Chicagoland

Local priests who are longtime Cubs fans celebrate ‘this is the year’

By Joyce Duriga
November 14, 2016

Local priests who are longtime Cubs fans celebrate ‘this is the year’

Father Michael Novick, pastor of St. Lawrence O'Toole in Matteson, holds Cubs drumsticks in his office on Oct. 27. Cubs shirts, pennants and other memorabilia are on display in his office alongside photos of popes and statues of saints. The lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs is ready to celebrate with the rest of Chicago if the Cubs win the World Series and break the famous and dreaded curse. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Father Michael Novick, pastor of St. Lawrence O'Toole in Matteson, works on the computer in his office on Oct. 27. Cubs shirts, pennants and other memorabilia are on display alongside photos of popes and statues of saints. When he was younger, Novick dreamed of being a Major League Baseball player. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Father Michael Novick, Pastor of St. Lawrence O'Toole in Matteson holds up a jersey with his name on it in his office on Oct. 27. Parishioners gave him the shirt. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Father John W. Clemens, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Church in Rosemont, stands near one of his most cherished collectables - a jersey signed by Ernie Banks — in his office on Oct. 27. The lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs is ready to celebrate with the rest of Chicago if the Cubs win the World Series and break the famous and dreaded curse. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Father John W. Clemens’, pastor of Our Lady of Hope in Rosemont, devotion to the Cubs is on display in his office at the parish where a jersey signed by Ernie Banks hangs on the wall alongside a bat and ball sign by Banks. He also has a photo signed by Ryan Sandberg with a jersey signed by current Cub Anthony Rizzo hanging in plastic nearby. Most of his memorabilia was either won at charity auctions or given to him as gifts. Some of the other items in his collection include a Cubs-themed nutcracker and a stuffed Cubs bear. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
At All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, Ill, division championship pennants and the Cubs white flag with the blue W can be seen on various grave markers planted by family members whose relatives were Cubs fans snf never got to witness the Cubs in a World Series. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
At All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, Ill, division championship penants and the Cubs white flag with the blue W can be seen on various grave markers planted by family members whose relatives who were Cubs fans and didn’t get to witness their team in a World Series. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Loved ones with family and friends buried at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines include the deceased in rooting for a Cubs win of the World Series. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Both Fathers Michael Novick and John Clemens are lifelong fans of the Chicago Cubs and are ready to celebrate with the rest of Chicago if the Cubs win the World Series and break the famous and dreaded curse.

“I think they are the most fun team to watch. I think that they’re a bunch of kids who are not in love with themselves. They’re a team that plays as a team and they have a spirit that they aren’t going to quit no matter what,” said Clemens, pastor of Our Lady of Hope in Rosemont. “They’re a real joy to watch.”

Father Burke Masters, the Cubs’ Catholic chaplain, agreed.

“It’s just amazing how talented these young guys are, how much fun they have and how well they play together,” he said. “I can’t say enough about Joe Maddon and his leadership, his ability to motivate and know what each guy needs to be the best he can be. He was born and raised Catholic, went to Catholic school. You can see how the faith informs the way he relates with everybody, not just the players. He treats everybody with respect.”

The whole city is celebrating and it’s not just the living. At All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, the Cubs white flag with the blue W can be seen on various grave markers.  

As is often the tradition, Archbishop Cupich and Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon made a wager over whose team will win the series. If the Cubs win, Bishop Lennon will feed the over 100 guests of the Catholic Charities evening supper program. Italian Creations of Lakewood, Ohio, has partnered with Bishop Lennon in his promise to deliver a Cleveland-style feast including pierogi, kielbasa, sauerkraut and green beans.

If the Indians win, Archbishop Cupich has promised enough Chicago deep dish pizzas and baked goods to feed over 100 guests of the Bishop William M. Cosgrove Center in Cleveland. Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria will supply the pizza and Misericordia will supply baked goods for dessert from their Hearts & Flour Bakery.

