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A college’s Catholic identity has to touch every aspect of its life. Even athletics. Even in a pandemic.
That was the message of a National Catholic Register article that featured Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
“Catholic athletics departments have been focused on both the competitive and spiritual success of athletes for some time, but during the pandemic, the spiritual has taken center stage,” wrote Register correspondent Hannah Kubiak.
Charles Gartenmayer, Benedictine’s director of athletics, told the Register, “Our goal is for our students to get their degree, have a strong walk with Christ, get along with others, and become leaders.”
He said that this is what guided the college in its push to keep athletes on the field during the pandemic. students are trained not just in their sport, but as future parents, members of parish communities, clergy or representatives of religious orders.
Marc Halberg, a junior on the Raven men’s soccer team agreed. “It’s easy to get caught up in the world of college sports, but this is such a real-life thing that it helps us adapt to life in general,” he told the Register. “We can look back and take experience from this. We’ve changed it from a hardship into an opportunity to do something more, to change a negative into a positive.”
Emma Strecker, captain of Raven women’s soccer at Benedictine said the pandemic showed how sports has to give way sometimes to other priorities. “The hardest thing is the uncertainty that comes with this season,” Strecker told the Register. “At one point we thought we would all have to be quarantined for two weeks. Each day that we play could be our last day, because you never really know.”
Thomas Wurtz, the founder of Varsity Catholic, was a key participant in Benedictine College’s recent Transforming Culture in America meetings about how best to help the college fulfill its role in the larger world. Sports is a big part of that, he said.
“Why do we invest in sports as Catholic schools? My hope is that as a Church we can understand the depth of it more,” he told the Register. “Yes, it’s about character; yes, it’s about virtue. But it’s also about much more. To be an athlete, you have to die to yourself in certain ways. It’s hard to push ourselves, to give up things, to have self-control. We can connect that to our soul.”
Varsity Catholic, the athletic outreach program of Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), is very active at Benedictine College helping students balance faith, sports and evangelization.
“Our model is what Jesus did himself,” he told the Register. “Can we raise up, invest and mentor like he did? Inspire, motivate and launch students to become evangelists, as well? We don’t just receive but share Jesus with others.”
Image: Emma Strecker, captain of Raven women’s soccer plays at John Casey Soccer Center.