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Father Nick Marro, who is the pastor of Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata parish in Chicago has served as the Chicago Bears’ unofficial Catholic chaplain for more than 20 years.
BY Tom McFeely
Father Nick Marro
will say Super Bowl Sunday Mass for the Bears in Miami, then head to the stands
for the game.
be with his brother, cheering on the Chicago Bears against the team that he
tried out for 50 years earlier, the now-Indianapolis Colts (also see “God’s Colts,” page 2).
Marro, who is the pastor of Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata parish in
Chicago, has served as the “Da Bears’” unofficial Catholic chaplain for more
than 20 years. He spoke Jan. 25 with
Register Contributing Editor Tom McFeely about his gridiron experiences.
Did you play football while you were growing up?
Yeah, I played high school ball and
college ball. I grew up on the East Coast. I was born in Rhode Island and spent
time in Brooklyn, went to college down in Maryland and went to seminary there.
went for a walk-on tryout with the Baltimore Colts in 1957 — didn’t make it. I
always wanted to go into the priesthood, but I had that urge to try out.
Didn’t you have to leave the seminary in Maryland because of the tryout?
I flunked a test. In other words, I
went out there for the tryout and I didn’t study. So when I went back to take a
theology test, I was supposed to get a C or something and I didn’t get it. I
asked the rector, “Give me another shot.” But he didn’t and I left.
I was studying to be a diocesan
priest at the time for the Diocese of Providence. I came home and I knew I
still wanted to be a priest, so I joined the Scalabrini Fathers. They’re a
religious order, and they do parish work.
I went into the seminary a second
time in 1959. I did my novitiate and then I was ordained a priest in Staten
Island, N.Y., in 1963. My first assignment was here in Chicago.
How did you become involved with the Bears?
In 1984, I got a call from somebody
in the Chicago Bears office, asking if I would say Mass for the Bears. At
first, I thought it was a prank by another priest, so I said, “You want me to
play quarterback too?”
The fellow identified himself, so I
went down and said Mass. At that time, it was at the McCormick Inn. I was very
excited, and I met Mike Ditka and I met Walter Payton that morning. And then
Mike Ditka says, “See you next week.” I said, “Wow!”
I’ve said all the home Masses for
the Chicago Bears since 1984. Now they have their Masses said at the Chicago
Hilton. That’s where they stay in Chicago.
I go down on Sunday morning at 6:30,
I say Mass at around 7:15 at the Chicago Hilton Hotel. I have two services; one
service is for the Catholics and one service is interdenominational.
When I have the Mass, it runs about
half an hour. I get one or two of the players or one or two of the coaches to
do the readings, and I give a brief talk. Then they have their breakfast, but I
leave and come home to do the parish Masses that I have here at my parish
And they give me a bench pass that
allows me to go to the games and be on the field. In the early days, I went to
practically every game. But this year I haven’t gone to all that many games.
At the present moment, I just got
two tickets and I’m going down to Miami. I’m going to say Mass for them on
Saturday and Sunday and go to the Super Bowl game. I’m driving down to the game
with my brother.
What are some of the issues a Christian athlete
encounters, in terms of trying to live out his faith as a professional football
One of the biggest things, and I’m
also very surprised that people don’t think of it, is they have their regular
issues like anybody else. Somebody gets on your nerves sometimes, you’re maybe
not always pleased with this particular person.
I remember, without mentioning names
— I’m not talking about Mike Ditka — there was one of their coaches, they
didn’t care for him. But they respected him.
Another issue sometimes is that it’s
hard for the players to understand that they’ve got responsibilities when they
get out [of football], because they’ve had so much done for them since the time
they went into the NFL draft. They walked in, some of these rookies — good young
men but they’re still young men, 21 or 22. They don’t have the maturity of
somebody that’s been there 10 or 15 years.
So they have those issues, where
sometimes they’ve got to be reminded just like any mom or dad will remind their
own children: “Don’t go overboard, don’t do too many things, your main job is
Who are some of the players and coaches you’ve
encountered over the years who most stand out in your memory?
Mike Ditka, Dick Stanfel, he was a
defensive coach, and then a fine gentlemen who used to be with the Bears was
Gerry Vanisi, he was the general manager.
And the players — Maury Buford,
Kevin Butler, Mike Tomczak, Tom Thayer, Walter Payton, Jim McMahon.
Walter Payton would come around, and
he would talk and he would joke. He was very respected by everybody. He would
make the rounds of the breakfast tables. He rarely sat down. He would come to
your breakfast table, and then he’d go to someone else’s table. That’s how he
broke the tension. He was the silent leader of that era.
The McCaskey family [the owners of
the Bears] is a very, very fine family. I knew Ed McCaskey, who passed away,
extremely well. They are strong Catholics, very strong. Even today, when
Virginia McCaskey comes to the games, she comes to Mass.
You know, when you stop to think,
the Rooneys with Pittsburgh, the Maras with the Giants, most of those teams had
a strong Catholic background because the owners were Catholic.
Athletes are often criticized these days for being
selfish and for not living up to their responsibility to be good role models
for kids. Based on your experience with the Bears, do you think this is the
Can I use an example without
sounding rude? Not all priests are doing a bad job, but those are the ones that
make the paper. Not all newspaper writers are a pain in the neck, but those are
the ones that people talk about.
The same with the athletes. I can
only speak for myself, but I never had any bad experiences with any of them.
Everyone, rookie, older, they’ve all showed respect by saying “Good morning,”
“Hello,” things of that nature.
What they do is they help, they come
to functions where they signed autographs sometimes for two or three hours and
they dedicated their time. The only way they got paid, to my knowledge, when
they helped me or at other places with the churches, is they gave them a
When you are saying Mass for the Bears, what do you
pray for basically two things. I pray that they use the grace that God gives
them — whether I’m saying Mass here in my own parish, for the schoolchildren we
have at our school in the parish or I’m saying it for the Bears or whoever is
present at Mass — that we use the grace that God gives us, the help that God
gives us to do the best we can in following what Jesus asks of us.
And the second thing I pray for,
when it comes to the Bears in particular, is no one gets hurt. And then I close
by saying, “As we ask for God’s blessing, we ask that we can have good
Has serving as the chaplain of the Bears helped you in
developing your own faith?
Oh, definitely. What I mean by that
is, I see the other side that other people can’t.
Most people just see the young men,
when they go out with their helmets they look like they are so self-sufficient.
But when you see the person without
the helmet, without the shoulder pads, without the uniform … they just don’t
look like they’re invincible.
The average person that sees Brian
Urlacher right now thinks that this guy is made of steel. And he is a fine
young man. But, you know, you sit down and you talk to him, in fact any young
man at that age, he’s well-mannered but he’s not so self-assured as he looks
like out there as a linebacker.
Yes, it has helped me as a man, and
certainly as a priest. As I get older, I begin to look at things that I didn’t
look at. When I was first ordained as a priest, I thought I was the closest
thing to Jesus. Now after 44 years I realize how far away I am, how much
further I have to go.
I’ve been very fortunate and very
happy and very, very thankful that I’ve had the opportunity. Because being
involved with the Bears has also helped me as a parish priest to serve in my
Tom McFeely is based in
Victoria, British Columbia.