The Cubs are the North Side team and the Sox are the South Side team. However, geography doesn’t always prove allegiance to a team. Novick, who is pastor of St. Laurence O’Toole in Matteson, grew up in Midlothian, a Southwest suburb of the city. While he went to White Sox games because they gave out tickets to schools for good grades or attendance, TV made him a Cubs fan.

“Of course the television was different because you had to find the White Sox on UHF versus Channel 9, which was always on,” he said. Channel 9 is WGN-TV. Until last year, WGN, a local Chicago station, broadcast all of the Cubs games.

Like many young men, Novick grew up wanting to play for the Cubs. “I had three passions in life – baseball, my faith and music, and not necessarily in that order. When it came to baseball, these guys [the Cubs] were much more where I wanted to be rather that at Comiskey [the Sox’ park].”

Clemens attended his first game at age 5.

“My mother used to go to most Ladies’ Day games and she just dragged me along,” said Clemens, who grew up on the city’s North Side.

Like many passionate sports fans there’s a simple reason for Clemens’ affection for the team.

“I always feel like once it’s in your blood you can’t get rid of it. It’s a disease that can’t be cured,” he said.

Rather than the traditional black priests’ clerics and white collar, Clemens’ frequent uniform is a Cubs jersey. He often even wears them to archdiocesan events.

His favorite team is from 1969, which had Ernie Banks, Billie Williams and Don Kessinger. “They were the heroes when I was a kid,” Clemens said. “Most of the time they’ve just been lovable losers. I just love going to the games. I love Wrigley Field. It’s a place where I really relax and just have a good time.”

Clemens’ devotion to the Cubs is on display in his office at the parish where a jersey signed by Ernie Banks hangs on the wall alongside a bat and ball sign by Banks. He also has a photo signed by Ryan Sandberg. A jersey signed by current Cub Anthony Rizzo hangs in plastic nearby. Most of his memorabilia was either won at charity auctions or given to him as gifts. Some of the other items in his collection include a Cubs-themed nutcracker and a stuffed Cubs bear.

But Clemens shows that faith takes priority over sports since over the ball and bat signed by Banks is a shelf with religious items.

It’s much the same in Novick’s office. Cubs shirts, pennants and other memorabilia are on display alongside photos of popes and statues of saints.

In a city with two Major League teams – one in the National League and one the American League – a common question people are asked is: “Are you a Cubs or a Sox fan?” Both Novick and Clemens agree that allegiance doesn’t count in the World Series. If a Chicago team makes it there they are all in for support.

Cardinal George was also a lifelong follower of the Cubs and grew up on the city’s North Side attending games like many children of his generation when tickets were much cheaper than today.

Clemens shared the backstory on a photo of Cardinal George attending at Cubs game at Wrigley Field in 1998 where he wore a baseball hat backwards on his head. After seeing the photo in the news, Clemens asked the cardinal if he was being “cool” by wearing his hat that way. Not at all, the cardinal told him.

“He said, ‘That was self-defense. The Cubs gave me a red hat because I’m a cardinal.’” That day the Cubs were playing their archrivals, the St. Louis Cardinals whose colors are red and white. “All of the people thought that he was a Cardinals’ fan and they were throwing peanuts at him and everything else. So he turned his hat around so they could see the big Cubs C on that hat,” Clemens said. The cardinal’s tactics worked.

“They were cheering for him after they found out he was a Cub fan,” Clemens said, laughing.

It’s not always been easy being a Cub fans, Clemens explained.

“If suffering is a sign of being close to Christ, Cubs fans certainly understand suffering,” he said. “Also, when you look at faith, hope and love – a Cub fan has to first of all have faith that this is going to end one day. Hope that this is the year. And finally love, you have to love the team. You have to love it with the idea that even though they’re bad and they break your heart they’re still part of your life.”

Topics:

  • cardinal george
  • baseball
  • cubs
  • chicago sports
  • st. laurence o’toole

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