Reality

      Added details:

      origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

      New Torah For Modern Minds

      “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob•a•bly
      Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

      The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

      The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

      November 28, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Marky Merlot

      Your words are wasted on the religiously devout, and those who profess to believe, for the sake of peer conformity. such as any aspiring politician.
      It takes courage, to be an atheist in the USA (and of course most muslim countries too).

      November 28, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Sergio

      There are an action called "To Think", and is it different than "Copy and Paste",

      November 28, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Reality

      There IS also an action called " to add to the discussion information or summaries from the experts ".

      A list of experts with associated references is available upon request.

      November 29, 2012 at 12:48 am |
  8. John

    Full scholarship, lots of hor*ny catholic girls and a high paying non-job job from one of the alumni. At BYU there would be some pious student rat*ting you out for every little transgression. Besides even though catholic they know how to party, mormons not so much.

    November 28, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  9. DH

    Good story. Sounds like a really great guy. I hope his success continues.

    November 28, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  10. edwardst35

    The Catholics and Mormons believe in the SAME Jesus......they are a team.....whether on the football field........in their churches.....or in helping others......they are the same. There are some good people still in this world. Then again, we have a lot of bad in this world. Maybe December 21 2012 will clear up some of the problems. I, for one, hope so. I look forward to December 21st.

    November 28, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Joseph Smith Vi

      Serious? How can they believe in the same "Jesus" – God?

      There is no trinity in Mormonism and Mormonism, by default of their beliefs, have many Gods as Mormon men get their own celestial kingdom at their death. This is a far cry from a traditional Christian theology.

      Jus' say'n

      November 28, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • LinSea

      "Joseph" you are misrepresenting LDS doctrine. We do believe in God the Father, that Jesus is His son, and in the Holy Ghost. We do not worship anyone else.

      November 28, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Jesus


      Many men say there is one God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are only one God [sic] I say that is a strange God anyhow-three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization. . . . All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God-he would be a giant or a monster (Teachings, p. 372). – Joseph Smith, 1844

      Not the same Jesus

      November 28, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • End Religion

      Don't hold it against LinSea. She's so used to "lying for the lord" she no longer knows where exists the boundary of reality.

      November 28, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • End Religion

      @edward: "I look forward to december 21"

      No one else need ask why we need to end religion as soon as possible. LOL @ another stupid religious person, now even buying into yet another end of the world myth. And when this one passes without destruction, which "prophecy" will you look forward to next? And the next? And the next? Until you can say "See?!? Was it not prophesy?" You're a pthetic waste of space on this planet. Give back the air and food you use to someone more worthy, please.

      November 28, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  11. Brian

    It's Bob Davie, not Bob Davies.

    November 28, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  12. John

    I bet his team mates make fun of him when he puts on his magic undies.

    November 28, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Dodger Doug

      That is a very ignorant thing to say John. There is no such thing in the mormon belief as magic underwear. There are things however that are sacred in every religion and no matter what, it is just wrong to poke fun of or make light of those beliefs.

      November 28, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • John

      No Dodger Doug it is not. Even Cardinal Dolan takes joke like shots at himself and his religion, but thanks for showing the humorless sheepies that have no life outside their bible, join the priesthood, you will fit right in.

      November 28, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      He probably makes fun of his teammates when they get cannibal and devour transubstantiated human flesh.

      November 28, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  13. Derek Gibson

    @ metalhead65: Lol an Ohio St linebacker with a schedule full of weak Big-10 teams and other soft games. OH St doesn't have a leg to stand on this year, undefeated or not... they just do not have the strength of schedule that they would have needed to be contenders.
    I don't know how long it will last... but I am glad to say THE IRISH ARE BACK, BABY!

    November 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  14. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    I hope Te'o gets the Heisman! He deserves it! It would be an injustice if they broke tradition and give it to that rookie QB at Tex A&M!

    November 28, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  15. Shorn

    Stop the presses! A non-catholic attends Notre Dame!

    Stupid non story CNN.

    November 28, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  16. truth truth truth 2012

    JESUS SAYS BELIEVE on me as the scriptures has said. You can give names to any religion but please serve JESUS as the scriptures has said and not by your own understanding but thru GODs understanding(lean not to your own understanding). For you non believers, athiest, just down right evil doers- You are spiritualy dead to GOD and since you are dead to GOD believers dont waste one key stroke on them because JESUS said dont cast your pearls to the swine also the knowledge and the secrets of the kingdom have been given unto you but to OTHERS it comes by means of parables that they may look and not see and listen and not understand. The statements these non belivers and haters of GOD make is normal because they are led by their father the devil who was a liar from the beginning. athiest read second Corinthians chapter 4 verse 4 and you will then see why satan is your father.2timothy2verse 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

    November 28, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Marky Merlot

      Please, be quiet!

      November 28, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • John

      Man, how many concussions have you had? I assume every time you get on your knees to pray you bang your head on the pew in front of you, try wearing a helmet to church, the hustler, ah, preacher won't mind.

      November 28, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  17. dan

    Besides BYU does not pay like Norte Dame does.

    November 28, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Dan

      Yes, normally BYU is much better. Look at the last 10 years

      November 28, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  18. Monomachos

    Mention Mormons, out come the bigots.

    November 28, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • WAKEUP

      That's right martyr, the poor Monmon's are the only ones that get picked on for their nonsensical beliefs....boo hoo. Mention Mormons and out come the babies who can't take it...you're a tool!

      November 28, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  19. trowe

    For mormons being about 2% of the U.S. population and .2% of the world population, you sure do see a lot of articles about them. You would think that if you wanted more people to read your news you would have try to relate to more people out there. Is there really nothing more important?

    November 28, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • fkatheists

      Your post perfectly applies to Jews as well. Probably not man enough to say it. Punk.

      November 28, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Joseph Smith Vi

      The Mormons have successfully infiltrated: CIA, FBI, and now CNN....and a near miss as pres of the USA.

      Look out folks! They'll also outlive us all because they all have bunkers and magic underwear (not that I'm say'n there's anything wrong with that). Plus, they have Planet Kolob....where the Mormon God resides....lot of good reasons to join Club Mo.

      November 28, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  20. metalhead65

    sick of having dame shoved down our throats. I could care less what region he is,he goes to dame so I hate him and his over rated team. from oct. on he has the same amount of tackles as a ohio state linebacker that you never hear about. the thing is the buckeye guy never played linebacker until injuries forced him to! where is his heisman talk?

    November 28, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Re: Metalhead65

      Because ohio state is irrelevant this year. And they will be again after Meyer destroys that program like he did Florida's

      November 28, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Michael

      obviously its about more than tackle numbers. shoved down your throats? You just read an ND blog on a religious website – who made you do that?

      November 28, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.