The Gregorian Blog
American Catholic Hall of Fame: Sports Figures
Tim Tebow is a great public witness to his faith, but who were the greatest Catholic sports figures in American history?
In honor of the upcoming Super Bowl — whose Vince Lombardi Trophy is named after a devout Catholic — and the 2012 Olympics, the Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, gathered votes for the Greatest Catholic Sports Figure in American History.
Catholic leaders who are themselves public figures are the voters for the American Catholic Hall of Fame.
“We told voters that hall of famers don’t have to be canonizable, but they should be leaders in their fields who are unabashedly Catholic,” Gregorian Institute director Tom Hoopes said. "The idea is to celebrate and promote Catholic identity in public life. The message: There is no reason to hide your Catholic faith to succeed."
Knute Rockne (1888-1931) is regarded as one of the greatest coaches in college football history, who helped shape the game as we know it. He was impressed with his players’ devotion and converted to Catholicism.
Babe Ruth: George Herman Ruth, Jr. (1895-1948), was a Knight of Columbus and one of the greatest baseball players and sports heroes in U.S. history. “I like being Catholic,” he said. “It sets a standard by which I can measure myself.”
James Braddock (1905-1974) was heavyweight champion from 1935-1937. He wanted to play football for Knute Rockne in Notre Dame, but didn’t get accepted. He served the poor in Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin’s Catholic Worker Movement.
Vince Lombardi (1913-1970), Knight of Columbus, coached the Green Bay Packers to five league championships in seven years and two Super Bowl wins. He prayed that each communion might serve as his viaticum if he died unexpectedly.
Stan Musial (1920- ), devout Catholic, one of the greatest baseball players ever, has been married to his wife Lillian for 72 years. Cardinal Timothy Dolan praised his life “jam-packed with phenomenal baseball achievements” and free from scandal.
Lou Holtz (1937- ) the legendary Notre Dame football coach is the only football coach to lead six different programs to bowl games and four to the final top 20. After 50 plus years of marriage, he says prayer “kept our family together.” Holtz also has a Benedictine College connection: He was the first donor to the Kansas college’s Marian grotto.
Roger Staubach (1942- ), an active Catholic, is one of the 50 best NFL players of all time. In the 1975 playoffs, he threw a 50-yard bomb and said he prayed a Hail Mary it would be caught. To this day, such passes are “Hail Marys”.
Mike Krzyzewski (1947- ) “America’s Best Coach” (Time, 2001) and “Sportsman of the Year” (Sports Illustrated, 2011) active Catholic “Coach K” has led Duke to four NCAA Championships and the USA to an Olympic Gold Medal.
Immaculata College’s 1972 Team was the first of three women’s basketball teams Cathy Rush led to consecutive national titles. “There was a lot of Divine Providence from the beginning,” team leader Theresa Shank Grentz said. “The sisters formed us.”
Tara Lipinski (1982- ), figure skater, the youngest individual gold medalist in Winter Olympics history, credited St. Therese of Lisieux with an assist in her win. Two books feature her: Champions of Faith and Yes! I Am Catholic.
The Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College, Kansas, is promoting Catholic identity in public life at a time when Pope Benedict XVI is raising the alarm that the Church needs to raise its voice in the public square. We are named for Pope St. Gregory the Great, the leading intellectual in Benedictine history, who laid the groundwork of Western Civilization as we know it by combining practical leadership and intellectual depth.
Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is proud to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by the Cardinal Newman Society, U.S. News & World Report and First Things magazine. Benedictine College prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging.