Track and field

Catholic School Athletics Must Be Truthful

Gender ideology has created huge inequities in the world of sports, with men competing on women’s teams and sometimes taking top honors away from outstanding female athletes.

Add to this many other controversies in sports, including players refusing to respect the national anthem, cheating and betting scandals, sexual abuse and harassment, and more.

Catholics are forced to ask some important questions: Is there a Catholic approach to athletics, especially in Catholic schools and colleges? Should we simply embrace the norms of secular schools and athletic associations in order to have opportunities to compete against them?

The Church has not shied away from these questions, but rather has been outspoken about the role of sports. Pope St. John Paul II especially focused on athletics in many homilies, messages and speeches.

“Sport… is an activity that involves more than the movement of the body; it demands the use of intelligence and the disciplining of the will,” he told athletes in 1987.

“It reveals, in other words, the wonderful structure of the human person created by God as spiritual being, a unity of body and spirit,” he said.

What a wonderful message! But sadly today, “body” and “spirit” are being divided in sport because of gender ideology.

Some girls have had enough of it, and Alliance Defending Freedom is representing them in a lawsuit against a Connecticut athletic conference that allows biological boys to defeat biological girls in high school track competitions. Catholic schools and colleges, too, should stand their ground and uphold truth.

“Given the incompatibility of gender ideology and a Catholic worldview, Catholic educational institutions cannot simply look the other way or surrender their vision of man and reality. Too much is at stake,” writes Dr. Dan Guernsey, senior fellow of The Cardinal Newman Society, in a draft set of standards for Catholic school and college athletics.

The standards are being circulated among experts in Catholic education, sports and theology to find common ground and help educators avoid the errors of their secular counterparts.

Athletics can be important to student development, explains Guernsey. “It can affect their understanding of themselves and their relationship with God in profound ways.”

According to the Vatican, the mission of Catholic education is about the “integral formation of the human person.” Athletics can support this mission by helping students “develop virtue and harmonize mind, body and will,” Guernsey writes.

But respecting the sex of athletes, he argues, is necessary to ensure player safety, fair play and social justice. It’s crucial for Catholic schools and colleges to develop clear position statements and policies to ensure that “athletics is not coopted to work against the mission of Catholic education.”

Ultimately, sports at Catholic schools and colleges should bear witness to the Truth. And in a culture that’s increasingly relativistic, Catholic athletics must go against the tide.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

University of Mary hockey team

University of Mary: Scholar-Athletes Formed ‘For the Whole of Life’

This year, the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., which is recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity, unveiled a “Greatness through Virtue” strategic plan for the University’s athletic programs. Through the plan, the University aims to “develop each athlete into becoming who God created them.”

The Newman Society recently asked Jerome Richter, executive vice president at the University of Mary, to discuss “Greatness through Virtue” and what makes it attractive for prospective Catholic students and families.

Newman Society: What does “Greatness through Virtue” mean, and how does it make the University of Mary stand out from other college options?

Jerome Richter: The University of Mary believes that scholar-athletes possess an inherent desire — a burning passion to achieve greatness. They are willing to take on rigorous and disciplined training schedules coupled with full-time academic work in order to pursue excellence in their sports.

“Greatness through Virtue” is the University of Mary’s plan to take advantage of this opportunity to develop each athlete into becoming who God created them to be, through the practice of virtue and the formation of authentic friendships. It means the University is taking strategic and practical steps to infuse its athletic programs with the virtues of magnanimity, humility, prudence, courage, justice and temperance to teach its athletes to pursue greatness in every arena of their lives — athletic, spiritual, personal, and scholastic.

This by no means lessens the commitment to striving to win on the field or court, rather it provides an important distinction between the University of Mary and other intercollegiate athletic programs. While many school athletic programs are aimed at solely at winning records, at the University of Mary, students, including our scholar-athletes, are formed by an education “for the whole of life.”

University of Mary basketball team
Members of the men’s basketball team at the University of Mary cheer on their teammates.

Newman Society: What is involved in the “Greatness through Virtue” plan?

Jerome Richter: The Greatness through Virtue plan is intentionally integrated into athletics in every facet from coaching and recruiting to developing leadership, personal development, academics, safety, health and well-being, and community integration. The university will be tracking this plan through a follow-up evaluation process and will reach out to share this vision of “greatness through virtue” by hosting institutes with other schools.

The University has placed Father Craig Vasek, a multi-sport athlete in high school and a graduate of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, among its athletes as the full-time chaplain for the University of Mary athletic department, guiding our athletes as they develop lifelong lessons of friendship, teamwork and values.

For Catholic families who want the assurance that their student will have access to genuinely faith-based higher education, one that brings virtue into every aspect of their university experience, including athletics, the University of Mary’s foundational faithfulness, academic excellence and genuine affordability makes it the best choice.

Newman Society: How do you expect “Greatness through Virtue” to impact areas of your campus beyond athletics?

Jerome Richter: Greatness through Virtue is not a thing apart from the life of the campus; as our scholar-athletes strive for greatness, they will undoubtably influence their friends and those around them. As “iron sharpens iron,” so too will these students further shape the culture of the campus into one where all members of the student body are fully integrated into the mission of the University of Mary.

The “Greatness through Virtue Athletic Strategic Plan” also includes core strategies for facilities and assessment to ensure its campus meets the needs for every team to excel and for every member in the athletic department to be properly assessed. Through this strategic plan, which is just a part of the University of Mary’s overall Vision 2030 Strategic Plan, there will not be any areas of campus not impacted by the university’s commitment to excellence.

Our hashtag #lifeatmary spreads the word through social media that if you want more out of an education – that dimension of eternal meaning – the University of Mary is the right fit for you.

Newman Society: How are faith-based values incorporated into some of the University of Mary’s most popular academic programs, including nursing?

Jerome Richter: The University of Mary is a campus with a rich sacramental life that includes daily Mass, adoration and prayer. Our programs in bioethics, Catholic philanthropy, Catholic Studies and programs for Catholic educators are cutting edge and faithful to the teachings of the Church. The university’s Christian, Catholic, and Benedictine values are infused throughout the curriculum, and a strong emphasis on “servant leadership” is placed in all programs.

University of Mary nursing
Nursing students in the St. Gianna School of Health Sciences.

Recently, Saint Gianna Beretta Molla’s family gave the university permission to name our School of Health Sciences after her to signal our commitment to providing exceptional health sciences education and our profound respect for the dignity of every human person. Under this newly named school, our stellar nursing program has been ranked #1 in the nation for its quality of instruction and caliber of graduates.

Our programs in business feature lessons and classes on Alexandre Havard’s Virtuous Leadership, which is meant to bring traditional views on excellence into the workplace.

Each faculty member is “hired for mission” and pledges to support the vision of educating leaders of moral courage in the pursuit of Truth.