Team chaplains serve as guides for student-athletes
In the fall of 2017, many were paying attention to the disastrous effects of Hurricane Maria. The hurricane left thousands of islanders devastated. It took months for the whole island to recover.
One student, sophomore Jojo Walker, was affected by the storm. Originally from Puerto Rico, Walker was thinking of his parents, who still live on the island and experienced the full impact of the hurricane. He was approached by his basketball team chaplain, Fr. Dan Parrish, CSC. He told Walker that he got into contact with his parents in Puerto Rico, and Parrish arranged for them to come stay in Portland for a while.
“He said he’d do whatever it takes to get them over here,” Walker said of Parrish.
After making the right calls, Parrish brought Walker’s parents to Portland and prepared one of the Holy Cross residencies for them to stay comfortably until they were ready to go back.
This is only one example of the role of a team chaplain — a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross assigned to be a spiritual resource of a team here at UP. While the chaplains can certainly help out in bigger situations like the one Walker experienced, they can also be a day-to-day support for any member of athletics.
Although the men’s and women’s basketball teams already had chaplains, it wasn’t until last academic year that the director of campus ministry, Fr. Jim Gallagher, CSC, decided to bring on more chaplains for other sports teams. His idea was to connect student athletes to campus ministry, as some may find it difficult to fit campus ministry events into their already-busy schedules.
“I had it in my mind to be attentive to the groups that campus ministry wasn’t reaching at that point in time,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher decided to reach out to athletics to see if the staff thought there was any need for campus ministry connections. He also approached members of Holy Cross, and found interest on both sides. After having conversations with athletic staff and his brothers, they were able to pair priests up to most teams.
While Gallagher was the one who pushed to provide chaplains for more teams on campus, it was the former vice president of university relations, Fr. Gerry Olinger, CSC, who brought chaplaincy to UP when he became chaplain for men’s basketball before Parrish. Both basketball teams had a chaplain for about six years before chaplaincy was provided to other teams, with the former Fields hall director, Sr. Sue Bruno, as chaplain for the women’s basketball team.
When Olinger was moved to university relations, he asked Parrish to take over for men’s basketball. Gallagher chose to be chaplain for the rowing team, having previous knowledge of the sport and knowing students on the team. Other Holy Cross members stepped forward to support teams with which they felt they could be helpful.
The chaplains attend all home games and events of their assigned team, sit on the bench next to the players and coaches, and join the team in huddles before and after the game. All of the chaplains see their presence as an essential part of being a resource, some even making a point of stopping by the athletic offices to check in with staff.
“I think the most important job as chaplain is to be very present...to accompany the team,” said Br. Tom Guiamenta, CSC, team chaplain of the men’s soccer team and counseling for learning assistance.
While the role of team chaplain is still relatively new and there aren’t any specified official guidelines for the position, the Holy Cross members see their role as vital in executing the educative mission of the Congregation. The idea is that one should be educated fully — mentally, physically and spiritually. Professors cover the mind and sports the physical, while chaplains are resource for spiritual development.
“I’m here as a pastoral presence to kind of walk with them,” Parrish said. “It’s a way to just continually reinforce the values that we hope they live.”
Parrish referred to a quote from Fr. Basil Moreau, which states “we will not educate the mind at the expense of the heart.” He uses this as a guide to execute his role as chaplain.
The athletes aren’t just here to wear Portland jerseys on the field or court or track, according to Parish. The athletes are here to continue growing as people, and Parrish sees chaplaincy as a way of facilitating that growth. If the chaplains themselves can’t be a resource for the players, then they can get them connected to others who can.
“It’s just subtle reminders of ‘be a good citizen, contribute to your community, treat others with respect, be a role model, work hard on your studies, stay out of trouble...’’ Parrish said. “There’s a lot of pressure on student athletes. They work really hard. And so, the more positive inputs we can have I think can really help support them to be successful in all areas of their life, not just on the court.”
It’s this mentality that inspired Gallagher to bring chaplaincy to other teams, that motivated Giumenta to attend every home game and that drove Parrish into doing whatever possible to bring Walker’s parents to him.
“Getting to see them was everything for me,” Walker said. “I’m always going to be thankful for that.”
Ana Clyde is a senior sports reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.