Angel in the outfield


Fr. Ron Richards, the Chaplin of the Detroit Tigers, says he has always been a sports fan (Katie Birecki).

With the Detroit Tigers recently clinching their spot in the playoffs, there’s no question that they have gotten help from above. Fr. Ron Richards of St. John Neumann in Canton may have had a hand in that.

In 2011, Fr. Richards accepted the position as Catholic Chaplain for the team. On Sundays when there are home games at Comerica Park, Fr. Richards drives to Detroit to perform a 9:15 a.m. mass in one of the two press rooms. This year, he started to do reconciliation before mass.

Catholic players and workers haven’t always been able to practice their faith.

“A Catholic mass is only being held in 21 of the baseball parks in the United States,” said Fr. Richards. “There used to be a group called the Baseball Chapel that were in the parks since the late 70s, but a Catholic entity was never there.”

In the late 1990s, Pope John Paul II wanted to establish a ministry for professional athletes. He thought it was important for them to practice their faith, even with their busy schedules. Shortly after, a man named Ray McKenna founded an organization called Catholic Athletes for Christ to try to get masses for all practicing Catholic athletes in the United States.

“There was a lot of resistance in the parks to do so,” said Fr. Richards.

Fr. Richards discussed the option of having Catholic masses at Comerica Park with another chaplain. They talked to staff and players to get their opinion. Vice President of Park Operations Mike Healy and Alex Avila’s Father—Al Avila—both wanted a Catholic mass. Fr. Richards’s wishes were eventually approved.

“It’s definitely important for the players and personnel to go to mass every week,” said Fr. Richards. “They really appreciate it, too. They just wouldn’t be able to go otherwise, and that’s why we need to provide a mass for them.”

As for the Tigers, Fr. Richards believes they’ll go all the way.

“I do think they’ll go to the World Series,” said Fr. Richards. “They are that good.”