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SPORTSbyBROOKS - MAY 22, 2002

HOCKEYTOWN JOURNAL: Hockeytown priest -- Father Casey of St. Dominic's -- combines Wings and prayer

Father Pat Casey began seeing signs in the middle of Mass on Saturday. Nobody else saw them. They bore messages he felt a need to share with his parishioners. Urgent messages.

And so, in the middle of Mass, he intoned: "Red Wings 3, Avalanche 2."

And then, "Red Wings 4, Avalanche 2."

And then the Red Wings won Game 1.

And the crowd was pleased.

And Father Casey, wearing a winged wheel on his vestment, was pleased as well.

Casey, a die-hard Wings fan, arranged for a neighbor to hold up signs in the back of his church, St. Dominic's. (No, not Hasek.) He frequently mentions the Wings when he addresses his congregation.

Of course, this mixture of church and sports has not gone over well with some people.

"I have had complaints from my parishioners who are Detroit Piston fans," said Father Casey, whose parish is located at Trumbull and Warren in Detroit. "They said I didn't do enough to promote the Pistons."

Casey, who might be the wittiest priest in southeast Michigan, doesn't want anybody to get the wrong idea. He is not preaching for the Red Wings. He is not saying that God is a Wings fan.

"I have never prayed for the Red Wings to win," he said.

He has come close. For example: "May God continue to inspire the Red Wings as they inspire our city to great things."

Casey, who grew up in Waterford, said he uses the Wings as a metaphor.

"For Pentecost Sunday, I likened the gifts of the holy spirit to the myriad of gifts that Red Wings players have," he said. "My parishioners are used to my goofy analogies. I'm not preaching for the Red Wings. I just try to use them so people understand what I'm talking about."

This is a savvy PR move, too. He asked a parishioner who made vestments to create this one. Casey made a deal: If she would make the vestment, he would lead a pilgrimage to Bosnia.

"I don't mind at all being the center of attention, but more importantly I'm trying to draw attention to the ministry," he said.

Any other motives?

"I'm always looking for people to give me free tickets to the games," he said. "I'm just a mooch."

Sunday, Father Casey opened his service by asking if any Avalanche fans were in attendance. Nobody raised a hand. What would he have done if a Colorado fan had stood up?

"I would have publicly humiliated them," he joked. "No, I would have made a good-natured jab."

What would he think if a priest in Denver did the same thing with the Avs that he does with the Wings? Would he understand?

"I'm not sure God would understand," he said, "but I would understand."

So this isn't about divine intervention for Mike Ilitch's team?

"Well, it must be the work of God that Darren McCarty got a hat trick," Father Casey cracked.

The priest has no plans to get a Lions or Tigers vestment.

"Hockey is the only one," said Casey, 38. "There is no reason to be a football fan in Detroit. There is very little reason to be a baseball fan in Detroit. And I never could seem to get into basketball."

Father Casey said his favorite Wing is probably Chris Chelios. He admits that when you need an urgent answer to a hockey trivia question, he is not your man. He's simply a priest who happens to be a Wings fan.

And he makes no apologies for mentioning the Wings when he speaks to his parish.

"I think there is a natural link between praising God and athletes' pushing their bodies to limits," he said. "Sports celebrate accomplishment. People reach beyond themselves through athletics. It's all very akin to our relationship to God. Sports is a wonderful way to give glory to God. I don't see anything wrong with it at all." - Free-Press

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