Mount St. Mary’s University is the only institution recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity which also boasts an NCAA Division I athletic program. One in every five undergraduates at the Mount is a student-athlete on one of the 16 teams, which compete in the Northeast Conference. The Mount’s “Faith and Athletics” program works to “integrate faith with athletic endeavors, to give athletics a higher meaning, and to allow student-athletes to strive for victories beyond the field, court, or track.”
The Cardinal Newman Society thanks Monsignor Stuart Swetland, Vice President for Catholic Identity, and Jay Phillips, faith and athletics coordinator, for taking the time to answer our questions about the development of the whole student-athlete at the Mount.
Part I: Interview with Msgr. Swetland
Monsignor Swetland shared the following quote for the context of his answers:
“Sport, properly directed, develops character, makes a man courageous, a generous loser, and a gracious victor; it refines the senses,gives intellectual penetration, and steels the will to endurance. It is not merely a physical development then. Sport, rightly understood, is an occupation of the whole man, and while perfecting the body as an instrument of the mind, it also makes the mind itself a more refined instrument for the search and communication of truth and helps man to achieve that end to which all others must be subservient, the service and praise of his Creator." – Pope Pius XII, Sport at the Service of the Spirit, July 29, 1945
1. What role do you think sports should play on a Catholic college campus?
a. Sports contribute to the formational experience of Catholic higher education.
b. It should build character and train us in virtue.
c. St. Paul uses sports as a metaphor for the spiritual life (boxing, wrestling, running, etc.). Thus sports can teach us a great deal.
d. Sports help us to build leaders, teaches teamwork,self-sacrifice, etc.
e. Most important, sports are a good in of themselves.
f. We are all called to be good stewards of our life and health. Sports contribute to healthy living.
2. What can Catholic colleges do to aid in the formation of the whole student-athlete: mind, body and spirit?
College athletes need educators who focus on their success on and off the playing field. Tutors and mentors should aid them in their studies. Chaplains and peer leaders should help them grow in their spiritual lives. Coaches and teammates should hold them accountable to aid them in growing in virtue on and off the field.
3. As an athlete yourself (Msgr. captained the Oxford University basketball team to two British University sport Federation national titles), how have you been able to connect sports with the other aspects of your life?
During my playing days, sports helped me to discipline myself so that I met my obligations in the classroom and on the court. It also opened up new possibilities that I did not know existed—travel and meeting other cultures, in particular. Success in sports helped me to develop confidence as a leader and as a friend.
4. How can sports teams contribute to the campus community and avoid creating a divide among students?
Athletes should be model students, citizens, and Christians on our Catholic campuses. They should help build “espirit de corp” for the campus community. They should encourage other students to participate in extra-curricular activities and to become “model fans” who treat sports and opposing players with dignity and respect.
5. Athletes who aren't necessarily looking for a faithful Catholic education may bring an increase of sexual promiscuity and higher rates of unlawful drinking to campus. How has your institution addressed this challenge? If it has not been problematic so far, how would your institution address it if it occurred?
I think that the Mount has been addressing these issues by disciplining wayward athletes (even dismissing some). By adding chaplains and FOCUS inner varsity we are having some success. The Mount administration recently demanded of coaching staffs more attention to these issues as a part of their evaluation.
6. How can a Catholic university find the right balance in recruiting the best athletes without compromising excellence in academics and student life?
The role of athletics at a Catholic College or University is to help form saints, not win championships. That being said, the two are not mutually exclusive. Coaches and administrators should recruit the best student-athletes that fill the mission and identity of the University. They should never compromise the mission to athletic success. This being said, we are in the formation business so we do not expect perfection. Reformation and renewal are a part of our mission. As Augustine said, “The Church is a hospital for sinners, not a sanctuary for saints.” If our athletes are working diligently, growing in virtue, and sacrificing for the team, they will also win a lot of games or matches.
7. Are certain guidelines related to Catholic identity followed in hiring coaching staff?
“Mission-fit” is the number one priority for any hire. This is even more important in high profile positions like head coaches.
