— The Hockey Mom (@theh0ck3ym0m) March 31, 2016
Like me, Gordie was born and raised in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, born a year and a month before my dad was born. When I was growing up, even though the province boasted a couple of politicians of note, including the Prince Albert-born Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, and the father of universal healthcare, Premier Tommy Douglas, I’d say that Gordie Howe was our province’s most famous person. And he might be still.
The other day, I called up Terry O’Malley, who I know from Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Saskatchewan. I called him because I’d read about a rink on Father David Bauer Drive and I couldn’t really remember the story and the connection between Father David Bauer and Father Athol Murray, the priest who had run the College that’s now named after him for 46 years, until he died in 1975.
Terry, who is now a Canadian citizenship judge, was on three Canadian Olympic hockey teams coached by Father Bauer, in 1964, 1968 and again in 1980. Since he was also hired by the College as a high school teacher/coach, I knew he’d have a story or two for me about Father Bauer.
Of course he did – and not only that, he sent me a 31-page word document that basically chronicles the great influence that Father Bauer had on his life, and, consequently, that little college out in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, Athol Murray College of Notre Dame.
Both these men were Catholic priests, loved hockey AND Canada and both were inducted, posthumously, into the Hockey Hall of Fame. My dad had been a Wilcox town boy and gone to the college, and since his father was the village’s doctor, my dad, “Doc” as he was called, was often asked to drive Père (Father Murray’s nickname) wherever he wanted to go: Père had neither a car nor a driver’s license. Because of that, I knew Father Murray as a kid, and when I finished high school in Regina, I drove out to Wilcox to see if their Arts program was still running (it was) and I decided to go to University there.
That was two years after Père Murray had died. The college hired a President, R. Martin Kenney, Sr., and Martin brought in a couple of teachers/coaches to keep the college’s famed hockey program stay alive while he searched for ways to keep the near-bankrupt college going. Those teacher/coaches included Terry O’Malley and another Olympian and former NHL player, Barry MacKenzie.
In that word document, Terry talks about how the Canadian Olympic team stops in Regina in 1963 for a friendly match in a cross-country attempt to raise awareness, and desperately needed money. I’m going to take a couple of paragraphs out of Terry’s document. For context, he’s referring to Father Bauer and the 1964 Canadian Olympic hockey team, and funding.
Keeping the wolf from the door was not easy. When money was particularly short, the wily fox in Bauer would surface. In this case, he had Andy O’Brian, a popular sports writer, do a piece on the team that crossed Canada. It reminded Canadians that this was a national team effort and the government could and ought to support it. Soon afterwards, Judy LaMarsh, the Minister for Health and Amateur Sport awarded the programme $25,000.00. Other gifts came from his own family and friends. And, one in particular, led to a life-time friendship and association.
It was made on the 22nd of November, 1963 and it has a deep imprint in my memory because that was the day John F. Kennedy died. Not a little startled, the team was on its way to Regina from Calgary to play the Saskatchewan Senior All Star team. During the intermission, a Father Athol Murray, the legendary and outspoken educator from Notre Dame College with a reputation as a ‘hockey factory”, was introduced with 15 of his “Hounds” all dressed in red jackets. He began, as he started to take off his priestly collar and jacket:
“So you’re the Canadian bastards who will carry Canada’s hockey colours in the next Olympics!”
He caught our attention.
After a ten minute Periclean exhortation on what it means to represent one’s country and be an inspiration for Canadian youth, he pulled out a cheque for $1000.00. It had been scrounged up by all of his Notre Dame “Hounds” through bottle drives and collections.
I recall Bauer accepting it with tears in his eyes as he had been out to Notre Dame and realized what a sacrifice had been made in raising these funds. That meeting, however, led to years of friendship not only for Bauer, but also an association for myself and Barry MacKenzie as teachers and coaches at this famous little school. Barry MacKenzie became, as well, its President for nine years.
The conversation sparked the researcher in me to see if I could find anything in the CBC Archives with Father David Bauer and Father Athol Murray together, but I came away empty handed. But what I did find was some amazing audio celebrating Gordie Howe Day in Saskatoon, a homecoming to Mr. Hockey, with the introduction given by none other than Father Murray. Called “Gordie Howe Goes Home“, Père uses one of his favourite themes, being proud to be a Canadian no matter where you are from, to introduce Gordie Howe.