Stephen Curry’s New Series Showcases Ministry in Newark, New Jersey
By Cooper Dowd, Staff Writer
NBA All-Star Stephen Curry and Unanimous co-founder Erick Peyton executive produced a new series called BENEDICT MEN, highlighting the ministry of Father Leahy as Headmaster of St. Benedict Prep in the inner-city of Newark, New Jersey, through the lens of the 2018-2019 basketball season.
“One of the top athletic high schools with a storied basketball program and the highest graduation rate in New Jersey, the series will follow the brotherhood of young men who seek to balance life in complicated surroundings,” the IMDb description says.
Although the series follows the basketball team’s season in their hunt for the state championship and prospects of receiving scholarships to prestigious colleges, Father Leahy and eleven-time Emmy Award-winning director, Jonathon Hock, said that the story goes beyond basketball.
“Well, the most important thing we do is build and create this community. That’s what the place is all about,” Leahy told Movieguide® in a recent interview. “And so creating community, getting kids to understand what hurts my brother or sister hurts me, and getting kids, getting the kids and adults, not just kids to give up what I want for what we need. That’s what we are working to do.”
“You’re asking them to be bigger than all of the adults in their lives,” Hock explains. “You’re asking them to be bigger than most adults in the world, who don’t put their interests aside. I think that the forces that cause a young man to put his own personal goals above those of the team are very compelling.”
Hock said he wanted to tell the story of St. Benedict Prep for two main reasons: Father Leahy and the diverse personalities of the St. Benedict basketball team.
“[Father Ed] was someone I felt would give us a story that was unlike a conventional sports documentary,” Hock said in a press release. “The second thing that was important to me were the young men on the team. They were diverse in terms of where they were from, what they were playing for, what they were risking, how much they had riding on it, and their personalities also seemed very diverse.”
Executive producer Mike Basone seconded Hock’s sentiment: “Our fascination was that this always felt larger than basketball. Father Ed’s unique educational approach of putting the students in charge of the school has given the young men who have walked the halls of St. Benedict’s an opportunity to rise up and find their voice.”
Other outlets have attempted to share Leahy’s story of ministering to inner-city kids, and Father Leahy said that BENEDICT MEN is only possible by way of the Holy Spirit.
“In 2016 we were featured on 60 MINUTES and that happened because of the Holy Spirit. It was so random that you couldn’t believe it. And then this project was the same thing. The Holy Spirit takes care of babies and fools, right. And we are in the fools category,” Father Leahy chuckled.
Although their story had been told before, both Father Leahy and Hock recognized the broader reach that Stephen Curry and his production company’s involvement wanted for their ministry.
“I had met with him and worked with him a bit. I knew that he was a really genuine person,” Hock said of Curry. “There were two things that his involvement did for us. First of all, you’ve got to get the basketball right, because he’s going to know the difference. The second thing is that you want it to be about something more than basketball. The reason he was drawn to this project is that he saw it as a way to take the temperature of youth basketball in America.”
Despite being praised as a hero by many, Father Leahy maintains that his ministry to the New Jersey Youth is not a burden. As a Christian, it is his mission to love others as God has loved him.
“The minute this becomes a job, people need to move on. Because it just requires too much energy and so much effort. it’s a mission,” Father Leahy noted.
Father Leahy has been serving as Headmaster for over 45 years and experienced the physical and ideological rebuilding of St. Benedict Prep. According to a press release, following the suspension of St. Benedict’s operations in 1972, Father Leahy helped direct the monks’ efforts, and St. Benedict re-opened in 1974 with 89 students. St. Benedict now schools 747 young men who are majority African American and Hispanic to share the love of the Gospel and prepare them for future life in college and beyond.
“We learned to shut up and listen and rather than come in with our own worldview, and overlay it on the top of black and brown people, we learned … how we can be of service and how we could accompany them, walk with them through life. And that’s essentially what we’ve done for the last 50 years,” Father Leahy recalled.
“The African American community first and then the Latino community has just wrapped its arms around us here and in the middle of downtown Newark, and taught us the best ways that we can be of service to them,” Father Leahy continued.
Although the school is Catholic and teaches a set of Christian faith values from the Bible, Father Leahy welcomes students who adhere to Islam and Judaism because that is a mark of loving as Christ loved.
“We’re killing each other over religion. Not over faith, over religion, and that’s different,” Father Leahy points out. “So what we work hard at here is trying to get everybody, adults and kids in the community to understand each other’s sufferings.”
“In the dimension of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, to love the other, the way Christ loved us. And he loved us all the way to the cross, He died for us. We’ve got to be willing to give up ourselves for the sake of the other, to suffer for the other, to suffer with the other,” Father Leahy added.
Although there is a long way to go, Father Leahy said that the Lord and his community sustain the mission and his motivation to serve.
“I also live in a community. I don’t know that you could do this work alone, right?” Father Leahy said. “It’s not a burden at all. It’s a blessing. People think it’s hard. It’s not hard, if the Lord sustains you in it. I mean, it’s not hard, not because of me, it’s because the Holy Spirit somehow makes possible what you can’t do by yourself.”
Ultimately, Father Leahy wants his ministry and telling his story to encourage others to love with the love of God. Two mottos of the school that are quoted often in the series are “whatever hurts my brother, hurts me,” and also “go and conquer.” Father Leahy said that it is a gift to be able to suffer and conquer within a community.
“We all want to know that we’re loved. We all struggle at different times. So that’s why we walk along together limping, right, and some of us limp and complain about our blisters every two steps, and others others who limp can keep walking. That’s that’s life in community,” Father Leahy said. “[It’s] like what St. Paul said, ‘bear one another’s burdens and us fulfill the law of Christ.’ And that’s basically what we’re trying to do here with teaching that to as many people as we can and modeling that.”
“It’s a special place where the students take care of each other, and where brotherhood is the foundation,” Producer Mark Ciardi said. “It’s an oasis in the middle of Newark, and they thrive. This is a beacon of light in a neglected area.”
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