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The surprisingly Catholic faith of Babe Ruth


George Grantham Bain | Public Domain US

J-P Mauro - published on 08/06/19

The Great Bambino certainly had his struggles, but he made it to Mass every Sunday and devoted his later years to sick children.

Babe Ruth is one of those baseball legends who will always be part of any discussion of the greatest ball players of all time. Not only was the Sultan of Swat a brilliant offensive force who, even through the steroid era, has remained on the top 10 list in nine MLB categories — including home runs, batting average, RBIs, and all-time runs — but he has also contributed a number of quirky baseball quotes, in the same vein as Yogi Berra.

Babe Ruth is remembered as a bit of a wild man both on and off the field, but while The Behemoth of Bust had a tendency to gravitate towards vices, primarily gluttony and lust, Michael O’Loughlin from Crux Now notes that he also had a deep Catholic faith.

Ruth’s religious instruction began at St. Mary’s Industrial School in Baltimore, run by the Xaverian Brothers. It was at this cross between an orphanage and a boarding school that Ruth was introduced to the game of baseball, which he credited to Brother Matthias Boutlier.

Although Ruth was less than a model student (and surely not a role model either) the brothers acknowledged and supported his athletic talent. Babe earned a place on the school team and was allowed to develop further in the minor leagues. In 1914, Ruth was called up to the big leagues and joined the Red Sox, where he began making baseball history.

It was on the Red Sox that The Caliph of Clout began forming his reputation as a debauchee. But although Babe’s Saturdays were on the wild and rowdy side, Leigh Montville, author of “The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth” notes that Ruth was always at Mass on Sunday:

“He would amaze teammates sometimes when he would appear at Mass in the morning after a night of indulgence,” Montville writes. “Three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys, a good Act of Contrition, a $50 bill in the collection basket, ready to go.”

Even though Ruth was known to have mistresses, he demonstrated some respect for the sanctity of marriage. Or, better phrased, for the formalities of the institution of marriage itself, at the very least. When his first marriage fell apart, he did not divorce his wife, Helen Woodford. Although they both separated and began different relationships, they remained married until Woodford’s untimely death in a house fire. Ruth did not even consider remarrying until after his first wife’s death naturally dissolved the union.

But one aspect of Catholic life at which Ruth really excelled was service and charity. He was known to raise money for his old school St. Mary’s and he even bought his old mentor, Brother Matthias, a Cadillac. Ruth was also a member of the Knights of Columbus, which he joined while he was in Boston and remained a part of even after his career moved to New York.

In his retirement, once Ruth tried and failed to win a position as a team manager, he turned his efforts toward humanitarian endeavors. He often visited sick children in hospitals and he served with the Red Cross during World War II.

In 1946, after The Big Bam was diagnosed with cancer, the magazine Guideposts ran an essay attributed to Ruth, in which he described his feelings after making his Confession before surgery. He wrote:

“As I lay in bed that evening I thought to myself what a comforting feeling to be free from fear and worries. I now could simply turn them over to God.”

When Ruth died, two years later, at his bedside was a statue of St. Martin de Porres, the humble Dominican brother.

Babe Ruth was no saint — so few of us are — but these stories remind us that our grounding as Catholics tends to remain with us. Even if we fall into sin over and over, each week offers us another chance to deepen our relationship with Christ and hear what He is calling us to do.

Click here to read Michael O’Loughlin’s great article for Crux Now.

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