Former CU football player abandoned his own playbook, followed God’s instead

As a tight end on the University of Colorado football team, Patrick Devenny was never afraid to be public about his Christian faith. 

“I was the guy that would always run out of a tunnel before the football game, take a knee and say a prayer,” Devenny said. “But my prayer was always, ‘please let me score a touchdown pass and keep me healthy.’”  

Devenny grew up in northern California, raised mostly by his mother after his parents divorced. He said his grandmother was devoutly Catholic, which inspired his faith as a young adult. 

“It always felt like the right thing to do, but I never really knew why I was doing it,” Devenny said. “Whatever it was, it was more of a one-sided relationship. ‘What can I get from God?’ ‘How can he help me reach the NFL?’ …that kind of stuff.” 

Christian groups were popular among the CU athletes according to Devenny, but he recalls feeling like they were a bit superficial. He said he also became intensely focused on worldly successes, and how he could create them for himself. He said his motto became, “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.” 

“I became obsessed with psychology of the mind and sports psychology,” Devenny said. “So, removing God, and now it’s me. And if I want my own destiny, I’ll go get it. How can I be the creator of my own destiny?”  

Devenny enjoyed a successful football career at CU, playing in 29 games and scoring six touchdowns from 2007 to 2009. He wasn’t selected in the 2010 NFL draft, but he was invited to off-season workouts with the Seattle Seahawks.  

Patrick Devenny enjoyed a successful career as a tight end for CU-Boulder’s football team from 2007 to 2009. After sustaining a training injury that ended his football career, Devenny began to struggle with his identity, which led to an eating disorder and depression. It was at this point that Devenny began to find his way back to his faith. (Photo provided)

“I had a cup of coffee [in the NFL] is what I like to say,” Devenny said. 

Devenny was cut from the roster before the season though, and a training injury held him out for several months. It ended up being the end of his football career as no other calls ever came from the NFL. 

It was also the start of some challenging years of his life as he struggled to find his identity, while still chasing worldly success.  

Devenny had jobs in commercial real estate and the entertainment industry, living a fast-paced life in Los Angeles and later a couple of years in Mexico. 

“I thought I would be [in] Forbes 30 under 30,” Devenny said.  

But Devenny said he continued to compare his life to others around him, and any success he had always ultimately left him feeling empty and wanting more.  

“I had about five years of just extreme depression, highs, lows, eating disorder, all of it.” Devenny said. “But it felt like if I could achieve worldly success, I could solve any of those issues.” 

And then in 2015, his mom unexpectedly passed away. 

“I just hit a huge spiral,” Devenny said. “I became super depressed, with suicidal thoughts, eating disorder went through the roof. I felt like there was so much uncertainty in my life that the only thing I could control was how I looked.  

“That’s when I started to question – what does the private plane matter? What would it have changed? My mom passed away in her sleep. I don’t know if that would have been solved by living in a mansion.” 

Devenny moved back to Denver at that point, and eventually reached out to some friends he looked up to, who independently all pointed him in the same direction. 

“After the fourth one, I was like, ‘are you guys all talking to each other?’” Devenny said. “They all were pointing back to God.”  

Devenny listened, and at the encouragement of one of his friends reached out to a former coach, who insisted Devenny go home and read Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” 

Devenny said those were the first seeds of returning to a life of faith.  

“I started to realize what I was actually missing in life, and it wasn’t that private plane, it was my relationship with God,” Devenny said. “It’s not about me and my plan, but it’s God’s plan and there’s a bigger plan.” 

Devenny said at first he was drawn to some of the big Christian churches with rock music, fog machines and passionate speakers.  

“You go through a tunnel of people greeting you, then you go over, you get your coffee and donuts, you go sit down, the music’s great,” Devenny said. “It’s pretty hard to find something not to like.” 

But then Devenny met his future wife, Stephanie, a Catholic and former FOCUS missionary, and they started going to different services together.  

“I thought I was going to convert her,” Devenny said. “Every time I would think to myself, ‘I’m going to win this.’” 

That is, until he met Father Brian Larkin at Our Lady of Lourdes.  

“After the first meeting, I knew I was in trouble,” Devenny joked.  

When Devenny met his future wife, Stephanie, he began attending Mass with her at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver. This eventually led to his conversion to Catholicism. (Photo provided)

Devenny said Father Larkin would ask him questions that eventually made him realize he had been approaching his faith the same way he had approached most of his life.  

“Are you going to church for God, or are you going to church for what are you getting from God?” Devenny said. “When I was going to other places, it was always about what am I getting out of that service, as opposed to what am I doing in that hour to glorify God.”  

Devenny said he still had his questions and concerns about the Catholic Church, but after experiencing how fleeting things are in this world, was drawn to the permanence of the Church and a closer relationship with Christ.  

“Seeing my mom pass away unexpectedly and seeing my dad have cancer and all these things where life was ripped away, the only constant in that entire scenario is God, right? And having that relationship,” Devenny explained. 

Devenny said he has nothing bad to say about the other churches he initially attended, but that he just found more in the Catholic Church.  He went through RCIA and was confirmed in 2019.

“There’s so much history, truth and beauty in all of what the Church teaches. Everything was the opposite of everything I was used to from the sense of I’ve always lived for that instant gratification. And there was such a beauty – even through the six-month RCIA program – of the wait,” he concluded. “And it has a bigger payoff than just what can God provide for me now.”

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.