- Missing from the Golden Eagles sideline in The University of Southern
Mississippi's 17-3 loss to Alabama on Oct. 11 was the prayerful
countenance of team chaplain Father Tommy Conway.
a prior commitment to conduct a wedding ceremony, made long before
he became team chaplain, Conway, who also serves as pastor of St.
Thomas Catholic Church in Hattiesburg, was unable to be on hand
for the contest in Tuscaloosa.
Conway's connections with the Almighty could have could have made
a difference in the game's outcome, had the wedding party been amenable
to rescheduling their big day.
ever miss another game," joked Drew Hill, an assistant with
the team's football operations staff, as he stopped to speak to
Conway at a recent team practice. "That one last week's (loss
to Alabama) on you."
when he recounts the circumstances of his absence. The couple he
married - Jimmy Kendrick and Ginny Rayborn - asked him if he could
conduct the service on Oct. 11. "I checked my calendar and
didn't see any conflict," Conway said.
team chaplain Irby Stanley left to become pastor at a church in
Tennessee, Conway was asked shortly before the 2003 campaign began
if he would like to fill the role. After accepting, Conway examined
the schedule and noticed that Oct. 11 was the date of the Southern
Jimmy (Kendrick) and asked him, 'So, what day would you like to
change your wedding to?'" Conway said, laughing. But the soon
to be newlyweds wouldn't budge on the date.
it's a privilege to serve as the team's chaplain. "I was absolutely
thrilled to be asked to do it," he said. Since he's been a
Southern Miss fan since arriving in Hattiesburg from Ireland in
1986, accepting the offer was easy.
for Southern Miss football took root that year when he became associate
pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. That year, Sacred Heart
School physical education instructor Maureen Spencer, whose husband,
Ken Spencer, played football for the Golden Eagles, invited Conway
to attend a game with her to cheer on Ken and the team. Conway was
curious to learn more about American football and quizzed Maureen
throughout the contest.
time, I kept asking her questions about how the game was played,"
he said, and from then he was stricken with a serious case of Eagle
not just the game," Conway said. "The band, the pageantry,
the tailgating, all of that is fascinating. There's a great social
side to sports that I think is fantastic."
TO KNOW YOU
meeting with the team after being chosen as chaplain came with some
trepidation. Though he knew all of the coaches and some of the players
by way of his association with the Newman Center at St. Thomas,
home of the Catholic Student Association, there was the small detail
of becoming acquainted with the rest of the team.
of the squad, linebacker Eric Scott and wide receiver Pedi Causey,
took it upon themselves to introduce him to other members of the
for the players, helping them deal with problems they face on and
off the field and giving advice, or just to talk, is what has endeared
Conway to Causey and many of his teammates. "Father Tommy means
a lot to me," Causey said. "He's one of the nicest people
I've met. I can talk to him anytime."
presence on the sideline is a source of motivation for the team,
Scott said. "He's like a coach, too. He keeps people up,"
him before he came out here," Scott said. "I'm glad he
got that spot (chaplain)."
Conway at the Alabama game have made a difference? Scott isn't certain,
but like Hill, he would have preferred having him there.
helped," he said.
FAITHS, SAME PATH
isn't Catholic, the difference in faiths doesn't concern Causey.
"I had never been around a priest before, but it doesn't matter.
We all believe in the same God," he said.
has no qualms with his team chaplain being Catholic, Conway said
he's mindful to make his presentations and devotionals with the
team interdenominational. He said he also checked when he became
chaplain to be sure that members of the team were Christian out
of respect to those who might follow other belief systems.
to be respectful (of other faiths, beliefs)," he said. "I
want everyone to be comfortable with all parts of it (devotionals
and other programs)."
congregation" of Conway's has many differences from his regular
congregation at St. Thomas with the most obvious being a disparity
in physical size.
big fellas, and sometimes that's all a lot of people see, but they
are still young men who have to go to class, and have some of the
same issues that anyone their age faces.
a young congregation, with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. It brings
different challenges and rewards."
More than four
hours before kickoff of each game, Conway holds team prayers for
the players and coaches. (Attendance is optional.) Conway's program
includes readings from scripture and a discussion of what he's read.
He then selects four verses from one of the Psalms that everyone
says special prayers before the game for the team's safety and their
families', and then everyone recites the Lord's Prayer together.
He also prepares a special scripture reading program for the coaches
on Thursday mornings at 7:30 a.m., and he tries to be with the players
on Monday morning for their team breakfast.
comfortable now that he's gotten to know everybody," said Southern
Miss Head Football Coach Jeff Bower. "He just does a tremendous
job with our devotionals. He always has a great message for us that
really makes you think."
GOOD SPORT - IN FOOTBALL AND LIFE
he participated in various sports in his youth. Aside from the physical
exercise, he said sports are important for young people because
of the valuable lessons that can be learned by participating that
will benefit them for life.
so much - teamwork, dealing with winning and losing and disappointment."
from a loss - whether on the football field or when faced with personal
tragedy or disappointment - is a test for both a team and an individual.
learning to deal with losing, it's important to remember it's not
the end of the world - someone has to lose the game," Conway
when someone gets sick, or there's a death in the family, or you're
faced with some other kind of tragedy, it feels like a loss, but
it's more like a lesson than a loss," he said. "When you
face those losses, you can't just lie down and say you're finished.
You've got to pick yourself up and carry on. Oftentimes, people
become stronger after losses and it helps them in the journey through