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| November 6, 2013 | 1 Comment

Catholic author’s new book, ‘The Catechism of Hockey,’ draws parallels between faith, sport

Alyssa Bormes draws connections between the Catholic faith and hockey in her recently-released book, “The Catechism of Hockey.” Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Alyssa Bormes draws connections between the Catholic faith and hockey in her recently-released book, “The Catechism of Hockey.” Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Alyssa Bormes has never played hockey. But, she said that going to the penalty box changed her life.

She wasn’t wearing skates when she went to what is known in the sport as the “sin bin,” but the result was the same — a clean slate.

She talks about the penalty box and other nuances of the game that is passionately loved by thousands of Minnesotans in her recently released book, “The Catechism of Hockey.”

She believes there are important parallels between the popular winter pastime and the Catholic faith, and she’s hoping to use it to draw hockey enthusiasts closer to God and the Church.

Bormes’ faith journey began on the grassy plains of Aberdeen, S.D. She grew up in a Catholic home as the youngest of eight children, with her father lacing up a pair of skates on her feet like he had done for all of her older siblings.

She enjoyed the time with her dad and embraced the faith he and her mom passed down. It culminated with being confirmed in eighth grade by Bishop Paul Dudley, a long-time friend and seminary classmate of her father (Bishop Dudley died in 2006).

Unfortunately, her spiritual life got derailed — for 17 years, in fact. Hence, the need for time in the “box.” She actually has adapted that hockey term to mean the sacrament of reconciliation. In fact, that is one of the major points in her book.

She writes about how hockey’s penalty box resembles confession, in that the person who goes in the box guilty comes out clean. That’s exactly what happened to her after staying away from the Church, Bishop Dudley and the sacrament of reconciliation for almost two decades, stretching all the way into her 30s.

“He’s my spiritual father,” said Bormes, 48 and a member of Holy Family in St. Louis Park, of Bishop Dudley. “But, I fell away from the Church when I got to college. I sort of avoided him. I would just never go out to seek Bishop Dudley because I knew that he would tell me to change my life, and I wasn’t willing to. But then, there was a day when I was so lost. I actually talk about it in the book because we talk about confession in the book.

“I was so lost that I knew that I had to . . . go to a priest and go to confession, even though I hadn’t been in 17 years. I didn’t know how to do it anymore. I wasn’t exactly sure why I was going, except that I was so lost I just couldn’t survive anymore. So, I went to confession with Bishop Dudley, and in one sentence, he brought me home.”

Bormes is hoping that readers of her book will similarly be drawn to the sacrament. She also hopes it will be an encouragement to parents, especially dads.

A positive sign was a recent talk she gave at St. Paul’s Outreach Men on a Mission, a breakfast event with a featured speaker. She said she sold more than 20 copies of the book after her talk in September.

“The whole book is directed to all parents, but then, in the end, to dads,” she said. “Dads are almost always the sports head of the family, and they need to be the spiritual heads of the family.”

The ultimate prize

Of course, no book about hockey would be complete without mention of the game’s ultimate prize — the Stanley Cup. She writes about the sport’s holy grail in a simple, five-page chapter that connects the athletes who compete for it and those who respond to God’s call to the priesthood.

She begins by sharing an anecdote at one of her many talks on the catechism of hockey, which began years before she started writing the book. She asked audience members to name hockey’s ultimate trophy. Eventually, everyone came up with the same answer: the Stanley Cup.

Her next point made the room go silent: “Yes, the Stanley Cup is the ultimate reward in hockey and it is not available to your daughters. Only your sons can dream of the Stanley Cup.”

She went on to note that the Cup is beyond reach of most men as well — those with physical and mental disabilities, those who are too tall or too short and those who just don’t have the talent to play the game at its highest level.

Yet, most people don’t give this simple point a moment’s thought. Why? Because if their team wins it, they somehow feel a part of it, to the point of saying “we” won the Cup when the team they cheer for captures the trophy.

That’s how it is in the Church, Bormes notes. Like NHL players, priests are an elite group of men who work to bring something meaningful to their congregation. In fact, what they are offering to those in the pews is much more than the Cup. They try to help worshipers receive what she calls the “Eternal Crown of Glory.”

This is one of many connections between faith and hockey that she describes in the book. Other topics include the coach, the goalie, the Zamboni, Wayne Gretzky (legendary former player for the Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers) and Herb Brooks, who gained acclaim for coaching the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that won a gold medal and defeated the highly favored Soviet Union along the way.

