ALLOUEZ — Based on the gathering for the NFC championship game, Norbertine Fr. Jim Baraniak expected an overflow crowd on Super Bowl Sunday. The Packers Catholic chaplain wasn’t predicting the attendance at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, but rather the pre-game Mass. In Chicago, “everybody showed up. We maxed out the room,” said Fr. Baraniak.
“It was just unbelievable,” he added. “The Mass was full of energy. I felt nervous during the homily.”
Fr. Baraniak, now in his 14th year with the team, has enjoyed an up-close view throughout the regular season and the playoff run. When the Packers play on the road, he watches the action from the visiting owner’s box before making his way onto the field for the fourth quarter. In addition to his ministerial duties, he assists in the locker room. Fr. Baraniak, pastor at St. Norbert College Parish in De Pere, is responsible for returning players’ valuables from safekeeping after the game. The job was tougher this season with all the injuries.
“Even at the end of the season, I had a hard time with all the new faces,” he said. “Usually, after the preseason, by the first game, I know everyone. It was a guessing game at times this year. At the college, at the prison, in all the apostolates of which I’m involved, I take pride in getting to know people’s names, so it’s been difficult.”
Fr. Baraniak, who also serves as sacramental minister at Green Bay Correctional Institution, credits Coach Mike McCarthy for keeping the team playing at a high level despite 16 players on injured reserve. His praise for the Packers leader, a Greenfield, Pa., native, extends beyond football.
“Coach McCarthy is one of the most decent people I know,” said Fr. Baraniak. “He has never forgotten where he came from. He treats people with decency and respect. He is not afraid to be a real man with his players, whether he’s talking X’s and O’s or his Irish Catholic faith.”
The pre-game Mass in Philadelphia on wildcard weekend featured a light moment with the coach. In celebrating the feast of Baptism of the Lord, a sprinkling rite was a part of the Mass.
“Whoever is first gets nailed and the priest gets the backlash,” said Fr. Baraniak. “Coach McCarthy always sits on the right side in the front seat. He was wearing a very nice suit and really got it. The entire congregation broke into laughter.”
The combination of the ice water, blessed before Mass, and the head coach as the prime recipient, prompted Ted Thompson, Packers general manager, to say, “Fr. Jim is really taking this playoff stuff seriously.”
In an interview before the Super Bowl, Fr. Baraniak admitted he felt some pressure to deliver.
“I want to challenge and affirm them, but it’s based on the readings of the day, so people need to keep them in mind,” said Fr. Baraniak. “Every Mass I have for the Packers is a celebration of the same readings everyone hears on Sunday. Their lives are parallel to the people in the pews. They have worries and anxieties, great hopes and dreams. How do the readings relate to their lives?”
The readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time are a good fit for Super Bowl Sunday, he added.
“Christ was calling the apostles,” he said. “We at the Packer Mass know each other by name. There is such a spirit, such a prayerfulness at the Mass. These are beautiful reflections, beautiful readings for the day.”