Part II: Interview with Jay Phillips, faith and athletics coordinator
1. What is your sports chaplaincy program at the Mount?
Sport Chaplaincy is the pinnacle of our Faith &Athletics program. It’s something that makes the Mount, and our Athletic Department, distinctive and excellent. Sport Chaplains, men from Mount St. Mary's seminary, are integrated into the structure and rhythm of every team. Our department believes that our student-athletes are made for excellence, and the chaplain’s goal on each team is to help our young men and women reach the greatness to which God is calling them. This can look different depending on the individual chaplain and the team, as each chaplain brings a unique set of gifts and our teams vary in gender, size, culture, and competitive seasons. Chaplains serve as spiritual mentors, routinely praying with the team and offering support in times of crisis. They facilitate “chaplain corner” discussions on various topics throughout the year, plan team Masses, and lead student-athlete retreats. Quickly becoming the team’s “super fans,” they come to competitions and often bring their own seminarian cheering section. Coordinating fellowship opportunities is another fun aspect of their role on the teams; some recent examples would be planning team dinners and hiking trips.
2. Can you briefly discuss the student-athlete Bible studies?
The student-athlete Bible studies have become a steady heartbeat to the Faith & Athletics program. They began years ago in direct response to the needs and requests of our student-athletes. At this point, any given week there are multiple men and women student-athlete Bible studies on campus. Some are team Bible studies and some are a great mix of several different teams. The goal of our student-athlete studies is to actually integrate faith and athletics into the content of the studies. We want to provide something that our student-athletes can’t get anywhere else, and that moves us beyond running Bible studies that simply happen to be comprised of student-athletes. If our young men and women believe it’s a part of their calling from God to be a student-athlete at the Mount, it’s imperative that we use the Bible studies to show how their athletic endeavors can help their faith and how their faith can help them find the success God wants them to have int heir sport.
3. What is Varsity Catholic outreach on campus?
Varsity Catholic has been on campus for three years, and it is one of the most important reasons why our Faith & Athletics program has exploded. We have a female Varsity Catholic missionary and are hoping to add a male as soon as possible. The Faith & Athletics program has been able to make great strides with our women's teams in large part due to our awesome Varsity Catholic missionary. She is a full time volunteer devoted entirely to our student-athletes. Trained and motivated by a strong love of Christ, she works in conjunction with our Sports Chaplains. Together, they are able to do God’s work in ways that they couldn’t do alone. She plans, coordinates, and implements the women’s weekly Bible studies. She also disciples a number of student-athletes, training them to lead student-athlete Bibles studies, and helping them to become leaders in living out their faith, particularly in their sport. In just the handful of years since Varsity Catholic came to campus, a number of women have graduated the Mount and become Varsity Catholic missionaries at other universities.
4. You were a stand-out sprinter for the Mount – can you discuss the changes, if any, concerning the relationship between sports and faith at the Mount campus over the years?
Faith and athletics (and academics!) were all an integrated whole for me throughout my college years. I studied hard in order to learn how to love better, I poured myself into my sport because I was convinced it was how I was being asked to become a better human being. When that sunk in, that my Lord was asking me to use my studies and my sport to become the person he wanted me to be, I became brutally serious about both endeavors. Striving for athletic excellence became a priority, and for the right reasons. I could do that at the Mount, and so could anyone else, but an explicit program to encourage student-athletes to explore that idea wasn’t really present.
Sports Chaplaincy was still in its very early stages; it was a completely unofficial program having only one or two actual team chaplains. We didn’t have student-athlete Bible studies, no Varsity Catholic missionaries, and so an integration of faith and athletics was pretty much up to the individual person.
Now Campus Ministry and the Athletic Department work closely on numerous occasions throughout the year, we have a full Sports Chaplaincy program and Varsity Catholic presence on campus. There is a palpable excitement throughout campus for bringing the world of faith and the world of athletics together.We are beginning to live out that integration; it’s what the world of sport needs, it’s what our student-athletes at the Mount hunger for, and it’s beautiful.
5. Feel free to add anything else.
The enormous potential of Varsity Catholic and our Sports Chaplaincy program working in complete collaboration is what I see as the most exciting thing for our student-athletes moving forward. Together, they have the potential to do work far beyond what could be accomplished by either working alone. The foundation for success is the fact that we have a tremendous Athletic Department that is wholeheartedly supportive of our Faith & Athletics program and all of its dimensions. From top to bottom we understand the value of this type of integration, and the freedom it brings to strive for excellence. Student-athletes at the Mount have an opportunity here that they might not have anywhere else.
The Mount is recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity.
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