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
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(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. George

    he will look good in silver and black!!

    December 8, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  2. Christopher Sandoval

    Don't see why this is a story there are many people on the Irish who are not Catholic making a difference every year in this team. This is where we need to stop separating people in religion, race, ethnicity etc. this story should just be on there is a great athlete leading the Irish. Not a mormon leading a catholic team like it is a pre requisite or a secret that a non catholic is leading the Irish.

    December 8, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Hatrz hate

      Idiot! He is in1st or 2nd position to getting the hiesman trophy. This is a be deal this means best in the nation not best at ND... Go IRISH!

      December 8, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • lolubadumad

      You're the one separating people by religion... READ THE ARTICLE LOL U SO BAD BRAH GET OVER URSELF

      December 8, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  3. bob aussie

    Really? God cares if the Catholic school beats the non-Catholic school? If God can't be bothered to save the millions that die each year in Africa due to starvation, disease, and war, then why would he care about a football game?

    December 8, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Loco Moco

      Oh please! Everyone knows...GOD BLESS AMERICA!

      December 8, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  4. dman

    Local boy make good, eh? He one kine footballah.

    December 8, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  5. Mark

    Google "ExposeRomney" for articles on the Mormon religion.

    December 8, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Doug

      Bill Mahr's movie said it best. No one knows for sure what waits for us in the after life. Faith is what you hope for. If what ever religion you choose leads you to live a great and generous life....who gives a f#%k....

      December 8, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Jay

      Dumb. Hope Te'o wins the Heisman. A great kid, been through a lot this year. Keep the article, Mark. Merry Christmas.

      December 8, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • lolubadumad

      When i do that i get bad sources that apparently you take seriously.

      December 8, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  6. Pete

    Good luck Manti and the Fighting Irish against Alabama,truely a great game it'll be!! And get that Heisman Trophy for you and Notre Dame ,you two greats deserve it!!I'm a life long Notre Dame fan and they deserve the number one spot ,they worked hard for it,GO IRISH!!

    December 6, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  7. Eric

    How you ever noticed that it's the same liberal media that brings up everyone's race, ethnicity, etc. who is constantly accusing everyone else of being focused on race, ethnicity, etc.? I didn't hear a single Republican bring up Mitt Romney's faith in the election but that was the focus of more stories from CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, etc. than just about anything else.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Pete

      @Eric,yah you're in denile if you didn't think they thought of Romneys Mormon faith long before democrates did.Republicans all along have been the biggest racist against our first black president and if you think different you're delushional..Was it at your republican convention a black female camerawoman for CNN was being pelted with peanuts and telling her they were feeding the monkey or something ,how racist is that!!Or all the name calling ,disrespect our president gets or bluntly how little you have of any other race than white in your republican party and I'm white and not as blind as you nitwit and I'm a democrate,a winning one at that!!

      December 6, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Jim

      @ Pete,

      Your post is like saying, "yeah, my side is racist but your side must be more racist because I said so."

      Such a sparkling defense..

      December 8, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • lolubadumad

      I used to think that too pete... but looking back.... The republicans didnt bring up obama's skin color... the democrats did that... Methinksnowthatdemocratsareracistandurindenialbrah

      December 8, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
  8. ipad charger

    Terrific paintings! That is the kind of information that are supposed to be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this publish upper! Come on over and visit my web site . Thank you =)

    December 2, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  9. teabaggers are dumb

    ooh ooh a Mormon in the news. Let's run him for President. Oh wait....

    November 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Ry


      December 8, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  10. Jenifer is a family name

    Why does this linebacker have to be mormon to be successful? This article is as much propaganda for the mormon church as Hitler was doing during WWII. WOW!

    November 29, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Reading Comprehension is Important

      It didn't say he had to be mormon to be successful.. He just happens to be both.

      December 8, 2012 at 12:36 am |
  11. Andtherearemoreofus

    Atheists believe in self-anhilation after death: There is nothing after this life.
    Atheists believe that there are no gods, goddess or higher powers.
    Atheists believe that everyone should believe the same way they do.
    Atheists have groups of people that actively engage in converting people to their way of believing.
    Atheism is a religion, just like any other religion. Atheism is as extreme as christian fundamentalism.
    If you'd like to be your own person, try being Agnostic. You can do as you please, believe as you please and be a good person without having to believe in what other people demand of you.

    November 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Wow you really don't know what you're talking about.

      November 29, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • George

      why do i have this feeling that when you're on your death bed, you will be reaching out to God. Good luck with your life.

