Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Art Rooney: Man of Faith

Art Rooney was a devout man. His faith was strong. It was an important part of his life at an early age. When his mother was ill during the fl u pandemic, he sat in church all day long praying for her. When she recovered, he kept praying and going to Mass regularly throughout his entire life. 

 Rooney was a saloon-keeper’s son. He saw the good and the raw side of life on the streets. Although he became a wealthy man, he was humble. He wanted to help people and did. He saw race differently than others. He extended his family rather than isolated it.   When raising his children, Art whistled to his children and whoever else was playing in the backyard in the evening to come inside and say the rosary. If any kid protested that he was not a Catholic, Art cupped a hand around the back of his head and barked “Come on. It won’t hurt you.” He expected his sons to show reverence.…Art kept a bowl of rosary beads on the dining room table. 

The Rooney house was a popular destination for young boys despite Art’s rigorous religious ways. According to his friend, Bishop Donald Weurl, “He was a friend of politicians, thugs, and thieves, of people good and evil…and the three qualities that he possessed that left the most lasting impression were his humanity, his courage, and his charity.”  Like the Sisters who taught him at St. Peter’s, Rooney thought it inappropriate to publicize ones charitable ways. Many stories came out after his death of what he had done for others quietly. 

Art’s brother, Dan who had been ordained Father Silas, also offered Art some opportunities for charity. Father Silas was a missionary in China who was known to rescue women from rape, and babies from extermination. He ran an orphanage that needed a new roof. Art obliged.   

Every day was a day of worship, prayer, and thanksgiving. He was taught to practice the Corporal Works of Mercy: to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, tend the sick, visit those in prison, and bury the dead. He attended wakes frequently and paid for burials of the poor and homeless. He wanted the expenses of his own funeral kept under $1,000. 

Rooney “kept the faith” in many ways. The ancient practice of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday was another tradition kept by Rooney and still continued in Pittsburgh. It originated in Rome where pilgrims visited the seven major basilicas: Saint John Lateran, Saint Peter, Saint Mary Major, Saint Paul-outside-the-Walls, Saint Lawrence-outside-the-Walls, Saint Sebastian-outside-the- Walls, and Holy Cross-in-Jerusalem. Those who knew Art and the man himself would insist that he was no saint. But he had strong religious convictions and put them to practice every day. He also passed those convictions down to the next generation.  

 Post is taken from Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout.

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press.  Patrick McCaskey is a senior director of the Chicago Bears, Chairman of Sports Faith International that recognizes athletes who lead exemplary lives, and  Chairman of Catholic Radio Station WSFI 88.5 FM. Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devout and the Devoted by Patrick McCaskey published by Sporting Chance Press and available on Amazon and selected stores and public libraries.