Monks as Players, Coaches, Chaplains and Fans

Topics: Dennis Beach, John Gagliardi, John Kelly, Otto Webber

Even as monks, members of the abbey have made significant contributions to Saint John’s athletics. Father Dunstan Tucker, remembered as Saint John’s greatest baseball coach, won the conference championship in 1969 on his 70th birthday. Other monk-coaches were Fathers Fintan Bromenshenkel [hockey], Damian Baker [tennis] and Emeric Lawrence [tennis]. The Kelly Brothers, Mark and John (not related), make significant contributions to SJU sports. Brother Mark manicures the football field and Brother John [Kelly] transports athletes from the College of Saint Benedict and SJU all over the Midwest.

Monks as Players, Coaches, Chaplains and Fans

It is late in the second quarter of the 1993 St. Olaf-Saint John’s football contest. Saint John’s already has an impressive 60-0 lead. But Cassian Osendorf, OSB, shouts from the stands, “Pour it on, John!” Father Cassian is not known for his vindictiveness or anti-ecumenical spirit. It’s just that he is still smarting from the 82-0 shellacking St. Olaf gave him and his teammates in 1932.

Cassian’s passion for athletics is not atypical of a Saint John’s monk. Over the past decades a good number of monks have supported the school’s teams as players, coaches, chaplains or as vociferous fans in the stands. One finds this support as far back as 1908 when Ted [later Father Sylvester] Harter drop-kicked Saint John’s “country hicks” to a victory over the “city slickers” from the College of St. Thomas. Much later, in his 90s, Sylvester was forbidden by his doctor from attending football games because of a heart condition that could not tolerate the excitement of the gridiron contests. Seventy years had not cooled his enthusiasm for his Johnnies.

Other monks, like Sylvester, have joined the fray on the football field. When the great Joe Benda came from Notre Dame to Saint John’s in 1933 he was pleasantly surprised to find a scrappy, speedy fullback by the name of Joe [Father Michael] Marx, who ran the hundred yard dash in 9.8 seconds. Benda also made use of the talents of James [Father Peter] St. Hilaire and Benno [Father Paul] Marx. Unfortunately, George [Father Vincent] Tegeder, an outstanding lineman of the 1929 team, had already entered the novitiate and was unavailable.

When, in 1952, a successor to Coach John McNally was to be hired, monks played a key role in choosing his successor. Fathers Dunstan Tucker, Jeremy Murphy, Adelard Thuente and Conrad Diekmann were the core of the selection committee. Chaffing under many years of defeat at the hands of Gustavus Adolphus, they asked candidate John Gagliardi, “Can you
beat Gustavus?”

When Gagliardi answered confidently, “Sure,” he got the job. Later he admitted he had never heard of Gustavus.

Football, however, was not the only sport that attracted talented, future monks. The 1933 basketball team had the talents of long-shot expert “Eizy” [Abbot John] Eidenschink. Joe [Father Elias] Achatz played on the ’37 baseball team and in the early ’40s “Monk” [Father Arnold] Weber excelled as a member of the college wrestling team, though still in the Preparatory School. His younger sibling, Father Otto, was also known for his prowess as a wrestler. Brother Dennis Beach, now an assistant professor of philosophy, lays claim to an undefeated wrestling season during his sophomore year at SJU. The whole truth, however, is that he won his first match of the season and then had to withdraw from wrestling because of an injury.

Even as monks, members of the abbey have made significant contributions to Saint John’s athletics. Father Dunstan Tucker, remembered as Saint John’s greatest baseball coach, won the conference championship in 1969 on his 70th birthday. Other monk-coaches were Fathers Fintan Bromenshenkel [hockey], Damian Baker [tennis] and Emeric Lawrence [tennis]. The Kelly Brothers, Mark and John (not related), make significant contributions to SJU sports. Brother Mark manicures the football field and Brother John transports athletes from the College of Saint Benedict and SJU all over the Midwest.

Chaplain monks for various teams include Fathers Don Talafous for the wrestling and rugby teams and William Schipper for the basketball team. For a number of years Father Bryan Hays has offered Mass for the team on Saturday mornings during the football season. Although he officially denies that he invokes divine assistance for victory that day, he secretly boasts of having a winning record of more than 90 percent.

At the top of the list of monk boosters of athletics belongs Father Martin Schirber, former Dean of the college and co-author of Scoreboard, the history of Collegeville sports, published in 1979. He expressed his ambivalent policy of supporting the school’s athletic program in these words: “At Saint John’s we do not give any financial aid at all to our student athletes. And the little that we do give them is not worth mentioning.”

On a sunny Saturday afternoon during the new football season Saint John’s natural bowl stadium will be packed with students, parents and alumni. As the opposing team lines up to face the formidable Johnnie defensive unit, the voice of a monk-fan will be heard: “SACK ’IM!” Out of respect and obedience to their monastic mentors, Johnnie linemen see to it that the quarterback is sacked.

Monks as Players, Coaches, Chaplains and Fans
by Wilfred Theisen, OSB

The Abbey Banner
Fall, 2001

Topics: Dennis Beach, John Gagliardi, John Kelly, Otto Webber

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