Boston College Quarterback Soars Like an Eagle
University of Kentucky Transfer Patrick Towles Plays Football, Studies Theology
Most young men do not seriously consider either a career in the NFL or a vocation to the priesthood. However, Patrick Towles is doing both.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound quarterback led the Highlands High School Bluebirds to three consecutive state championships (2010-2012) in Kentucky. He was the starter for the University of Kentucky Wildcats the past two seasons, helping his team gain consecutive 5-7 records in a very tough Southeastern Conference.
This season, Towles, who transferred to Boston College, will lead the Eagles’ attempt to improve upon their 3-9 record in 2015. The grandson of Major League Baseball Hall of Famer and former U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, is looking forward to the challenge. His 1-1 Eagles are set to take on the Virginia Tech Hokies on Sept. 17.
Towles spoke of his move to Boston, his family’s sporting legacy and his recently reinvigorated spiritual life with Register correspondent Trent Beattie.
Why did you transfer from the University of Kentucky to Boston College?
I graduated from the University of Kentucky in December of 2015 with a degree in political science, so things were completed, from an academic standpoint — at least for undergraduate studies. I do want to start graduate-level theology, but Kentucky isn’t the place for that.
On the athletic side, I want to play in the NFL, and since Boston College has a pro-style offense, it just seemed like a great fit. BC has had a lot of players get drafted over the years, and I’d like to be among those in the next class.
What do you think of your Boston College experience so far?
My experience at BC so far has been nothing short of incredible. From the city to the school to my team, everyone has done everything they possibly can to make me feel home. I'm extremely grateful for that, and it makes me look forward with high hopes to the [rest of the] season.
You had stated that the coolest thing about school (at Kentucky) was that you got to attend with your sister. How did you get that family-friendly mindset?
Our parents raised us to live out the saying that “Friends come and go, but family is forever.” We are a super-close family, so I was excited to go to school with my sister, who is two years older than I am. In the time we were both there, we ate lunch together a few times a week. I got to learn about what she was doing to become an elementary-school teacher, and she helped me to transition from high school to college.
What my older sister (and older brother) did to prepare me is what I like to do to prepare my younger brother. We just help each other out and encourage each other to do things well academically, athletically and in life overall. Having this support and sense of purpose can take you really far.
Your grandfather is Major League Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher and former U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning. People talk of you “having your grandfather’s arm,” but do you think your athletic ability is more mental than genetic?
I think there’s surely a genetic component to it, but you can’t just put everything on automatic pilot and think you’ll do well because of who your grandfather is. No matter what talents you’re given by God, it’s up to you to work with them and get as much out of them as you can. That’s the part that is more mental. You need the desire to do well and the perseverance to bring things to completion.
You’ve been gaining a more complete understanding of the Catholic faith in the past year and a half. How did that come about?
I went on a SEEK retreat, sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (Focus), in Nashville. That started to open my eyes to the immense greatness the Catholic Church has to offer all of us. From there, I met David West, a former Auburn football player who became a Focus missionary and was stationed at the University of Kentucky.
Interacting with David was so advantageous for me. It goes without saying that the Catholic aspect was most important, but it did help that he had played college football, too. That made talking with him so much easier, because he knows the collegiate athlete’s experience.
With David’s help, I led a Bible study for the football players at Kentucky. About seven or eight guys would regularly attend it, and I’d prepare beforehand by going to Eucharistic adoration. In order to know the written word, we need to know the Word who became a man — the same One who dwells with us today in all of our tabernacles.
Rediscovering the Eucharist is central to your recent faith journey, isn’t it?
It is. There are so many amazing things about being Catholic, but the Eucharist is the most amazing. We take for granted that God wants to be with us, and we can see that desire of his in many ways — in the other sacraments, the Bible, our family and friends, religious art and music, but the Eucharist manifests, in an unmatched manner, the extraordinary love God has for us.
Knowing that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist is essential to appreciating the Catholic faith. It’s just not possible for someone to know about Jesus’ Real Presence and then leave the Church. How could anyone intentionally depart from the one Person who is their salvation? No amount of fellowship or biblical study can replace the very Person who is the center of all good.
Even those of us who stay in the Church don’t truly understand how remarkable Eucharistic adoration is. If we did, our churches would be filled all day and all night. Adoration is an intimate experience with the Creator of the universe and the Redeemer of mankind — not just theoretically or by signs or symbols, but really and truly. The same Lord who walked in the Holy Land and preached the Good News 2,000 years ago is still here in the Eucharist.
Do you have a patron saint?
My confirmation saint from eighth grade was St. Sebastian, whose patronage is really fitting for a football player. I also like St. Patrick and St. Maximilian Kolbe. All three of these men showed great courage while pursuing Christian virtue, which I have a great respect for.
St. Maximilian’s story is the one that happened nearest to our time, in the first half of the 20th century. He endured harassment and brutality at the hands of the Nazis, and he even volunteered to take the place of a man (a husband and father) who had been selected among concentration-camp prisoners to be killed.
Talk about real manhood. Today we have so many distorted notions of what it means to be a man, but the Church gives us the real picture in the saints and, of course, in Christ himself. He’s the eternal High Priest who outshines any false forms of manhood — forms whose proper place is to be let go of in the confessional.
A Catholic priest hearing confessions and forgiving sins in persona Christi is, aside from the Eucharist, the most amazing thing about the Church. As a great priest told me, the important part is not that we have sinned, but that we are seeking forgiveness. Some people are deterred from going to confession because they’re ashamed and know they should have done better, but that’s exactly why we should go. We reveal our weakness, get forgiven and are strengthened to do better the next time.
One of the surest ways to do better is to pray better. Father Jacques Philippe has written about how important a prayer life is in his book Time for God. An active life of payer is only possible with humility, because with that, we realize how much we need God. Then we converse with him as children would to their benevolent Father, who gives them whatever they need to do his will.
While it’s not common, former college quarterbacks such as Joe Fitzgerald, Thomas Haan and Joe Freedy have become priests. Have you considered becoming a priest?
I don’t know for sure what the future holds for me, but a career in the NFL and/or a vocation to the priesthood might be part of it. Every Catholic young man should consider priesthood, and I think my grandmother has been praying every day of my life that I would become a priest. You could say that my future is in the past, in the sense that, whatever happens, it will be due to my grandfather’s arm or my grandmother’s hands (folded in prayer).
Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book, Fit for Heaven (Beacon, 2015), contains numerous Catholic sports
interviews, most of which have appeared in the Register.
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