NORTH PROVIDENCE — Matthew Slater, a special teams player for the New England Patriots since being drafted by the organization in 2008, visited Mary, Mother of Mankind Church as part of the parish’s 50th anniversary celebration this year, where he spoke about the importance of faith in his life.
“Stand up and be different. It’s not easy to be a Christian,” he told a full house in the parish hall, which was filled with young people — as well as many parents — from several local parishes, including nearby St. Anthony Parish.
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“There are too many followers in our society. We need more trendsetters,” he said.
Mary, Mother of Mankind Pastor Father Joseph A. Pescatello organized the special visit along with the North Providence Mayor’s Youth Commission. It’s one of several events the pastor has planned this year to provide opportunities for engagement of young people in the church.
He gave tremendous credit to one of his parishioners, Eric Scalovino, who works for the New England Patriots as a public relations writer, for making Slater’s visit possible.
“He’s a role model, not just a successful athlete, but also a faithful man,” Father Pescatello said of Slater.
Although Matthew’s father, Jackie Slater, was an NFL star in his own right, playing the full length of his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Rams as an offensive tackle, and is now enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it was not a given that his son would follow in his footsteps.
“My own path here was unconventional,” Slater said, noting that while his father was better built for the sport, standing at 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighing in at about 300 pounds, he is 6 feet tall and weighs 200 pounds.
“I realized in my life that I wasn’t going to be defined as a football player,” he said.
At UCLA Slater majored in history and political science while playing special teams for the university’s Bruins football team.
Although he ran track in high school, and wasn’t sure if his career would be in football, his accomplishments on the gridiron throughout his four years at UCLA began to put the spotlight on him.
In 2008, Slater was drafted by the New England Patriots in the fifth round.
“It was a parting of the Red Sea moment for my family and I,” Slater said, recalling the phone call he received then from Patriots head coach Bill Belichik.
“At 22, I was still finding my way, but with the plans God had for me, somehow 10 years later I’m still here.”
Slater spoke of how incredible it was for him to be playing the game with some of its finest, including Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
“Don’t believe I’m a self-made man. I believe God put me here,” Slater said. “I know my future is secure because of what Jesus did on the cross.”
Following his presentation Slater invited students and parents to come up to the front of the room for autographs.
“That was awesome, he was really inspirational about never giving up,” said Reilly Bennett, 12.
Evan Theroux, 13, said he enjoyed how Slater spoke about “How God can open doors that you never expected.”