Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Great Sports Lives Live on in Books: Father Mac the Skid Row Priest


My father used to say that the only difference between a "big shot" and the rest of us is the size of the obituary. I think it's a common sentiment--people who are well known do not necessarily live exemplary lives that make much difference here after they are gone. But my father was also a big fan of anyone who did make a difference by their selfless actions and courage.

In our books at Sporting Chance Press, we often write about people who have made a difference in many ways--those who often struggled to overcome adversary or even self destructive tendencies, but succeeded to fight the good fight. In sports, there are many who walked the walk and it's inspiring to read about these people. We hope to give their stories a "sporting chance" to live on. Some we have covered are household names already: Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays (covered in The 10 Commandments of Baseball) and George Halas, Walter Payton, Brian Piccolo, Art Rooney,(covered in Sports and Faith). We've taken up the cause of sport's greatest underdog, Fred Merkle in Public Bonehead, Private Hero -- and there are great lessons to be learned from an innocent man's response to public cruelty.

As a publisher, covering the lives of quiet heroes gives me great satisfaction. One that Patrick McCaskey introduces in Sports and Faith is Monsignor Ignatius McDermott, who was Chicago's Skid Row Priest. McDermott was one of Chicago's greatest Sox fans for most of his 95 years. If he was still alive, it would be great to have his opinion on Paul Konerko's All-Star plight.

Ignatius McDermott was more a fan than an athlete and when he injured himself seriously in a pick-up football game while in the Seminary, he was almost expelled. The Catholic Church needed physically fit candidates for the rigorous duties of the priesthood. Young McDermott had his fans, including Cardinal Mundelein, and although he did not graduate with his class, he made it a year later and the rest is history.

Father Mac, as he was affectionately called, served as assistant director of the Chicago Archdiocese's Catholic Charities with an office that was a stone's throw from skid row. Enthusiasm and warmth was perpetually written on his face. McDermott made it his mission to step out of his office to serve the residents of skid row and he went among them frequently. Like Mother Teresa, McDermott would do all he could personally to help those unfortunate find warm lodging or a good meal--working with chemically dependent is a ministry that moves in inches, yet the once hot-tempered Irish Priest never seemed to tire of his work.

A friend of politicians and everyday folk, Father Mac saw people from all walks of life fall including some of his brother Priests and he did what he could for them. He understood more than most that life is frequently troubled and that many of us walk a fine line between success and failure.

At age 65, he retired from Catholic Charities and together with Dr. James West founded Haymarket Center, a facility for the addicted that provides a continuum of professional care. This turned out to be an enormous undertaking that led to second long career for the remarkable Priest who touched thousands and thousands of lives.

Father Mac died on December 31, 2004. His motto was a quote from St. Vincent De Paul: "When you no longer burn with love, others will die of the cold."

For a comprehensive look at Father Mac's life, Haymarket Center offers his biography. For stories on many great sports heroes, see Sporting Chance Press.