Our Lady used a baseball player to fuel his vocation

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, July 27, 2014

Scalabrinian Father Nicholas Marro, pastor of Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata Parish, 3022 S. Wells St., is pictured in the church. (Brian J. Morowczynski / Catholic New World)

He is: Scalabrini Father Nicholas “Nick” Marro. Former pastor of St. Charles Borromeo, Melrose Park. Pastor of Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata Parish since 1990. Unofficial Catholic chaplain to the Chicago Bears from 1984-2011. Celebrated his golden jubilee in 2013.

Early years: “I grew up near Providence, R.I. My dad worked in a textile mill and was the sexton of the church. He was a daily communicant. My mom volunteered with the church and school. She passed away five years ago at 98. My brother is a Notre Dame alum and an architect in Chicago. My sister’s been a church organist back in Rhode Island, for 32 years. I’m the oldest. All my grandparents came here from Italy.

“I liked baseball and football as a kid. I was very good at football, my size and all that. Baseball --- I wanted to play short stop but I wasn’t that fast. They needed catchers so I volunteered to play catcher. I went to public school because there was no Catholic school. Our parish was Irish, French and Italian. I thought the whole world was Catholic. I went to the nuns for CCD; went on to Catholic high school, and to the Scalabrini seminary. Was ordained a priest in New York in 1963 and came to St. Callistus here in Chicago.

Road to priesthood: “I first studied to be a diocesan priest, thinking I’d stay in the Diocese of Rhode Island. One of the best baseball players I ever met was Father John Francis Farley. I told my dad I wanted to be a ball player like him. My dad told me he was a priest. Father Farley was part of the CYO, and invited four or five of us boys and our parents to an open house at the seminary high school, and five of us enrolled.  

“I washed up later in the major seminary in Baltimore. I chose to try out for the Baltimore-Colts as a linebacker rather than study for a couple of tests coming up. I flunked one. It was the dark night of my soul to take that train back from Baltimore to Providence and tell my mother I flunked out.

“I still wanted to be a priest, so I went to a Scalabrini priest in my parish.  When he asked his superior they found out I’d flunked the diocesan seminary. The superior wasn’t keen about taking me, even though I came from a good family. But, they gave me a chance. I was ordained in 1963. The Blessed Mother was looking out for me. I'm forever grateful.”

Da Bears: “The whole thing happened about eight months after I came to Melrose Park from working in Toronto and Vancouver. Somebody called and asked if I’d like to be chaplain for the Bears. I thought it was a joke, so I said, ‘You want me to quarterback too?’ (Actually they’d asked another priest who couldn’t do it and he gave them my name.) So I went and said Mass for them. It was 1983. That’s when I met Mike Ditka, and the McCaskey Family. I came on board in 1984 and the following year we had the ’85 Bears. We went to two Super Bowls.

Game plan: “I used to go down to the Chicago Sheraton Hotel every Sunday at 6 a.m. I’d say Mass for the team at 7 a.m. Then I’d come back to Melrose Park and say the 9 and 11 a.m. Masses. Then I’d go back to Soldier Field. When I came to this parish in 1990 until this year, I was alone. I’d still go down and say the Bears Mass at 7, have breakfast and come back here, do our Masses and then baptisms. It was a good run. For health reasons I resigned in 2011.”

Prayer Life: “We have a school here. The kids come in every day at 8 a.m. for the Rosary and they’re here for Mass at 8:15. St. Lucy’s doesn’t have a big enrollment but it is what it is. We pray for vocations and I tell the kids, ‘Don’t underestimate what God can do.’ I have Scalabrini Father Hily Gonzalez from the Philippines, here now. Every day we do morning prayers together, and take turns saying Mass. I do a yearly retreat with the Jesuits at Bellarmine. The daily rosary and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament are the two pillars of my priesthood, together with the parishioners."

Team spirit: “The teams have helped my parish in many ways. Years ago we’d have our events at White Sox Park, thanks to Mr. Jerry Reinsdorf. They’d come and talk and we’d charge $25 a ticket and average almost a thousand people. We’d get 8-10 Bears to come and they’d sign autographs and we’d auction off footballs and jerseys – that’s how we kept the school going. Or we’d have a men’s evening of reflection at the parish with team members. So my parish life and Bears life were interwoven. I did some of their weddings, like Matt Suhey’s and Maury Buford’s; baptized some of the children.  I keep in touch with that whole ‘85 team. They’re really good guys. And they don’t come any better than the McCaskey Family.”

Huddle: “Mike Ditka read at Mass a couple of times, so did Tom Thayer. I learned to make my homilies short. Players are restless. Mass was at 7 a.m. and at 7:29 I’d say ‘Go in peace.’ In a homily I might say, ‘God knows what’s best. So if you feel you’re the best, it means he’ll make the best come out on top.’ It sure happened in 1985. By 1990 I told the team, ‘Maybe it’s time for a rabbi.’”

Leisure: “I’m a big sports fan and follow sports. If not priesthood, I probably would have been a high school football coach. I used to enjoy playing golf. I have a big loveable St. Bernard named ‘JR’ that I got from a shelter. He makes my day. What I’ve read lately is Thomas Merton’s ‘Seeds of Contemplation.’ He’s my favorite author right now.”

Favorite saint and Bible verse: “St. Nicholas, my namesake. On his feast I display all his statues I’ve gotten through the years and give our school kids the day off.  Favorite Scripture verse: ‘I will be with you always.’” Mt 28:20


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