Bayonne's "Father Miller" retiring as pastor, can look back on countless kids he helped through sports The Rev. Lawrence Miller just retired as a priest and has been a major youth sports figure in Hudson County. He was photographed in his home in Bayonne on Tuesday, July 16, 2013, perusing the book "Chasing Perfect" written by legendary St. Anthony High School basketball coach, Bob Hurley, who mentioned Miller in one of the chapters. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal).  

If you have played youth sports in Hudson County at some point over the past four decades, then odds are good that you are familiar with the Rev. Lawrence Miller.

Miller, who most recently served as pastor at St. Mary's Church in Bayonne, retired on July 1, ending a run that began 44 years ago at Our Lady of Mercy in Jersey City.

The Bronx native, who will turn 79 next month, is widely known for having founded and coached in numerous youth sports leagues in Jersey City and Bayonne. Everything from baseball to basketball, from football to cheerleading and beyond, Miller has done it all.

He is also recognized for bringing two prominent sports to Hudson County for the very first time. In 1972, while at Our Lady of Mercy, he founded the county's first ice hockey league. That very year, he did the same for girls softball.

"I always thought it was important for the kids to see a priest in another role besides just being up on the altar saying Mass," said Miller. "I think it's good to see a priest in a normal, different setting, and for me that setting was always baseball, basketball, and so on."

Miller is widely known for his commitment and devotion to the church and sports, a devotion that can often bring out his fiery side. His passion, as well as his unique personality, is evident in a story of one Thanksgiving morning before a hockey game at Roosevelt Stadium.

"At six in the morning, we had about a hundred kids ready to play and no one came to open the stadium," recalled Miller. "Now, there was a clumsy looking door with a chain on it, and there happened to be an ax sitting right next to it, so I just started hacking away."

Miller's love for sports began at a young age, when his father used to take him to games at nearby Yankee Stadium, where the two would sit in the bleachers for only 50 cents.

After graduating from Cardinal Hayes High School in the South Bronx, Miller attended Fordham University. Upon graduating, he joined the U.S. Army before taking a job as a chemist.

But Miller would soon realize his life's calling and decide to leave his job and enter the priesthood. He was ordained in June 1969 and assigned to Our Lady of Mercy.

Forty years later, in 2009, he was elevated to the rank of monsignor, although he will always be known as "Father Miller" to those around him.

In addition to his duties within local sports leagues, he also served as the president of both the Hudson and Union County Catholic Youth Organizations for more than 15 years and has played a major role in the opening of The Cluster Soup Kitchen in Bayonne. "

A lot of people think I just do things for the sports, and sometimes that sticks in my craw," said Miller. "I'd also like to be remembered as a faithful priest and a guy that gave everything he had."

While his passion for the church and athletics is well known, those close to him know he harnesses that passion and uses it to help his community. James Shovlin, a former sacristan for Miller at St. Mary's, as well as a player and coach in the church's "Pee Wee" basketball league, knows Miller's impact.

"While known by many as simply a stern and dedicated pastor, he is also an extremely generous and compassionate man with an extraordinary commitment to his community, the likes of which I have never seen before," said Shovlin. "That commitment has allowed him to bring athletics into the lives of more youths than can be counted, myself included.

"Father Miller is a true Hudson County legend."