Faith on Ice: Catholics and the Winter Olympics

Sports can provide a great platform to talk about faith. We saw shout-outs to Christ from Philadelphia Eagles Coach Doug Pederson, QB Nick Foles and tight end Zach Ertz after their Feb. 4 Super Bowl victory. Now, the Church is getting a boost from the 2018 Winter Olympics, currently taking place in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Here are a few of the Catholic athletes who’ve made a mark on Olympic ice, now and in the past:

Hannah and Marissa Brandt:

These Minnesota sisters are graduates of Catholic institutions St. Odilia School in Shoreview and Hill-Murray High School in Maplewood, and are hockey standouts for two different teams. Hannah is a foreward for the U.S. women’s Olympic team; and Marissa — who was adopted from South Korea as a baby — plays for the combined Korean women’s hockey team, under her birth name, Park-Yoon Jung.

Yuna Kim:

The 27-year-old South Korean gold medal-winning figure skater, now retired, was the final torch-bearer and lit the official Olympic torch at the Pyeongchang Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9.

From Catholic News Agency:

After making the sign of the cross as she stepped onto the ice to win gold in the 2010 Vancouver Games with a record-breaking score, Kim teamed up with Korean bishops for a national rosary campaign. Kim was seen wearing a rosary ring, which her fans had previously mistaken for an engagement ring, during her silver-medal performance at the 2014 Sochi Games.

The Olympian converted to the Catholic faith alongside her mother in 2008 after they came in contact with local nuns and Catholic organizations through her personal physician – also a Catholic – who was treating her for knee injuries.

At her baptism, Kim took the name “Stella” after Mary, Star of the Sea, and told a diocesan paper that during the baptismal rite she “felt an enormous consolation in my heart” and promised God to continue to “pray always,” especially before competitions.

Kim has also been active in using her position as an opportunity for charitable works, volunteering and donating funds to Catholic Hospitals, universities, and other charitable organizations, and working alongside the Catholic bishops in Korea as a spokeswoman for Catholic charities in Seoul.

Kirstin Holum (a k a Sister Catherine of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal):

Kim isn’t the only Olympic athlete to let her Catholic faith lead the way after the Games. At the age of 17, Kirstin Holum competed for the U.S. in speedskating in Nagano, Japan, in 1998. Her mother, Dianne, was an Olympic gold-medalist in 1972 and coached American Eric Heiden to five gold medals at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

But Holum never returned to the Olympic ice. She did a stint in art school in Chicago, then gave her life over to the Lord. She’s currently based at St. Clare’s Convent in the U.K. city of Leeds.

From USA Today:

At first she rarely spoke about her former life as a speedskater and many of the sisters in her convent did not know she had once been to the Olympics. However, after publication of a feature article during the 2010 Vancouver Games, her story became widely known in the Catholic community and she continues to receive regular invitations to speak publicly, including a speech in front of 10,000 people at a religious meeting in London.

“What has opened up especially in the last eight years is the chance to look back at so many of the beautiful things about skating and the Olympics,” Holum told USA TODAY Sports in a phone conversation while she was on a brief trip to the U.S. “I don’t have a normal story of coming into the convent. It is quite unique. To have the opportunity to look back and have thanks, and to share that with people I come into contact with, is a blessing.”

Without TV in the convent, Sister Catherine may not be able to watch the Pyeongchang Games, but you know she is praying for all to do their best and give glory to God.

Curt Tomasevicz:

As a bobsledder, Tomasevicz won Olympic gold and bronze, but the now-retired 37-year-old weighed from his native Nebraska how his faith kept him on an even keel after his athletic career.

He told the National Catholic Register:

If I weren’t Catholic, I think my life would be the equivalent of a bobsled crash. Being Catholic allows me to get my priorities straight and know that, despite what most people will tell you, athletic competitions are fleeting and you should not measure your self-worth through them. There’s lots of pressure to do well, and pressure to do well badly, so to speak — meaning that winning is held up as the only thing and that a little cheating is understandable.

Competition is fun, but only in the context of following the rules. Taking given parameters and making the most of them can be a multifaceted, engaging adventure. That’s at the heart of one of the classes I teach to undergrads now. It’s an intro to engineering course involving sports — the tools we use in competition (bobsleds, rackets, bats, gloves and so on) and the biomechanics of competition (which postures, strides, timings and angles result in best runs, passes, pitches and so on).

He’s still single, but said:

I do want to be a husband and father, but that took a back seat to bobsledding for a decade. I’m still involved somewhat in the sport, but nothing like I used to be, which means that marriage is far more likely. Yet marriage is a marathon rather than a sprint, so I’m not rushing into it. The Diocese of Lincoln is one of the best in the nation, but even if I don’t find a wife here, there is one out there, if marriage is indeed what God wants for me.

Vatican City even sent a delegation to the Games, attending the Opening Ceremonies and observing a meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

From the U.K. Catholic Herald:

The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reported Friday that Monsignor Melchor Sanchez De Toca Y Alameda of the Pontifical Council for Culture will lead the delegation to the session, a series of meetings where Olympic policies are decided.

In the spirit of friendship, Sanchez will present International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Korean athletes with jerseys from the Vatican Athletics squad, which is made up of Vatican employees.

Even “without the possibility of direct participation in the Olympics by Vatican athletes,” L’Osservatore adds that relations with the IOC are ongoing and will continue with the Summer Youth Olympics in October in Buenos Aires — Pope Francis’s hometown.

Work hard, train hard … pray hard!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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