      December 8, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  12. Christianity is a form of mental illness- FACT

    (1) Hallucinations – the person has invisible friends who (s)he insists are real, and to whom (s)he speaks daily, even though nobody can actually see or hear
    these friends.

    (2) Delusions – the patient believes that the invisible friends have magical powers to make them rich, cure cancer, bring about world peace, and will do so eventually if asked.

    (3) Denial/Inability to learn – though the requests for world peace remain unanswered, even after hundreds of years, the patients persist with the praying behaviour, each time expecting different results.

    (4) Inability to distinguish fantasy from reality – the beliefs are contingent upon ancient mythology being accepted as historical fact.

    (5) Paranoia – the belief that anyone who does not share their supernatural concept of reality is "evil," "the devil," "an agent of Satan".

    (6) Emotional abuse – ­ religious concepts such as sin, hell, cause feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and other types of emotional "baggage" which can scar the
    psyche for life..

    (7) Violence – many patients insist that others should share in their delusions, even to the extent of using violence.

    November 29, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Real Truth

      Get help, you are in serious trouble, nothing you listed is a 'fact'. Get help

      November 29, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Saraswati

      Since you're busy posting this on every blog, I'll repost my answer. Truth is right...you haven't got a single fact here and are just embarrassing yourself.

      You seriously need to take a psych class. Just one. OK, maybe add abnormal psych. Not only are you way off on the definition of mental illness, but you don't seem to know what a hallucination is or what is meant by "inability to distinguish fantasy from reality". Furthermore, paranoia is a lot more precise than what you describe and is not exhibited by Christians at any higher than the normal rate. The fact that you think these things of Christians (of which I am not one) actually indicates a higher likelihood of paranoia on you own part.

      November 29, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Christianity is a form of mental illness- FACT

      Spot on .... I do have a certain paranoia of christians

      November 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Ry

      Just FYI, many of us have had unique inexpiable experiences. As a scientist, I am fine with supernatural phenomena. You know, we don't know anything about what makes up over 3/4 of the universe. Just because you can't prove something or take a picture of it, doesn't mean it can' exist.

      December 8, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  13. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    November 29, 2012 at 6:06 am |
    • TrollAlert

      "Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
      "Salvatore" degenerates to:
      "Douglas" degenerates to:
      "truth be told" degenerates to:
      "Thinker23" degenerates to:
      "Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
      "another repentant sinner" degenerates to:
      "Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
      "tina" degenerates to:
      "captain america" degenerates to:
      "Atheist Hunter" degenerates to:
      "Anybody know how to read? " degenerates to:
      "just sayin" degenerates to:
      "ImLook'nUp" degenerates to:
      "Kindness" degenerates to:
      "Chad" degenerates to
      "Bob" degenerates to
      "nope" degenerates to:
      "2357" degenerates to:
      "WOW" degenerates to:
      "fred" degenerates to:
      "!" degenerates to:
      "John 3:16" degenerates to:
      "pervert alert" is the degenerate.

      This troll is not a christian. .

      November 29, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs

      November 29, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE), the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book can help you:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...

      November 29, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  14. The Truth

    @ GOPer Since always!

    November 28, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  15. The Truth

    Malo Lava Manti Keep doing what you're doing and let all the haters keep hating!

    November 28, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  16. The Truth

    You atheists crack me up. When everything is going well you are non believers in a God or higher power but as soon as the bullets start flying and the bombs go off you guys bow down and get on your knees. The phrase must be true " I never met an atheist in a foxhole"!

    November 28, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @The Truth,

      since when?

      November 28, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  17. Hurst

    Manti has done some great things for BSA ( he is an Eagle Scout ) here in town. He is a good young man and we are proud of him. Although I am a Purdue fan, I cheer for Manti and the Irish.

    November 28, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  18. Josh

    So they're able to accept each other despite their different religions. Well, give them a gold star! And one for peeing in the toilet while they're at it. It's really not that difficult once you get over yourself.

    November 28, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  19. Michael

    Great article, great kid.
    For all Mormons, I apologize for the idiotic comments. I am sure some of them are Catholics (like me) but I hope the majority are not. Sad nonetheless.

    November 28, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  20. manaen

    "He felt like he could do more staying playing football than going out and serving a mission,"

    But he could become more by playing football and serving a mission. Nothing of eternal significance holds a player back from doing both - unless he also received an answer to prayer not to serve one.

    November 28, 2012 at 1:47 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.