PHILADELPHIA — If 30 years ago anyone told Steve Javie he would become a permanent deacon, he probably would have said, “No way.”
Sure, he came from a solid Catholic family with Mass every Sunday, confession every two weeks need it or not, and his uncle Msgr. Anthony Jaworowski was one of the most respected priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, but all of that was ancient history as far as Javie was concerned.
Sports was really in his blood. His dad, Stan Javie, was an NFL football referee who worked four Super Bowls. Steve played baseball, football and basketball at La Salle College High School, outside of Philadelphia, and at Philadelphia’s Temple University he continued with baseball, which was his first love.
After getting his degree in business administration, Javie signed on as a pitcher in the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system, but his dreams of baseball stardom were cut short after one year because of an arm injury.
In college, he’d done some refereeing and umpiring to pick up a little money, which he then considered making his career. He first worked as baseball umpire but ultimately switched to basketball, which from an officiating standpoint has more action.
After five years officiating in the Continental Basketball Association, Javie was hired by the NBA in 1986, and he remained there for the rest of his 20-plus-year career. Now, although he is retired, he provides commentary on NBA officiating during telecasts of games on ESPN.
His job required a lot of travel and that was how he met his wife, Mary-ellen Kennedy, who worked at Philadelphia International Airport.
After one date, he suggested they go to Sunday Mass and brunch and on their way to the restaurant, he told Mary-ellen he didn’t get much out of the service.
She looked at him and asked, “What did you put into it?”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“There’s a lot things you could do,” she said. “Have you anyone you could pray for while you’re sitting there?”
That got him thinking and it got him going back to Mass on a regular basis. The couple married in less than a year.
Javie went through a rough patch in 1999 when he was one of 15 referees to be accused of tax evasion, in his case over the value of frequent-flyer miles. His worries about that got him going to Mass every day and even though he was the only one to be acquitted on all charges, the daily Mass habit stuck.
For more than 10 years, he and his wife have belonged to St. Andrew Parish in Newtown, where Steve belongs to a “small” men’s faith-sharing group with about 50-60 men in it, and he loves it.
When he retired from the NBA in 2011, he said he was looking for a way to give more time serving the Lord. “It was the Holy Spirit — the word ‘deacon’ just popped into my head,” he told CatholicPhilly.com, the news outlet of the Philadelphia Archdiocese. He went to his pastor, Msgr. Michael Picard, who advised him to go for it.
On June 8, Javie joined six other men who were ordained as deacons for the Philadelphia Archdiocese at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. He is looking forward to ministry, especially to men, telling them, “it’s OK to go make money, but you also have to go to church and love Jesus.”
One other thing. People associate basketball referees with that whistle they like to blow. Now-Deacon Javie still carries his whistle every day, mostly in memory a dear friend who did the same thing.
And because parish meetings can get pretty contentious at times, he might even need to use it.
— By Lou Baldwin
Baldwin writes for CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.