Brooks died in 2003, but his widow Patti got her hands on the book and gave it a thumbs up. This quote from her appears on the back cover:

“This book is enjoyable and should be an inspiration to those involved in the game of hockey. Herbie would have been humbled by bringing hockey into the realm of spirituality.”

The book also received good reviews from other notable figures, including a hockey-playing bishop, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., Brian Bonin, former University of Minnesota hockey player who was named college hockey’s top player in 1996, and Archbishop John Nienstedt, who cheers for the Detroit Red Wings but has been known to attend Minnesota Wild games.

Drawing inspiration

Ironically, Bormes wrote the book during a period of time when she was battling chronic shoulder pain. She ended up having four shoulder surgeries over several years, and wrote the book in between surgeries.

Sometimes, the pain was excruciating, and she often had trouble even lifting one of her hands to the keyboard. But, advice from Bishop Dudley kept her going.

“On his deathbed, I had the great privilege to visit him a few times. I just remember the day he told me about suffering,” she said. “He told me about the intention he had as he suffered and was dying. He said that you should always have some intention in your back pocket for even the little sufferings.

“The intention [from the shoulder pain] was really for the priesthood because of how much I loved Bishop Dudley and how the priesthood had brought me home. I’ll be eternally grateful for the gift of the priesthood.”

She also is grateful to her boss, Dale Ahlquist, who encouraged her to start writing the book back in 2007, when she told him she woke up one night and had the inspiration for “The Catechism of Hockey.”

Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, wrote the forward and published the book. Of course, it contains a quote by G.K. Chesterton.

“As a sort of a gift, Chesterton gave us one last quote, probably three weeks before we took this to the printer,” Bormes said. “It’s the quote in the foreword, and it’s all about sports having all these rules even though people don’t want their faith to have rules. But, they submit to all these rules in sports.”

Another quote that made the book’s 203 pages came from a hockey mom Bormes talked to about the book. It speaks to the challenge of trying to pull people away from the rink and into the pews.

When comparing Mass to hockey, the woman said to her, “But, Alyssa, the difference between hockey and the Mass is hockey is fun.”

Bormes offered a simple, nonconfrontational reply: “Yeah, but not if you don’t know what’s going on. If you’re at a hockey game and you don’t know what’s going on, it’s just a hard bench in a cold place.

. . . If you don’t know anything about hockey, it’s completely meaningless. And, you’re just waiting for it to be over.”

Thus, the challenge was issued to this hockey mom — learn about her faith, and the Mass will come to life.

And, she’ll end up with something far greater than a hockey win to cheer about.

To order a copy of the book, visit

Excerpts from ‘The Catechism of Hockey’

By Alyssa Bormes

hockey. . . There are major and minor penalties in hockey and the skater goes to the box. Major and minor and the skater goes to the box. I’ll pause right here to see if this reminds you of anything. Major, minor, and the box. Mortal, venial, and the box. Another name for the box in hockey is the ‘sin bin’. Ah! Hockey is so very Catholic.

. . . In hockey, there are five skaters and one goalie per team that can be on the ice at a time. When a given team has all five skaters and the goalie on the ice at once, they are considered to be playing at full strength. Time in the box removes a skater from the ice, and no skater from the bench is sent in to replace the missing skater. This is considered skating shorthanded.

. . . At the Minnesota Gopher games, after a penalty is over, the announcer says, “The Gophers are at full strength.”

The crowd responds, “They always were!”

I once told this to my friend Father Paul Murray. He gasped and whispered, “Yes. Say it again.”

“The Gophers are at full strength.”

“They always were.”

“Yes, that’s it, that’s confession.”

After penitents have done their time in the box, they are at full strength. God’s forgiveness is complete. The offense is gone; in a sense, it is as if it never happened. There may still be temporal consequences, however, that need to be remedied. Spiritually, the sin may be gone, but the consequences of the sin may remain.

. . . “The Gophers are at full strength.”

“They always were.”

Imagine if, for even one day, we as the Church played at full strength! If each of Her members were in a state of grace, the world would be transformed.

There is no shame in the box. You are not at your worst when you are in the box. You are at your worst when you are sinning. One might even say that you are at your best when you are in the box. You come humbly before Christ. You tell the Divine Referee your transgressions and you are met with Mercy Himself.

If you have time to do in the box, do your time in the box. Don’t make the team play shorthanded because you are afraid of the box. The box is just a part of hockey, and it is just a part of the Church. Go do your time in the box.

“The Church is at full strength.”

“She always was!”



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