Bringing prayer to the court

By The Beacon | March 20, 2014 2:20am

Last semester, Olinger, President-elect Fr. Mark Poorman and Athletic Director Scott Leykam, worked together to create the team chaplain program as a way to reach out to student athletes in a more purposeful way. Once they decided that they would start with basketball, Olinger offered to help with the men’s team. Bruno had served as a chaplain for Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team for 12 years, so she was invited to serve as chaplain for the women’s team. “Everybody has a part to play, whether it’s the trainer or me or head coach they all have a part to play and as a team you try and play it well. I love being a part of a team,” Bruno said. “Growing up they didn’t have organized sports the way they do now so it’s just fun for me to be a part of it.”

By Maggie Hannon |

Players, coaches and trainers are all common faces for fans to see on the bench during basketball games. A face that may not be as common, however, is the face of a priest or sister on the same bench, cheering on their players. Halfway through this basketball season two members of the Holy Cross community joined both the men’s and the women’s teams as another outlet for support and guidance for players. In January, Vice President of Student Affairs and Shipstad Hall Chaplain Fr. Gerry Olinger and Fields Hall Director Sister Sue Bruno joined each team as a chaplain for the program (Olinger for the men’s and Bruno for the women’s).

“By nature of their lives and busy-ness, the travel and practices sometimes they don’t have opportunities to engage in some of the activities like retreats or other aspects that we have,” Olinger said. “So the idea was how to do we do this in a much more intentional way.”

The chaplain’s job includes many different responsibilities aside from just sitting on the bench with team. The chaplains also lead the teams in prayer before the game, sometimes attend team dinners and go to a few away games if possible. Olinger travelled with the team during their WCC tournament in Las Vegas and has also followed the team to southern California for other away games. Through travelling with the team, Olinger was able to get a closer look into the dynamic of the group.

The chaplains also are to provide personal and spiritual support to student athletes, coaches and staff. They are instructed to meet with players (especially captains) and establish a more spiritual guidance for the team. Olinger and Bruno found that their positions allows for a confidential resource to help team members if they are going through any challenges in their lives, either in sports or with more individual issues.

“I think what Fr. Gerry and I try to do is to offer them not only prayerful support but any kind of personal support that there can be, whether they’re dealing with class issues or they’re dealing with team issues or they’re dealing with just life issues,” Bruno said. “Part of our role is to support them in any way that they can."

Athletes on the men’s and women’s teams both thought chaplains are a good source for support. Since the chaplains have been present, players have been able to develop relationships with Olinger and Bruno.

“(Olinger) is there cheering for us, talking to us, and talking about our games,” freshman guard Alec Wintering said. “He’s there for support and he’s a good resource.”

But although this is their first years as chaplains, many of the players on the team knew the chaplains before, since they work other in other areas of campus. Since Bruno works as hall director of Fields, she gets to see some of the girls outside of practice, though most of the time they are too busy to chat in the residence hall.

“I knew (Bruno) before, so her being on the bench was just an added bonus,” junior guard Jasmine Wooton said.  “It’s nice to have a party on our side regardless of how we play.”

Both chaplains found that through their work they have developed a more personal relationship with the student athletes and have a clear understanding of the difficulties that these students go through. Although he used to come to games before, Olinger noticed that wins and losses have a much more obvious effect on him now that he is an active part of the team.

“Because I know the guys better, I’m much more personally invested in the games and so the losses are that much harder. You know how hard they work, you know what good men they are, you know how hard it is to balance all the different demands on their time so when they lose it’s just that much tougher,” Olinger said. “But I’m really proud of them and all the work that they’ve done.”

Bruno and Olinger both admitted to never playing basketball or not playing the game well, but even before becoming chaplains they were each passionate sports fans. Olinger has always been interested in college sports and Bruno enjoys following her home team, the Chicago Bulls, and was a huge fan of their most famous player, Michael Jordan. Before they became chaplains, one could see Bruno and Olinger at many of the home games here at UP since both as such avid basketball fans. Now that Olinger and Bruno are part of each program, they are able to understand what it means to be part of a team.