Fr. Patrick Kelly Explores Connection Between 'Sports and the Spiritual Life'

News Story: March 1, 2010
Fr. Patrick Kelly, S.J., Ph.D.

Seattle University theology professor and noted scholar the Rev. Patrick Kelly S.J., Ph.D. explored the deep connections between sports and spirituality, and how sports can develop the whole person in an engaging lecture on Monday night, March 1, at Sacred Heart University’s Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts

The lecture, “Sports and the Spiritual Life,” was sponsored by Sacred Heart's Center for Catholic Thought, Ethics and Culture and its Human Journey Colloquia series, and is part of a year-long presentation of special events to mark the dedication of the University's new Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

Father Kelly is a member of the Society of Jesus who earned his doctorate at the Claremont Graduate University in 2005. He is an assistant professor of Theology and Religious Studies at the Jesuit-run Seattle University and is affiliated with its Center for the Study of Sport and Exercise. He has written and lectured throughout the United States and Europe about topics in spirituality and culture.

Religious Studies Professor Brian Stiltner, Ph.D., who serves as the director of the Center for Catholic Thought, Ethics, and Culture, said that in his presentation, Fr. Kelly described how "St. Thomas Aquinas drew close connection between play and contemplation" and how genuine happiness and spiritual joy associated with religious practices can also be found in experiences of flow in sports and other activities like games and performing music.

"Such experiences are enjoyable and rewarding in themselves; they are signals of transcendence," Fr. Kelly told the audience.

In his down-to-earth manner, Dr. Stiltner said Father Kelly drew from examples and photographs of individuals playing sports and discussed how important sports were to him when he was growing up, and when he began discerning his vocation to the priesthood, he realized that these multiple aspects of his life were all connected and have to be connected. "Because we are a whole people, not fragmented people," Dr. Stiltner explained.

"For this reason, he thinks it is wonderful that Catholic universities pay careful attention to the way that their athletic programs are part of the education of the whole person.”

With Sacred Heart’s traditions rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition and the topic of Monday’s forum, hundreds of student-athletes composed the majority of the audience. Dr. Stiltner said that Fr. Kelly was invited to speak to in part to engage students, athletic staff and members of the faculty to think about the rich connections he articulated during the lecture.

“We are all, at Sacred Heart University, engaged in holistic education. Fr. Kelly’s visit tapped into a great reserve of energy among faculty and staff who are interested in the connections between athletics and spirituality,” said Dr. Stiltner. “We are following up with meetings to continue this conversation here and to think about practical ways to help student athletes—indeed all students—grow as intellectual, moral, spiritual, social, and physical persons.”