As the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts prepare to lock horns in the Super Bowl, CNA spoke with the Archdiocese of New Orleans about the Saints and discovered that the team has a significant Catholic history as well as a strong presence in the local Catholic community.
“In recent years, as Mr. Tom Benson has owned the team, the Saints organization has been very involved with the local Catholic Church and Catholic Charities,” Sarah Comiskey McDonald, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said on Friday. “Mr. Benson is a major donor to our PACE Center (Program for all-inclusive care for the elderly) and our first center was named the Shirley Landry Benson PACE Center at St. Cecilia in memory of his deceased wife.”
“His granddaughter, the team’s executive Vice President, chaired the 2009 Archbishop’s Community Appeal to raise funds locally for the work of Catholic Charities,” she added.
The communications director also commented on the involvement of the team members within the archdiocese.
“Throughout the years, players have been involved in different programs and school visits – recently, Drew Brees visited one of our elementary schools; Reggie Bush has donated several hundred thousand dollars to Holy Rosary Academy and High School, and Scott Fujita, who is adopted, has been an active spokesperson for our adoption services of Catholic Charities,” the archdiocesan spokeswoman said.
“Additionally, Coach Sean Payton, who is Catholic, sends his kids to one of our Catholic schools and appeared in a PSA for the archdiocese on racial harmony.”
The Catholic connections to the New Orleans Saints will be in evidence on the day of the big game as well. Archbishop Gregory Aymond, retired Archbishop Philip Hannan and two Dominican sisters from Cathedral Academy in New Orleans will be attending the Super Bowl this year as guests of the Bensons.
Even the name “Saints” has a Catholic genesis. According to the New Orleans archdiocesan paper, the Clarion Herald, in 1967, the owner of the team approached then-Archbishop Hannan and asked if using the word “Saints” for a football team was sacrilegious. Archbishop Hannan not only loved the idea but wrote an official prayer for the team within that year.
One line of the prayer reads “...Our Heavenly Father, who has instructed us that the 'saints by faith conquered kingdoms...and overcame lions,' grant our Saints an increase of faith and strength so that they will not only overcome the Lions but also the Bears, the Rams, the Giants, and even those awesome people in Green Bay... .”
However, the Colts also have Catholic boosters of their own, including Archbishop Daniel Buechlein of Indianapolis, who called New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond to make a bet about the gridiron match. If the Saints win, Archbishop Aymond will receive southern Indiana pork chops, but if the Colts win Archbishop Buechlein will have gumbo on his dinner table.
When asked if prelates often bet on sporting events, Archbishop Aymond told CNA that “As far as our friendly wager, we cannot say whether it is a norm, but it is all in good fun.”
“The Archbishop of Indianapolis called us to offer the wager, and I look forward to enjoying the pork chops!”