Monday, August 20, 2012

100 Years of Chicago Catholic League and The Hound of Heaven

Yesterday, hundreds of people from around Chicago and as far away as Tennessee gathered at Holy Family Church on west Roosevelt Rd. to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Chicago Catholic League*.

The Chicago Catholic League is the oldest Catholic high school athletic association in America and the incubator of some of the best athletes in our country.  The Mass was con-Celebrated by priests who are school leaders ( St. Ignatius, Mt. Carmel, Gordon Tech, St. Rita, Loyola & etc.) and stepping in as chief-celebrant for Francis Cardinal George - Auxiliary Bishop Frank Kane.

Bishop Kane noted the unique history of the Catholic League and its roots in the 1896 Olympics founded on the ideals of a Dominican secondary school in Paris - Faster, Higher, Stronger. Earlier that afternoon, I thumbed through a rare volume of a poem by Francis Thompson (1859-1907).  The book had been part of Catholic and private school curriculum reading, before  biology-based Deweyism murdered the idea of education in America.

Through Bishop Kane's sermon, as is my rubbing necking wont, I swivel-necked  from both transcepts  with a stop at the apse and onto the vast nave making a sign of the cross with my noggin. To my left were the representative athletes who carried a banner from each school, at center was the altar and choir/orchestra on the right the Bishop and the concelebrant priests and deacons and in the thick nave Catholic League greats, parents, student athletes and my colleagues. Thompson's poem roared louder than the flights of F-18s from the Blue Angels entertaining Chicagoans on the lake front and looping lowly over Roosevelt Road and Holy Family Church.

The Hound of Heaven is 182 line fable as allegory - a hare (rabbit) flees its predator running faster, jumping higher and stronger as the poem develops.   The idea of the hare as quarry is common.  The idea of God as the Hound is unusual. The idea is that we ( me and you) run from God all of our lives and He -The Hound of Heaven pursues us to our last bolt-hole.

The language is wildly archaic ( e.g. Dravest: Thou dravest for You drove dead old white men and patriarchal hegemonists tend to do that) and obscure.   The sense is that we drive God from us and use all of our strength and skills and talents to do escape God.  God pursues us rabbits who dravest Him off - I know I run from God, given some elbow room, via health, security, comfort and self-satisfied ego.

We teach and encourage our young to run swift, vault high and increase in strength.  Ironically, those virtues seem to help us rabbits scurry from God.  We do not want to be Pharisees - religious show-offs; therefore we make light of the faith and pretend to skulk in the shadows like the Publican.

The poem ends with God ( The Hound of Heaven) nailing the rabbit ( us) and proclaiming-"Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me."
This morning I will collect my Canaryville Rabbit-Lions from 43rd Street and bring them to Leo High School, one of the old Chicago Catholic League schools.

I not only dravest God's love, but the bus five days a week.

Once I post this,  I'll drave.

It all began on October 3, 1912 when representatives of eight parochial schools met in Chicago’s Great Northern Hotel (demolished in 1992) to found the Catholic League. Those charter members were Loyola academy, St. Cyril (Mt Carmel), DePaul Academy, St. Philip, St. Ignatius, De La Salle, Cathedral and St. Stanislaus. In that very first year of its existence the League sponsored only basketball and indoor baseball. Football competition was to follow in the 1913-14 school year, track in 1916-17 swimming, golf, and tennis in 1923-24, cross country in 1946-47, wrestling in 1964-65, water polo in 1965-66, soccer in 1967 and volleyball in 1993. Baseball was dropped after the 1930 season but was reinstated in the 1957-58 season.

For the first 71 years of its existence, the Chicago Catholic League operated independently of the Illinois high school association (IHSA). The League’s renown, especially in football and basketball, was recognized nationwide. But, during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, as the need developed for a wider base of competition especially in such sports as swimming, track, wrestling, golf, tennis and baseball, the principals of the League’s schools began to consider the possibility of joining the IHSA. After much discussion, many arguments over pros and cons, and several meetings with the IHSA staff, the Catholic League’s Principals voted 11-1 in favor of joining the State Association. Thought the momentous vote was taken on January 30, 1973, the actual entrance into the IHSA did not take place until June 10, 1974. The reason for the 18 month wait was to give the League a full year of athletic competition during which it could make the transition to those rules and practices of the IHSA which differed from those current at the time in the Catholic League. Though there was a multitude of objections from many in the Catholic League to the decision to join IHSA, the benefits that have accrued to the Catholic League schools and students since 1974 have far outweighed the original objections

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