Fr. Stephen DeCarlo, 31, of Immaculate Conception Parish in Peterborough, Ont., reconnected with his inner kid by taking up skateboarding again during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy Fr. Stephen DeCarlo

Boyhood passion reignited in priest during lockdown

  • November 4, 2020

Let’s hop in a time machine back to 1999. It was a year that, among others, saw Tony Hawk skateboarding his way to the top of the cultural scene.

The American professional skateboarder captivated Western culture in the months before the new millennium as the video game named after him — Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater — reaped over a million units of sales within a year of its September release.

Fast forward to this year of COVID-19, and a young boy inspired by Hawk is now a 31-year-old man, has entered the priesthood, but has also re-embraced a boyhood passion fuelled by Hawk’s exploits.

Fr. Stephen DeCarlo is the priest and administrator of Immaculate Conception Parish in his hometown of Peterborough, Ont. COVID-19 first shut down much of Ontario when DeCarlo was associate pastor at St. Mary’s Parish in Lindsay, a half hour drive west of Peterborough. In addition to the traditional public Mass being shut down for three months, not getting to engage face-to-face with young Catholics in the local schools was a difficult adjustment for DeCarlo and brother priests from all over Canada.

DeCarlo recorded a video message for Catholic Education Week in May. He wanted to make this video stand out creatively. His passion from two decades ago popped into his head so he borrowed a board from a friend. He cruised into the frame and then delivered a message to encourage youth to practise their Catholic faith with the diligence one would when trying to master a skateboard.

DeCarlo lightly stresses that he “is not a skateboarding pro.” He is a servant of God in his 30s who rediscovered his childhood passion during the COVID-19 lockdown — he bought a skateboard online — and he thinks it would be a blessing for disciples of all ages to engage in their favourite pastimes or hobbies during this period of adversity.

“As Christians and Catholics, we are called to enjoy creation and what human beings have been able to create for us. It is good for us to connect with our roots and enjoy life,” he said.

Getting back on a skateboard brought back some fond memories of his youth.

“Skateboarding is not about a set of rules unlike other sports such as hockey or basketball. It is just you and the board. You have a feeling of ‘I can do whatever I want.’ I can try a trick, just go for a cruise or just forget what I was doing before.”

DeCarlo was a wide-eyed 10-year-old boy when the critically-acclaimed game hit the shelves. He recalls Hawk being imitated by guys close to his neighbourhood “blading” in empty parking lots and doing ollies (rider and board leap in the air without the rider using his hand) over a concrete staircase at a nearby apartment. 

DeCarlo thought the trick was “so cool” he wanted to attempt it himself. His family eventually bought him a board of his own and he would spend many hours during the summer months over the next few years enjoying the rush and freedom of skateboarding.

“That game really inspired a generation of kids to be skateboarders,” said DeCarlo. “In fact, there are many pro skateboarders today who trace their start in the sport to that game.”

As is often the case with teenagers, he gravitated away from skateboarding to pursue other interests and started contemplating if he should consider the priesthood as he approached graduation from Holy Cross Secondary School in 2007. He entered St. Philip’s Seminary at the Toronto Oratory in 2008, transitioned to St. Augustine’s Seminary in 2012 and was ordained on May 25, 2018 at the Cathedral of St. Peter-in-Chains in Peterborough.

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