|Fr. Casey stands with the St. Thomas a'Becket statue dressed in a Red Wings vestment. Casey is a lifelong Red Wings' fan, who often uses sports analogies in his homilies. |
— On a Saturday in April one of Detroit’s biggest Red Wings’ fans faced a real dilemma.
It was late in the afternoon and the Red Wings were set to host Colorado in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinal. Father Patrick Casey had tickets — bought in advance — to the game at Joe Louis Arena. But he also had three other commitments – presiding over a wedding, hearing confessions and celebrating Mass.
Fr. Casey, pastor of St. Thomas a’Becket Catholic Church, couldn’t make it downtown. But this diehard Wings’ fan still managed to catch the game — sort of.
“So I’m hearing confessions, and I rush (into my office) and turn on the radio, and oh, it’s 1-0,” Casey said.
Before Mass began, he listened to the Wings go up 4-0 on the Avalanche. During his homily, he talked about obedience to the Lord, whom the parishioners should love above all things. But he didn’t ignore his love for the Wings, asking those in attendance, “Who here is a Red Wings’ fan?”
From the back of church, a voice boomed, ‘It’s 5-1!’.
Casey, a native of Waterford Township, Mich., says there’s a fine line between religion and his favorite hometown team. He’s never prayed for a Wings’ victory. He doesn’t don jerseys around the Parish — just a pair of Red Wings cufflinks. And he won’t honor requests to wear his infamous Red Wings vestment at weddings, either.
“I tread this fine line because it’s the eternal realities that I’m supposed to be drawing people to, not staying in the mundane things of this earth,” Casey said. “So it’s a fine line. But you still gotta connect to people’s experiences.
“It’s not all about sports, but sports are always a great analogy. In Paul’s Letter to Timothy, (he wrote) ‘I fought the good fight, I have finished the race.’ St. Paul uses all these athletic images. So you try and use things that people can hunker down to.”
Casey first got noticed for his fandom back in 2002. At the time, Casey was pastor at St. Dominic on Detroit’s west side. One of his parishioners, who had made vestments for him in the past, asked him to lead a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina. His response?
“I just kind of flippantly said, ‘Well yeah, I’ll lead a group if you make this vestment for me.’ She was not happy about it because she’s very conservative. But she decided going to Medjugorje was more important than the vestment so she made the vestment for me. She just told me, ‘Don’t tell anyone where you got it from.’ ”
Newspapers across the country ran a photo of him at Mass draped in the cream-colored vestment painted with a Red Wings’ logo. Detroit went on to hoist its 10th Stanley Cup that spring.
That same vestment is now draped over the statue of St. Thomas a’Becket at his current parish, where he became pastor in 2004.
But Casey isn’t the only Wingnut in his congregation. Joan Kijek, Cathy Piasta and Anne Truax, who work in the religious education department, are known as the Grind Line.
“Because we do all the hard work,” Kijek joked.
Kijek always wears red on game days, and switches to jerseys for playoff games. She drives a red van with a huge Wings’ logo on the back window. She also named her dog, Ozzie, as a tribute to Wings goalie Chris Osgood. And during the playoffs, the picture that hangs outside her office no longer shows the holy family — it’s swapped for a panorama of Joe Louis Arena, with her name glowing on the Jumbotron.
But it doesn’t look out of place in a church office decked with Red Wings posters, clippings, and yes, even a Wingnuts hat.
“The day I came to meet the staff, probably half of them all had Red Wings jerseys on,” Casey said. “I felt very much at home when I got here.”
Casey never played hockey, but he fell in love with the Wings while attending Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and became a full-fledged citizen of Hockeytown when he was ordained in 1997 -- the year the Wings snapped a 42-year Stanley Cup drought. He attended a dozen games that season, many at the thanks of area funeral directors, which are constantly vying for his affection.
Although he missed most of Game 2 against Colorado, he didn’t miss Game 3. And as he watched, Casey had just one thought, one shared by many Red Wings’ fans this postseason: “I saw a team going all the way to the Stanley Cup this year.”