Carolyn Cooper (or Coop, as she prefers) was heading in to the 12:30 pm Mass at the Church of Saint Ann in Lawrenceville, New Jersey on a Sunday afternoon in the fall of 2010. Coop had been attending Mass for a few weeks at St. Ann’s, even though she wasn’t Catholic and had never attended Mass regularly before.
Center for FaithJustice program coordinator Mike Laskey also serves as the high school youth minister St. Ann’s. That Sunday afternoon, about a week into his job, Mike was recruiting volunteers to help with a pumpkin patch fundraiser.
Mike stopped Coop to her to ask if she’d be interested in pitching in. She said yes, and she quickly became the youth ministry program’s most devoted volunteer.
Flash forward about 19 months, and Coop is about to enter the Catholic Church at Saturday’s Easter Vigil. Mike is thrilled to be her Confirmation sponsor.
Mike interviewed Coop for the Center for FaithJustice blog about her journey toward the Eucharistic table.
Mike: Hey Coop. First, tell the good people a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you get to Lawrenceville?
Coop: How did I get to Lawrenceville? Well, my path was very zigzagged. My family is your stereotypical American family: mom, dad, two little girls and a cat. I grew up in Houston, Texas, and spent my summers on my grandfather’s farm and my falls playing volleyball for the local private high school, Lutheran South Academy. We didn’t miss a Friday night high school football game or church on Sunday morning.
My small obsession with volleyball turned into a full scholarship to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. I spent four years playing volleyball for the Irish while pursuing a double major in Marketing and Psychology. After graduation, I spent one year at the University of Cincinnati working as a strength and conditioning coach. I then moved on to grad school at the University of Tennessee where I earned my Masters in Sports Management.
After finishing up in Tennessee, I worked as an event coordinator for a First and Second Round Site of the 2010 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championships at Providence College. The event was a huge success and I was immediately hired by Nelligan Sports Marketing to run their corporate marketing and fulfillment for Princeton University. As I have moved around a lot in the past five years, I consider myself lucky to have finally set down some roots.
Mike: You have no idea how happy it makes me that a Texas gal is starting to put down roots in New Jersey. I’m glad you, like me, see our fine state as God’s country. Anyway, you grew up attending a few different Protestant churches. How did you wind up at St. Ann’s for the first time?
Coop: No crazy story about seeing angels. My friend Ryan, a basketball coach at Providence who I met while working there, took a couple of days off work to help with my big move to Jersey. While in Princeton, he wanted to go to church. Not knowing the area at all, Ryan Googled “Catholic churches.” St. Ann’s had a 12:30 service, and so it’s where we decided to go.
Mike: Funny how some of those seemingly random decisions can lead to something meaningful. One of my proudest moments as a youth minister is tracking you down that afternoon as you were coming in to church to help at our youth ministry pumpkin patch. Why did you say yes to helping?
Coop: A free pumpkin….obviously! Just kidding. Seriously though, I couldn’t say no to a fellow Domer!* I also had this internal drive to be at St. Ann’s. You were the first person to actually speak to me since I had started attending Sunday Mass. It was nice to have a new church friend.
Mike: OK, so helping with the patch was one thing. But you come almost every week! (Thank you for that, by the way.) What’s your motivation?
Coop: I say this in volleyball all the time, but I have had the opportunity to learn from amazing people throughout my life. My parents were and still are amazing role models. My volleyball coaches have been at the top of the game every year. Growing up, my church life was no different. I had a great pastor at our church in Houston and inspiring Sunday school teachers. I feel like it’s my obligation to give back to the community.
Mike: It’s another thing entirely to move from volunteer and Mass attendee to an actual Catholic. How and why did you decide to take that next big step?
Coop: I love the structure of the Catholic Church. Growing up Lutheran, my beliefs now are not all that different from what they were when I was a kid. Except now, when I go to Mass on Sundays the sanctuary is full! I love the feeling of being part of something bigger than me – something that so many people are willing to work for and commit to.
Mike: Speaking of structure – you’ve told me since really early on in this process that you like the structure Catholic Church provides. Do you think this has anything to do with your involvement in sports? Playing division-one volleyball must be all about discipline and structure, I imagine.
Coop: It absolutely connects to volleyball. I like having structure. I like having rules and regulations. I like having models to emulate and follow. As an athlete at ND, my grades were always better in-season. During the season, I was on a strict schedule: class, practice, study, sleep, repeat. During the spring, my schedule was more relaxed and it was easy to put off schoolwork. I feel like that transfers over to my spiritual life.
The Catholic Church also feels more like a “team” than any other church I’ve been to. I know that every Sunday, people will be at St. Ann’s growing in their faith. That was something I didn’t have before.
Mike: Before I let you go, we need a fun question. What do you like to do in your free time? What do you miss most about Texas? What do you like the most about New Jersey?
Coop: In my free time, I’m a high school volleyball coach for Princeton Day School and a club volleyball coach for West Windsor Volleyball club. I love working with my girls.
Texas. Just typing the word makes me smile. I miss my parents, my cousins. I miss being able to go back to high school football games. I miss good Mexican food. I miss Astros baseball games. I miss the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Jersey. Still can’t believe I live here. I like playing volleyball on the shore during the summer. I like being about to visit Philly or NYC anytime I want. I like the crazy amount of sports team in such a small area.
Mike: I agree, New Jersey just has so much to offer. Heh. Well, thanks for taking the time to chat! I can’t wait for the Vigil. Go Irish.
Coop: Haha, yes, Go Irish.