Saturday, June 6, 1998
St. Christopher makes a comeback as the patron
saint of the playing field
By Ellen Creager / Knight Ridder Newspapers
DETROIT -- Twenty-nine years after St. Christopher's demotion
in the legion of Catholic saints, he's still standing tall.
The traditional patron saint of travelers has even picked up
some work. He's now the unofficial patron saint of -- student
"The new thing is St. Christopher as a sports protector
-- soccer, hockey, baseball, basketball. We're selling a lot of
those medals," says Dennis Klotz, general manager of the
Catholic Bookstore in Detroit.
Sales are so hot, "I can't keep the hockey medals in stock,"
says Pat Darichuk, buyer for December's Special Place gift shop
in Southgate, a Detroit suburb. "Of course, this is hockey
St. Christopher is best known as the patron saint of travelers
but also has been invoked to protect bachelors, bus drivers, porters,
truck drivers, mariners, sailors and cab drivers and to ward against
toothaches, lightning and storms.
But he ran into rough times when the Catholic Church stripped
him of his feast day in 1969 and the Vatican announced there was
no proof St. Christopher ever existed beyond legend, and even
that was pretty flimsy. He held onto his sainthood, but just barely.
"We do have people come in the store and point to the
St. Christopher medals and say, ÔYou shouldn't be selling
those,' " says Lisa Boyk, who works with Klotz. "They
know he was demoted or de-canonized or whatever. Well, they can
de-canonize him but they can't take him out of people's hearts."
Or off the ice rink or football field.
Kevin Hubbard, 9, wears his St. Christopher hockey medal everywhere
except the shower. The third-grader got it from his mother, Sherry,
when he was struggling on the Trenton Mite A Hawks this winter.
"It has a little hockey player on it and it says ÔSt.
Christopher protect me.' It's silver," says Kevin, who has
played hockey since he was 5 and likes playing center best. "I
wear it every day under my shirt."
"They were having a rough year and he needed a boost,"
says Sherry Hubbard, a bookkeeper at December's. "I believed
it would help protect him while he's playing, and I told him that
wearing it would help him."
"Yep," says Kevin. "It just made me play better
St. Christopher's new role as sports protector is fine with
the Catholic Church, "just so it doesn't become a magical
charm, and people don't think, well, if I wear this medal I'm
going to win," says the Rev. John West, theologian for the
Archdiocese of Detroit and rector of St. John Center for Youth
and Family in Plymouth. "We don't pray to win. We pray that
what we do can be focused, and in the process, we don't give up
our morals, values and faith."
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Lou Willoughby stuffs his St. Christopher and St. Sebastian
medals in his sock before all his Redford Catholic Central football
games. He uses them to pray before the game. St. Sebastian is
the traditional saint of athletes and soldiers, but Lou can't
help thinking St. Christopher is bringing him luck, too. The football
team has lost only once since his junior varsity year -- "and
that game I didn't bring the medals," says the 17-year-old
Livonia, Mich., junior, who plays on the varsity defensive line.
"It brings us luck, and it keeps us safe on the bus when
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The Jeweled Cross is one of a handful of manufacturers that
last year began making St. Christopher medals depicting one of
18 sports on the front and the saint on the back -- for football,
bowling, soccer, snowboarding, volleyball, golf, cheerleading,
track and more.
"People count on St. Christopher for protection even traveling
down the bases or the football field," says Paul Dean, sales
representative for the Attleboro, Mass., company. Out of 150 saints
whose religious items he peddles, St. Christopher is still the
But it's not just due to sports medals. Catholic Bookstore
in Detroit sells hundreds of St. Christopher prayer cards and
2,000 visor clips a year, which motorists afix to their car visors.
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Mary Ann Hill of Garden City, Mich., learned to drive 14 years
ago after her husband Robert's death. She never goes anywhere
without a St. Christopher medal in the car. Neither did her late
"I just feel it protects me. I feel good with him there,"
says Hill, 64, who is bookkeeper at St. Christopher's Catholic
Church on Detroit's west side.
And if there was a small dip in the saint's sales when the
Vatican announcement came out in 1969, it has long since been
made up for. Too many people have too much invested in St. Christopher.
It's too late to unbelieve.
"All these years, I've been praying to St. Christopher
every time we take the kids on a trip -- and then suddenly you
think, does it do any good?" says Klotz, who has been with
Catholic Bookstore for 22 years. "But once a saint, always
Pat Darichuk believes that none in the past or future legions
of heavenly saints will ever supplant the towering affection believers
hold for St. Christopher, no matter what church historians discover
about the exaggeration of his legend. He's still the people's
"My opinion," says Darichuk, "is if he watched
over us all those years and kept us safe traveling through two
world wars, who's to say he's not a saint?"
(c) 1998, Detroit Free Press.
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