Rivals rally for priest battling cancer


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

BURLINGTON — Rival schools came together on the basketball court last week to cheer on Father Marty Goetz, a diocesan priest who is battling breast cancer.

Fans of Notre Dame-Burlington and Holy Trinity-Fort Madison wore pink and purchased fundraiser items during their basketball matchup Feb. 1 to raise cancer awareness and to help offset the priest’s medical expenses.

Father Marty Goetz, pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington/West Burlington and St. Mary Parish in Dodgeville, talks to the crowd assembled for the Notre Dame-Burlington/Holy Trinity-Fort Madison basketball games Feb. 1 at Burlington. The rival schools raised money at the games to help offset medical expenses for Father Goetz, who is battling cancer.

“The prayers and support of others through all of this has been inspiring and humbling to me,” said Father Goetz, pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington/West Burlington and St. Mary Parish in Dodgeville since 2010.


Father Goetz received his diagnosis last summer after struggling with excruciating back pain. “It got to the point where I could hardly walk — or genuflect.” His orthopedic doctor prescribed physical therapy, but when that didn’t help, Father Goetz sought a second opinion. “A bone scan and CAT scan showed I had breast cancer that had spread to my bones.”

The diagnosis came as a shock to the Notre Dame community, with whom Father Goetz has grown close over the last 12 years, said Principal Bill Maupin. “He celebrates Mass, participates in special events and is very active in the school and with the kids. Everybody knows him.” The cancer diagnosis “was hard to hear.”

“All the students at Notre Dame adore Father Marty, including myself,” said Student Council President Maisey Belger.

At the time of the diagnosis, Father Goetz asked the school community for prayers, and they responded by making the Hail Mary a part of daily announcements. Holy Trinity also prays the Hail Mary for Father Goetz. He has a connection to the school through his brother, John Goetz, who serves as athletic director and teacher, and John’s wife, Kim, who also teaches there.

“I think it says a lot about (Father Goetz) that the only thing he asked for was prayers,” Maupin said.

In August, Father Goetz had surgery to stabilize a femur (upper leg) bone affected by the cancer. He began oral chemotherapy treatments in September. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that about 1% of all breast cancer diagnoses occur in men.

Burlington-Notre Dame students Cole Ward and Hunter Lillie sell raffle tickets during the Burlington-Notre Dame/Holy Trinity-Fort Madison basketball games Feb. 1 at Burlington.

Notre Dame wanted to support Father Goetz by hosting a fundraising and cancer awareness event, but he was reluctant to accept the offer. Eventually he gave Notre Dame the OK to host “Strike Out Cancer Night,” asking that Holy Trinity be involved due to his connections there.

As the home team, Notre Dame organized a raffle and bake sale. Members of Divine Mercy Parish donated food items. Cole Ward was among the Notre Dame students selling raffle tickets at the game. “I’ve known Father Marty ever since he came to Burlington. I had the privilege of altar serving his first Mass here. He has helped me and my family through some very hard times, so when I was asked to help with the fundraiser I didn’t even think about saying no.”

These fundraisers brought in about $1,700 to help offset Father Goetz’s medical expenses. Notre Dame is also selling T-shirts and towels with “Strike Out Cancer” printed on the front and Father Goetz’s two mottos/hashtags, #iwon’tbackdown and #onlyicandoitbutnotalone, printed on the back.

The night was an emotional one for Father Goetz, who walked onto the court between games to thank the schools for their support. “Maybe on the court we were rivals, but both schools came out for a common cause — and that was to strike out cancer,” he told The Catholic Messenger.

“The generosity and prayers of so many people at both Notre Dame and Holy Trinity mean a lot to me.”

Father Goetz said his health is improving. “This past month is the best I have felt since last May. I’m walking 95 percent of the time without a cane. I can celebrate Mass and be in the office and minister — and genuflect at the altar again. God is so good!”

He said it is the power of prayer and faith, along with the support of others, “that will see me through all this.”

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