Group ministers to teams, athletes from professional ranks, Olympics, colleges to high schools
Bishop Richard F. Stika’s passion for Major League Baseball has led to a pastoral appointment with an athletic twist.
Bishop Stika has been named to the Episcopal Advisory Board of Catholic Athletes for Christ, a national Catholic ministry serving sports and athletes at all levels.
“Catholic Athletes for Christ has been serving professional athletes and Major League Baseball is a big part of that,” said Ray McKenna, founder and president of the organization. “It is a growing part of our ministry. We’re going to be relying on Bishop Stika for his faith and counsel.”
Mr. McKenna said Bishop Stika will advise Catholic Athletes for Christ on working with Major League Baseball and noted that much of CAC’s ministry to date has involved professional athletes and teams.
But the organization also is working with collegiate and Olympic athletes and most recently has been developing a vibrant outreach for high school athletes.
“I was very pleased to be appointed. It’s a new entity. There are other entities out there with people involved in professional sports, but for the most part they’re Protestant-based. So a number of major league teams—baseball, football, hockey—have chaplains or they have services,” Bishop Stika said.
Bishop Stika pointed out that the St. Louis Cardinals have a priest-chaplain who says Mass for the team on a regular basis and that a majority of professional baseball teams do, but there are some that don’t have a priest-chaplain. He noted that the Catholic Athletes for Christ Episcopal board is headed by the bishop of Springfield, Ill., Bishop Thomas Paprocki.
“So our situation is to assist the organization with making contacts with the owners of teams and encourage the owners to have not only Protestant chaplains, which is good, but also to have Catholic chaplains, which is important for those Catholic members of the team,” Bishop Stika said.
Bishop Stika attended part of the St. Louis Cardinals’ spring training in Jupiter, Fla., in March as part of the new ministry. As he watched the team and visited with players, he had the opportunity to meet legendary Cardinals player and manager Red Schoendienst, who was close friends with another Cardinals legend—Stan Musial, who died in January. Bishop Stika, also a close friend to Mr. Musial, delivered the homily at Mr. Musial’s funeral.
Bishop Stika also met with Cardinals Hall of Fame great Lou Brock, who now is an evangelical minister, and met, too, with Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak as well as others on the team he knows.
As CAC expands its footprint in sports, Mr. McKenna said the nonprofit group has developed a “very strong” ministry with the National Football League, highlighted by the celebration of a major Mass at the annual NFL combine.
“We have some connection with the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, but not as strong as with Major League Baseball and the NFL,” Mr. McKenna said.
Catholic Athletes for Christ describes itself as the only nationwide Catholic sports ministry that serves athletes and teams at every level of athletics. CAC said it was formed in response to the call of Pope John Paul II to evangelize the world of sports with the Gospel message. CAC has been recognized by the Vatican’s Office of Sports as an authentic witness for the Church’s theology of sports.
Mr. McKenna said Bishop Stika’s knowledge and interest in baseball will be invaluable as CAC bolsters its ministerial lineup. He praised Bishop Stika for his “wonderfully thoughtful and insightful homily” for Stan Musial.
Catholic Athletes for Christ has 16 cardinals and bishops on its Episcopal Advisory Board, including Bishop Stika, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Cardinal Edwin O’Brien. Bishop Paprocki is CAC’s Episcopal board chairman and is known as the “holy goalie” in Chicago because he plays goal in a men’s hockey league and is a loyal fan of the Chicago Blackhawks.
“It’s heartening to have between 200 and 300 clergy members affiliated with our efforts. And to have several bishops like Bishop Stika helping us move forward with our ministry is so important,” Mr. McKenna said.
Bishop Stika said he welcomes the chance to serve with Catholic Athletes for Christ and minister to teams and athletes. And that he’s such a big baseball fan can only help—just ask the Cardinals.
“They made a fundamental mistake. They said anytime you want tickets let us know. So I made a mental note of that,” Bishop Stika said with a laugh.