Brewers chaplain finds joy in connecting his love of priesthood, sports

IMAGE: CNS photo/Allen Fredrickson for The Compass

By Maryangela Roman

(CNS) — Champagne corks popped in the visiting clubhouse Oct. 7 as the
Milwaukee Brewers celebrated their sweep of the Colorado Rockies, advancing to the National League Championship Series.

home in Wisconsin, an extended member of the Brewers’ family was celebrating,
too. Father Jerry Herda was popping a champagne cork in his backyard after
watching the game on television with his family.

Herda, the Milwaukee Archdiocese’s vicar for ordained and lay ecclesial ministry,
has been a lifelong Brewers fan, but he also has a special connection to the
team, having served as its Catholic chaplain for 12 seasons.

family was all together and we were screaming and yelling and even broke open a
bottle of champagne in the backyard,” admitted Father Herda, following the
Brewers’ 6-0 shutout of the Rockies to win the National League Division Series.

Herda’s role with the Brewers began shortly after pitcher Jeff Suppan signed
with the team in 2006.

devout Catholic, Suppan asked if a Mass could be celebrated at Miller Park for
players and staff prior to weekend games. As Father Herda explained, Suppan’s
previous team, the St. Louis Cardinals, had arranged for a Mass at the ballpark
on weekends and Suppan hoped that could be replicated in Milwaukee.

Timothy M. Dolan, now New York’s cardinal-archbishop, appointed Father Herda to the
role and, for the last 12 seasons, Father Herda has celebrated Mass in the
press room of Miller Park prior to games Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning.

open to any employee of Miller Park and there are a variety of people who
come,” said Father Herda, noting that players, coaches, ushers, security
personnel and members of visiting teams are among his “parishioners” at the
ballpark Masses.

concept of ballpark Masses has been promoted by a national organization to
which Father Herda belongs, Catholic Athletes for Christ, and to date, he said
Masses are celebrated in 28 of 30 major league ballparks.

Father Herda, as a baseball fan, the opportunity was a dream come true.

been a lifelong fan. I grew up in this area and have always been a fan, so I
was excited at the opportunity to be this close to the inner workings of a
baseball team. It was nerve-wracking and fun all at the same time,” he told The
Compass, newspaper of the neighboring Diocese of Green Bay.

Herda estimated that he celebrates about 10 ballpark Masses a year and
attendance at each Mass averages about 25 to 30 people.

some of these people, it’s the only opportunity to go to Mass. The security
guards, for example, have to be there so early on Saturday and then have to be
back Sunday, so there’s no other opportunity for Mass,” he explained.

and coaches are among the attendees, he said, noting that this season, he had a
repeat worshipper from the Pittsburgh Pirates, since the team was in town for
more than one weekend.

been my experience over the years that some guys are very faith-filled and
really take their faith seriously, trying to live out their faith by attending
Mass and wanting to participate in the sacraments. It’s nice to see that
happening and I wish it would expand more,” said Father Herda.

recalled that Suppan, who was released by the Brewers in 2010 and retired from
baseball in 2014, was not only a regular attendee, but an evangelist of sorts,
as he encouraged teammates to attend. According to Father Herda, Suppan’s
devotion to the Eucharist was evident in his humorous comment about a similar
nondenominational service also held at the ballpark on weekends.

say to (teammates), ‘Why go for the appetizer when you can come for the real
meal?'” Father Herda relayed with a smile.

of time constraints, Father Herda said he has to limit the Masses to 30
minutes, but even in the shortened time frame, he makes sure to leave the
worshippers with a message they can carry with them.

his role primarily involves celebrating Mass at the ballpark, Father Herda said
he has performed a few baptisms, heard confessions and recently celebrated a funeral Mass for a longtime usher at the request of his

Herda’s connection to the Brewers has left him with a lifetime of memories and
shelves and walls filled with memorabilia.

In his office, for example, a framed
photo of himself with Pope Benedict XVI hangs next to his prized, framed 2011
cover of Sports Illustrated featuring a story on the National League Central
Division champion Brewers and signed by Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and T Plush
(Nyjer Morgan).

bobbleheads and balls signed by Rollie Fingers and Henry Aaron grace his
shelves, along with a wooden carving of the Holy Family, altar bells and an
ornate golden cross.

the Brewers poised to make a run for the World Series championship, Father
Herda is grateful for the opportunity he’s had to impact athletes’ faith lives.

hard to believe it’s been as long as it’s been, but it’s given me a chance to
meet people I never would have and has given me access to part of baseball that
I never would have had,” he said, adding he’s gotten to meet the likes of Joe
Torre and Bob Uecker.

gives me some joy in the sense there is a connection to something I love. I
love being a priest and I love sports, so it is nice to connect them together,”
he said.

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is a contributor to The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.

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