Sports have always been an important part of life for Fr. Patrick Kelly, SJ. He initially tried to set aside this passion, dismissing sports as “childish.” Eventually, though, he felt called to work at the intersection of sports and spirituality. Father Kelly is now a scholar- in-residence at the University of Detroit Mercy and, in 2012, he authored Catholic Perspectives on Sports: From Medieval to Modern Times. Father Kelly believes play is important to living a fully human life and developing the whole person, saying, “When a young person is participating in that embodied activity, that engagement also affects them at the level of their consciousness and at the level of spirit, which St. Paul says makes us capable of a relationship with the Holy Spirit.”
Father Brian Taber, SJ, also emphasizes the development of the whole person as a football coach and sports chaplain at Saint Ignatius College Prep in Chicago. Father Taber believes that team interaction is key to developing character and achieving intellectual excellence on and off the field. When athletes lean on their peers to release frustrations and improve, they learn lessons that transfer into other aspects of their lives. Father Taber also encourages age quod agis, or attentiveness to tasks. Athletic success, like spirituality, is bettered by practice. In addition to creating persistence in sports, agis furthers students’ persistence in faith, service, and education. He says, “When failure arises, I remind my students of the passion of Jesus Christ. His suffering taught us that we are capable of rising above all failures.”
Athletic formation and faith formation go hand in hand, according to Fr. Adam DeLeon, SJ. As a wrestling and rugby coach at Loyola High School in Detroit, Fr. DeLeon frequently reminds his student-athletes that their participation in sports is a way of honoring God. “What they’re doing is an expression of their gifts and talents,” he says. “That’s a way to give God glory and honor.” Father DeLeon believes in the importance of reflection, and as a coach, he gives student-athletes an opportunity to grow. He encourages them to reflect on their strengths, weaknesses, and contributions to the team.
Similarly, Fr. Cy Pinchak, SJ—cross country and track coach at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland—sees sports as an Examen. He finds that running is a great way to reflect, saying it’s “an experience of encountering God in activity.” Father Pinchak also encourages the student-athletes to encounter God while they run. He says, “The passion they have for running is a manifestation of their passion for life in Christ.” Whether the athletes are running by themselves or as a team, the conversations that are shared with God, and with each other, can influence their life outside the sport. Father Pinchak believes that when society bridges the division between religion and other aspects of life, we are able to “pray without ceasing,” as St. Paul calls us to do.
Mary Dolan is an intern for the Midwest Jesuits and a rising senior at Loyola University Chicago, where she is majoring in communications with a minor in photography.
Maggie Palider is a former intern for the Midwest Jesuits and a rising senior at Loyola University Chicago, where she is majoring in advertising creative with minors in visual communications and French language and literature.