Queen's University — Since 1873
4th November 2011

Football's spiritual side

Chaplain Raymond de Souza has been with the football team since 2004

Father Raymond de Souza leads the football team in a prayer before every game.
Father Raymond de Souza leads the football team in a prayer before every game. (supplied by Jeff Chan)

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The football team will follow its usual routine in tomorrow’s OUA semifinal — right up to the pre-game prayer.

“Coach [Pat] Sheahan has the belief that you shouldn’t pray to win a game,” Father Raymond de Souza said. “So I don’t pray for a victory directly.”

De Souza has been the football team’s chaplain since 2004. He’s been on the sidelines for every game but four in that span.

“On the sidelines, when the game is very tense, people will half-jokingly … say that perhaps some divine intervention is needed,” he said. “But half-jokingly is also half-seriously.”

De Souza is the University’s Roman Catholic chaplain and spends most of his time at the Newman House on Frontenac Street. He lives on Wolfe Island and is the parish priest for the Island’s Sacred Heart of Mary.

He teaches Queen’s economics and education courses and writes a weekly column in the National Post.

He said Sheahan invited him to become the team chaplain.

“The players have coaches who help them become good football players and they have professors whose job it is to help them become good scholars,” de Souza said. “My interest is to help them become good men.”

De Souza said Sheahan wants him to offer the players options to pursue their spiritual development.

“Just as a university football team that gave no priority to academics would be lacking … the spiritual dimension is an important part of life,” de Souza said. “That’s what I hope to [offer].”

In addition to the weekly pre-game prayer, de Souza holds a team chapel session every Thursday night and attends practice twice a week.

De Souza’s role as the football team’s chaplain is different from his conventional chaplain’s role because the players aren’t all Catholic. But he said the team is “probably 99 per cent nominally Christian.”

“The team, much like the University, is mostly Christian, so we talk about things from a general Christian point of view,” he said. “But even then, much of what we talk about isn’t even specifically Christian.”

De Souza said he usually gets about 15 players at his voluntary chapel sessions.

“We have a discussion which I lead on topics that are of interest to the spiritual life,” he said. “It’s not geared to any particular [faith], but to address the question of ‘where’s the spiritual life in my life?’”

De Souza’s eight years of experience with the football team mean he’s one of the longest-serving staff members. Sheahan said de Souza has become a useful outlet for players with issues they don’t feel comfortable talking to the coaching staff about.

“Although I always invite the kids to come and talk, there’s not always that comfort level,” Sheahan said. “He’s non-threatening and experienced in ways that others are not.”

Sheahan said there has never been negative feedback from his players about de Souza.

“The guys who partake really like it,” he said. “There are some guys who have no interest, but generally speaking, they all like having him around.” Quarterback Billy McPhee routinely attends sessions and talks to de Souza weekly. He said de Souza brings mental and spiritual considerations to the team that otherwise might not be there.

“He’s definitely a bigger part of the football team than most people would think.”

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