Students at Blessed Francis Seelos Academy got a big surprise Monday morning, Jan. 29, when two former students at the school — MLB second baseman Neil Walker, formerly with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Kevin McCabe, who played football at the college and pro levels – spoke to them at a pep rally in the Ryan Center.

Father Kevin Fazio arranged the visit during which the two star athletes spoke about their faith, friendship and school days during the Catholic Schools Week event. Both attended St. Alphonsus School, which merged this year with St. Alexis School to form Blessed Francis Seelos Academy.

“Kevin and I have been friends since I can’t even remember,” Neil told the students. “We all started right here just where you kids are.

“One thing we talk about a lot is doing things for the right reasons and being accountable in your actions,” he said. “The one thing that we try to do is try to hold each other accountable and have each other’s back and support one another.

“As a person that plays a professional sport – baseball – and is used to failure, that support and that optimism from people and feeling like you’re not in something alone is something that is very important,” Neil continued.

“That all started with our faith when we were here at … St. Alphonsus,” Neil said. “We learned very valuable lessons at a very young age to guide us along our way.”

Neil also told the students that he likes to talk about “things that we can control. On an everyday basis we can control our attitude and we can control our effort … in any aspect of life, whether it is in sports, whether it’s in the classroom, whether it’s with your friends and family, your brothers and sisters, whatever the case may be.

“Faith is so important in your life because when you go to high school, when you go to college, hopefully and beyond, you’re going to be faced with a lot of different tests and … Mom and Dad aren’t going to be there to help you sometimes when you get to high school. There’s going to be peer pressure and things you’ve never encountered before. And the things that you’re learning here today and that you are learning along your way are going to be so valuable to how you handle those situations.”

Kevin added: “In a Catholic school, you’re held to a different standard. Not only are you supposed to be a good person, you talk about God all the time and Jesus. What would Jesus do? … It’s all centered around faith, family and friends.”

“Learn as much as you can and be as open minded as you can,” Neil told the students, “because you’re going to be faced with a lot of adversity over your life and the things that you are learning now – whether you like them or don’t like them – are things that are going to benefit you down the road.”