Dr. Joe Catanello, executive director of Catholic Youth Organization in the Diocese of Brooklyn, has brought about great progress in the last several years. His mission is aptly defined by a statement in the CYO literature: “A successful athletic program is evaluated not in terms of victory or defeat, but in the light of the degree that each athlete has become a human being.”
Catholic Youth Organization is a church and community-based organization under the umbrella of Catholic Charities. CYO oversees and establishes parish-based sports teams such as basketball, swimming, soccer, track, volleyball, baseball, and softball that cater to 12,000 kids.
Fondly called “Dr. Joe” by those who know him personally, Catanello is determined to revolutionize CYO. Friendly, personable, and engaging, Dr. Joe is the man who changed the mission statement and consequently propelled the organization towards enormous growth. He also revised the prayer that teams recite before each game.
Catanello attributes his fresh new vision to the fact that he had an outsider’s view of the organization. He said, “I was able to look at the program from a spectator’s point of view, an angle from someone who had never been involved in anything like it before. I had a fresh new vision.”
Catanello sees CYO as a venue where a great amount of people can be influenced. His vision includes promoting “fairness, compassion, and truth” by putting prayer back into the program and making sure all coaches, referees, and parents involved are constantly setting a good example for young people on their teams.
He firmly believes that all adults involved must lead by example. Originally from Williamsburg, Dr. Joe - always a sports lover - wished there were programs like CYO when he was growing up.
“As grown ups, we should step up to the plate,” he said in a recent interview. “To grab our children back, we should step up and show them something positive. It’s a crazy world out there, and kids need to be catered to, talked to. We shouldn’t wonder why our kids are confused. They don’t always know who to look to, who to trust”
After relocating to Maspeth, Dr. Joe was in the Army for three years working as a combat medic. Over the course of those three years, which he calls “fascinating”, he traveled to Japan, Korea, and all around the United States.
Catanello began teaching in 1996 at Cathedral Prep High School, then 6th, 7th, and 8th grade at Mount Carmel in Brooklyn, followed by Christ the King. He was eventually ordained as a Deacon at Holy Family Church and is proud to say that he can “marry people, baptize children, and preach on the Gospel.”
Catanello knew that he wanted to restructure the CYO as soon as he began. He remembers his first day at CYO - January 7, 2007 - and calls it a “madhouse.” He says it was confusing because he started from the ground up; however, he was clearly ready to work and full of ideas.
He knew he wanted to avoid the ever-popular “win at all costs attitude” in sports. “Sports serve as a vehicle in touching kids’ lives because so many kids want to get involved,” he said. “Kids are naturally attuned to sports, especially basketball. There is too much negativity in the world, with such high importance placed on power, money, position, and fame. Things like this paint a negative picture of the world to kids. Providing them with good role models is a way to bring them back to the church and give them a sense of normalcy.”
CYO is all about teaching kids to interact with each other, practicing sportsmanship, and teaching kids that there are many different meanings of “winning” and “success.” Dr. Joe encourages coaches, parents, parish athletic representatives, and referees to act as positive influences so that children can grow not only as Christians but as people.
Eager to expand the organization’s outreach, Dr. Joe has several goals for the future of the CYO. He wants to begin to develop the role of PER’s (parish event representatives), who will work to get kids involved in other activities outside of sports. if people see something that could be positive for children they will like it
He also wants to develop a CYO Youth Board, where kids of all walks of life within CYO can talk about what they want.
“No one ever listens to them,” he said. “When I would ask my students what they want to see or do, there was a great response. A lot of kids just need an outlet.”
The future looks positive for CYO under Dr. Joe. A man who is relentlessly modest yet extremely confident, he continues to work to fulfill his vision.
“I’d rather try something and fail then know that I had an opportunity and didn’t try,” he said. “Everyone out there is looking for something to hold on to. There are no hopeless people. God puts everyone in a position - everyone in your life is there for a reason. When I’m at the helm, in a position to influence so many people on a large level, I can always look back and say I tried.”