Saints vs Eagles : They are quite the Eagles fans, and from the nine-story villa in Flourtown where many of them live to Chestnut Hill College, where many of them work, they’re ready for Sunday.
That includes Sister Margaret Mary Murphy, 79, who on Friday sported an Eagles sweatshirt that read “Volate Aquilae Volate,” Fly Eagles Fly in Latin, a gift from her foreign language students at the college.
And Sister Cathy Nerney 72, who went to the Super Bowl last year and says Eagles games are “central to what Sunday is about” in the religious community she lives in.
And Sister Mary Theresa Shevland, who can’t watch the games with the other sisters because her blood pressure would shoot too high: “The sisters say I care too much, and I do.”
And so many more.
“Hopefully they will win on Sunday,” said Sister Madeline Davis, 86, a resident at the Flourtown villa, where about 200 sisters live. “We’ll all be on our knees praying.”Sister Mary William Herron came to really love the Eagles when she taught and lived in South Philadelphia, near the Linc. Her move to the Sisters of Saint Joseph Villa in Flourtown has not diminished her passion for the team.
“Those of us who can get on our knees,” clarifies Sister Roberta Archibald, 79.
Not much could shake the faith of these fans. It’s only been bolstered by the contingent of Eagles players who have been public about their faith in God and how it is the guiding principle in their lives. Most prominent are Eagles quarterbacks Nick Foles, who wrote about his faith in his book: Believe It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds, and Carson Wentz, who started a faith-based foundation in 2017 with the mission of “uplifting individuals and communities around the world by demonstrating God’s Love for His people.”
Foles, who led the Eagles on the seemingly miraculous Super Bowl run last year with uncanny calmness and a sense of humility, has even been affectionately dubbed St. Nick. He has talked about taking courses to become a youth pastor after football.
Among the others are tight end Zach Ertz, wide receiver Jordan Matthews, and backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld. Some of the players pray together. They’re also involved in youth ministry. Foles provided Bibles to the Philadelphia-area Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and along with other players participated in fellowship “huddles” with athletes in local schools.
Their charitable work and success has only made the spotlight brighter on the importance of faith, said Sister Carol Jean Vale, president of Chestnut Hill College.
“It’s a time when we really need to see people who are strong and competent and successful and educated standing for the right kind of values, and they do that,” she said. “Our city is being provided with men of substance and belief in God, and I think it’s critical. It’s a great gift to the city.”
Spirituality and sports have long been connected and share some of the same values, including the emphasis on relationships and team work and the importance of living in the moment. The connection goes back to the start of the ancient Olympics, which were played in homage to the Greek gods, notes Ed Hastings, an assistant theology professor at Villanova University, who teaches a course on sports and spirituality. The Vatican in 2016 hosted a conference called “Sport at the Service of Humanity.”
“We can learn so much about ourselves and God through sports,” Hastings said, whether it’s how to cope with loss or gain perspective on victory,
The sisters, many of them former elementary and secondary school teachers, noted that even the players who don’t talk about their faith have done much good for the community. And while they may pray for a win, they pray harder that no one — whether an opponent or an Eagle — gets hurt.
“It’s most important to me that they’re safe,” said Sister Roberta.
Some of the Saint Joseph sisters have been fans since they were children, growing up in the Philadelphia area.
Sister Eileen M. Maguire, 78, recalls going to the games with her dad in the 1940s, even in the bitter cold. To this day, she credits the experience for her tolerance to low temperatures.
What really sealed Sister Mary William Herron’s love for the team was working at Stella Maris Catholic School in South Philadelphia and living nearby, where she could hear the loud cheering from the stadium area and joined in.
Some sisters came to Eagles fandom a bit later, including Sister Carol, the college president. She grew up in the Washington area and was a — gulp — Redskins fan. Once, she confesses, she went to a home game when the Eagles were playing the Redskins and wore a Redskins sweatshirt under her coat. The other team she really liked — and this made some sisters wince — was the Dallas Cowboys, something about Roger Staubach, the team’s quarterback in the 1970s.
The sisters waited and watched, hoping for an evolution in her thinking. It happened about 15 years ago, Sister Carol says, when she was driving home from a fund-raiser on the Schuylkill Expressway and knew it was time to embrace the Eagles.
“We knew it would happen,” said Sister Margaret Mary, the foreign language teacher. “We just didn’t know when.”
The sisters are especially inspired by Foles’ comments about the importance of relationships on the team. Their order, which originated in France and came to the United States in the 1800s, also emphasizes relationships.
“We consider everyone our dear neighbor,” said Sister Peg Fleming, 84. “We want to be in relationship with all.”