Super Bowl 2024: Meet Father Steve Kim, San Francisco 49ers’ Catholic Chaplain
A lifelong 49ers fan, Father Kim enjoys his role as chaplain, reminding players: ‘Bring Jesus to the people.’
For the past eight years, Father Steve Kim has had a unique role among his fellow priests in the Diocese of San Jose, California, serving as Catholic chaplain for the San Francisco 49ers, who will take on the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday at Super Bowl LVIII.
In his role, Father Kim says Mass for the team the night before home games, hears confessions, offers counseling and is an avid fan while they play.
Born in South Korea, his family immigrated to the San Francisco Bay area when he was 6 years old. His father was a businessman; he was an only child. His was a devout Catholic home. He grew up in San Jose and attended Palo Alto High School. He went on to Santa Clara University and entered seminary at age 17.
“Being in an Asian family in the Bay area, your parents want you to become a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer. And I wanted to be a professional golfer. But, in the end, I decided to give God the first chance,” he told the Register.
Father Kim’s friend and fellow priest in the diocese, Father Joseph Kim (no relation), recalled attending Holy Korean Martyrs Church in San Jose as well as seminary with Father Steve Kim and admired his competitive spirit, telling the Register, “Father Steve likes to win. He’s very competitive in golf and could have gone pro had he not gone to seminary. It’s good to have someone of his intelligence and high standard of excellence be part of our diocese.”
Father Steve Kim was ordained a priest at age 25 in 2011. He has been assigned to a variety of parishes since and today is principal of St. Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda, which is near Oakland.
A lifelong 49ers fan, Father Kim enjoys his role of chaplain. His duties begin with saying Mass for interested members of the team and staff; there is also an option to attend a nondenominational Protestant service. Some associated with the 49ers are strong Catholics, Father Kim noted, including General Manager John Lynch.
Father Kim also said that he has also had the chance to meet players on the opposing team for this year’s big game, the Kansas City Chiefs, during a Mass he said before a game between the (then) Oakland Raiders and Chiefs, highlighting that many associated with the Chiefs are also strong Catholics, most notably Chiefs’ kicker Harrison Butker. Father Kim recalled, “He’s very devout, and like many young people, is especially drawn to the Latin Mass.”
When preaching to the players, Father Kim likes to remind the team that the Gospel offers a message of hope as well as one of responsibility.
As Christians, we all have a role in evangelization, he stresses, which includes not only our words but our behavior: “Millions of people watch televised football games. People look up to the players and coaches. It doesn’t help if people observe you cussing or doing something stupid. It is a real opportunity to bring Jesus to the people, and you should take advantage of it.”
Miguel Reveles is the 49ers’ offensive assistant coach. He told the Register of Father Kim, “He’s amazing with the players and coaches and the relationships he’s built.”
Reveles said he came to the team two years ago, and after meeting Father Kim, began attending the San Jose parish to which he’d previously been assigned. Reveles added, “Father Kim has a wonderful way of articulating and communicating with people.”
Father Kim said he urges his listeners to place their full trust in Jesus, “because at the end of the day, he is the only Person who will never fail you.”
The days leading up to Super Bowl LVIII have been “nerve-wracking” as well as exciting, Reveles admitted, and the support and encouragement Father Kim has provided have been crucial, he said, adding, “I am fortunate to be a part of it in only my second year with the team. Getting to the Super Bowl has been a lot of hard work and has only been possible through the contributions of many people, including Father Kim.”
Steve Risser, the 49er’s vice president of team operations, told the Register that Father Kim is “a true joy with whom to work. He’s down-to-earth and relatable; talking to him is like talking to a friend. Many on our staff have grown close to him.”
Father Tony Mancuso was pastor of St. John Vianney Church in East San Jose, where Father Kim was first assigned after ordination. “Father Steve is a marvelous young man, very self-motivated and dedicated to God,” Father Mancuso told the Register. “We did phenomenal work together at a parish during a time when it was struggling.”
When he arrived at the parish, Father Mancuso explained, the church building was unfinished, recalling that he organized a fundraising drive in which parishioners would sponsor him for a 53-mile walk from East San Jose to East San Francisco to raise money to complete the church. He recounted, “I asked Father Steve to take care of the parish for three days while I was gone and he said, ‘I’m going with you.’”
So the priestly pair made the trek and raised $453,000 to complete the church building.
Father Mancuso has since been assigned as chaplain of St. Francis High School in Mountain View.
He said to his former associate, “You have a great talent; you should teach a class.”
So Father Kim went on to earn a doctorate degree in education.
The 49ers players, staff and families are fortunate to have a priest of his caliber as chaplain, he continued, “as he’s a bright, talented, wonderful priest dedicated to God. It shows in the way he interacts with the people.”
Father Joseph Kim has also celebrated Mass for the 49ers, saying that it was helpful for players and staff to take a break from their “crazy” football schedule and gather together in prayer.
The hard work he observes in the team matches Father Steve Kim’s level of dedication: “He’s also a ball of energy and a hard worker. I’m glad for him, that he gets to see his team go to the Super Bowl.”
The 49ers’ chaplain is confident his team will win this year’s big game, telling the Register, “They won last time; it’s our turn to win!”