Fr. Douglas Hunter, Catholic chaplain for the Indianapolis Colts, poses with Colts’ general manager Chris Ballard and Dave Neeson of Catholic Athletes for Christ. CNS photo courtesy of Fr. Douglas Hunter

Chaplain sending out the right signals

By  John Shaughnessy, Catholic News Service
  • September 22, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS -- As the Catholic chaplain for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, Fr. Douglas Hunter has access to the training facility, the team meetings and the sidelines during games. He’s even there in the locker room when head coach Frank Reich talks to the players, including the times the Colts’ leader has shared this constant message: “Get one per cent better every day.”

Hunter also stays in contact with Chris Ballard, the Colts’ general manager and a fellow Catholic, in good times and in bad, such as the Sept. 8 season-opening overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Hunter, as keynote speaker at a 15th anniversary celebration dinner Aug. 27 of Catholic Radio Indy, said his choice to become a priest — he was ordained in 2016 — led to a phone call he never expected.

“About two years ago, I received a call from the now-late Fr. Glenn O’Connor. He said, ‘the Colts are looking for a chaplain, and I think you would be great.’ I said, ‘Me?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you. They need a big guy over there, and you’re the biggest one I found.’ ”

Hunter was honoured by O’Connor’s faith in him and drove to the Colts’ complex for an interview with Ballard.

“I asked him, ‘What’s the first thing you want me to do?’ He said, ‘I want you to be present. Be present to the guys. It’s going to take about a year for them to get to know who you are. It’s going to take a year for them to trust you. The more you’re present to them, the more they’ll trust you and like you. They’ll bring you in eventually.’ ”

Hunter met with Joe Reitz, a former offensive lineman for the Colts who is also Catholic, and who advised the priest just to be with the players and talk with them.

“So I started going to the training facility. I started going to the training camps. I’m there on the sidelines. After talking with Joe and then talking with Chris again, I start finding out who my Catholics are. There’s a few here at Mass. There’s a few more there. And then I start finding out other staff members who are Catholic. And I start inviting each and every single one of them to the liturgy that we have at the hotel” on the evenings before home games.

He recalled the time one of the Colts introduced himself, which led to a conversation in which Hunter focused on him as a person instead of as a football player.

“When others saw that I was talking and sitting with him, then others started coming by and started talking more and more and more. I found the best time to talk to these guys is at lunch time. One, I get a free meal. And two, we can talk,” he said.

“I don’t care what kind of car they drive, how much money they make or where they’re from,” he said. “I’m just treating them as Jesus would treat them.”

He said sometimes when he finds out they’re injured, he will call, text or write a note and put it in their mailbox, telling the players he is thinking about them and that they can call if they need anything.

He told the audience that at one point, he struggled with his ministry, wondering what he was doing there, and just at that moment a player asked to speak with him.

It turned out the player wanted to learn more about the Catholic faith and showed an interest in participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program. Then at lunch, he talked with another player who told him about his life.

“We never talked football,” Hunter said. “When I got to my car, I said, ‘OK, Lord, I see how it is you’re working through me. And I really appreciate that.’ ”

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