In a recent interview with CNA, Fr. Peter Gallagher, chaplain for the Indianapolis Colts, discussed his experience working with the team and explained that many of the members recognize their talent as “a gift from God” and play with gratitude for it.
“It's been my experience with the Colts that a lot of these fellows have a very strong spiritual life and a good, solid prayer life,” Fr. Gallagher explained on Wednesday. “They've come to realize that while they're professional athletes,” their accomplishments “really are a gift from God and in a sense, they are playing in gratitude for that gift.”
Fr. Gallagher spoke about his interaction with the players and said that “in a sense I sort of become their surrogate pastor during the season because during the season its hard for them to get to their parish and connect with their parish.”
In addition to offering Mass before games, Fr. Gallagher leads pre-game and post-game prayers along with providing “spiritual assistance for our Catholic players,” which can include marriage preparation, weddings and baptisms. Fr. Gallagher also told CNA that “there are 10 players that are regular Mass participants” and “the same number of support staff that, depending on their schedules, are at Mass.”
Fr. Gallagher also explained that Mass has been “part of a legacy that's been a part of the Colts since they got to Indianapolis back in '85” when Fr. Patrick Kelly, who has since passed away, was chaplain of the team. Fr. Kelly introduced Fr. Gallagher to the Colts in 1996.
Recalling some of his favorite memories as chaplain, Fr. Gallagher spoke of the time when the Colts won the AFC championships in 2006 against the New England Patriots and realized that they were going to the Super Bowl. After the game, one player, Rocky Boiman, came “barreling down the field” toward Fr. Gallagher, knocked him over and shouted in pure elation “we're going to the Super Bowl Father! We're going to the Super Bowl!”
After winning the Super Bowl in February 2007, Fr. Gallagher remembers the team gathering in the locker room and ending the day they way the started it – with prayer. Though the chaplain normally led the prayers, Tony Dungy who was coach at the time, offered to conclude it “because of his deep faith,” said Fr. Gallagher.
“That was a really good memory of my time with the team,” he added.
Fr. Gallagher also recalled how in Dec. 1996, Fr. Kelly was ill, so he took his place at a game in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “I just remember thinking to myself, being a lifelong football fan,” said Fr. Gallagher, “I dreamed that one day I might watch a game in Lambeau fields and standing on the sidelines in my collar watching this game thinking, 'wow,' and having no idea where it was going to lead me.”
Fr. Gallagher has been the full time Catholic chaplain for the Colts since 2003.
On Sunday, Feb. 7, the Indianapolis Colts and and the New Orleans Saint will face off in the 44th Super Bowl at 6:25 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS.