Herda-Father-JerryWhat is the history behind the Hail Mary pass in football? Is the reference to the Hail Mary, for a football play, sacrilegious or an opportunity for evangelization?

The Hail Mary is the beautiful prayer in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. If you ever tried to count how many Hail Marys you have said during your lifetime, the number would probably be quite large.

As Catholics it is one of the first prayers we learn so it would be a very common prayer for a Catholic to pray.

It turned out to be a very common prayer for one quarterback in 1975. On Dec. 28, 1975, the Dallas Cowboys were playing the Minnesota Vikings in an NFL playoff game. At the end of the game, with 32 seconds remaining, Roger Staubach, the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys threw a long, 50 yard desperation pass toward the end zone and it was completed to Drew Pearson for a game winning touchdown. The final score was Dallas Cowboys 17, Minnesota Vikings 14. After the game reporters asked Roger Staubach about the play and he said, “I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.”

Green Bay Packers’ quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, sets up for a long pass against the Detroit Lions in the Packers 27-23 victory in Detroit on Dec. 3, 2015. (Submitted photo courtesy of Jim Biever)

Roger Staubach was a devout Catholic. He grew up Catholic and practiced his Catholic faith, so for him it would be natural to turn to God and say a prayer at a time of need. I’m sure he did not literally say an entire Hail Mary during the flight of the ball, but in his mind the desperation of the moment and the need for prayer were closely connected. So the history of the Hail Mary football play is very much grounded in faith.

As a fan of the Green Bay Packers and as fan of a “Rodger” of a different name, I think the Hail Mary is great!

Over the last two years, we have watched Aaron Rodgers throw and complete the Hail Mary pass numerous times. It is one of the most exciting plays in football. So is it sacrilegious for the play to be called the Hail Mary? – not at all.

If you understand the history of the play and recognize the importance of prayer, it indeed can become a moment of evangelization.

So the next time Aaron Rodgers throws the Hail Mary pass (which of course he will complete) and you are watching the game with your family and friends, tell them the story of the other Roger, and in your mind offer another of the umpteenth Hail Marys you have said in your life.

I’ve heard there are a few priests, in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, who are married and one who even has children. How is it possible to be a married priest and have a family?

If you have grown up Catholic and have been involved in your parish, you most likely got to know your priest, you probably spent some time talking with him, getting to know him, you may have even had him over to your house for dinner. We only know our priests as single men, but starting in 1980 that began to change.

Pope John Paul II issued a special pastoral provision, which allowed priests and lay persons who were formerly members of the Episcopal Church to be received into full communion within the Roman Catholic Church. This decision also allowed for the priestly ordination in the Roman Catholic Church of men who had been clergymen in the Episcopal Church.

The process would require each individual clergyman to send a request to the Vatican to be considered for ordination on a case-by-case basis. After being approved by the Vatican, the steps are put in place for ordination. As a result, more than 200 former Episcopal priests have been ordained as Catholic priests in the United States.

The most amazing part of the story is that the Episcopalian Church allows married men to be ordained as priests, so these men and their families were being received into full communion in the Catholic Church and these married men were being allowed to become Catholic priests.

We are blessed in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to have two priests who have gone through the process and were ordained as diocesan priests. So yes, we have married priests in our archdiocese who have a family.

Fr. Russ Arnett and Fr. David Zampino were both ordained as Catholic priests in Milwaukee and both are currently assigned to do parish work. I’m sure for their parishes it takes a little getting used to.

As Catholics we are not used to the priest talking about his wife and kids in his homily. I would guess there are also added burdens for the priests as well, for he now has to meet the needs of his immediate family as well as meet the needs of the family of his parishioners. All of our priests are doing the wonderful work of Christ.

(Fr. Herda, ordained in 1990, is pastor of St. Monica, Whitefish Bay, and St. Eugene, Fox Point. If you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask a priest, email it to poirierj@archmil.org and place “Ask Fr. Jerry” in the subject line.)