SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The College of St. Scholastica's football team may have a secret weapon. The team from Duluth, Minn., competes today in the first round of the NCAA Divison III football playoffs. Minnesota Public Radio's Dan Kraker introduces us to a coach who just might be able to bring some divine intervention.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL CHIMING)
DAN KRAKER, BYLINE: At 10 past 5, the bell tower at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth calls 70 Benedictine nuns to prayer - all except Sister Lisa Maurer. She's busy at football practice.
LISA MAURER: All right, up to the line. Get going. Get going.
KRAKER: The 5-foot-2 Maurer is weaving in and out of players who tower over her, dispensing fist bumps, hugging and constantly encouraging.
MAURER: All right, again, blue, again.
Is it cool that I'm coaching? Of course it is (laughter). But in honesty, I look at it more as an extension of my ministry as a sister, that this is a way that I'm supporting our college at St. Scholastica. I'm not teaching in a classroom. I'm not doing our mission in the classroom. I just happen to be doing it on the football field.
KRAKER: Ten years ago, Maurer was teaching at her high school alma mater in southern Minnesota, but she felt something missing. She knew she wanted to devote her life to God, but she figured that would mean giving up coaching.
MAURER: I was OK with not being married, OK with not having my own children, but I was not OK with that idea that I wouldn't have that thrill of competition and just that anticipation of game day.
KRAKER: Still, she decided to trade one passion for another. In 2007, she joined the monastery at St. Scholastica, where the practice field goal posts were visible from her bedroom window.
MAURER: I would find, in my afternoon, sneak out to football practice and 'cause it's just - you know, maybe go for a walk or say my rosary or just sit in the stands and watch the game, maybe read a book just 'cause I liked being around it.
KRAKER: Then, last year, the college hired a new coach. Kurt Ramler met Sister Lisa and a few days later, asked her to join his staff as a volunteer kicking and punting coach, even though she had never coached football before.
KURT RAMLER: Really, to me, it was just, wow, here's a passionate, intelligent person that wants to be involved with the program. How could I best utilize her - her energies and her skills?
KRAKER: So she studied up on kicking and reached out to coaches for advice. And Ramler says, despite a few raised eyebrows at first, the move has been seamless.
RAMLER: She's tremendous. She's able to wear her habit, (laughter) go out there and yell at our guys when they're not toeing the line. And I just take a step back and go, I'm over here being a figurehead, letting Sister Lisa do her thing.
KRAKER: Earlier this month, Sister Lisa welcomed freshman kicker Donovan Blatz off the field during the team's final home game.
MAURER: On the numbers, having a day 60.
KRAKER: Blatz admits he was shocked to learn that a nun would be his position coach. But he and other players, like senior quarterback Mike Mensing, say she offers something other coaches don't.
MIKE MENSING: Off the field, there's definitely the sister part of her job. So you can go to her with maybe a little bit more personal level than other coaches. She asks me how my family's doing, how my girlfriend's doing. So it's nice to have a coach like that as well.
MAURER: Here we go. Next time, guys. Next play. Next play.
KRAKER: Lisa Maurer will lead the Saints football team in prayer this morning, as she does every game day. She says she feels doubly blessed to be both a sister and a coach and to be living out her mission on the football field. For NPR News, I'm Dan Kraker in Duluth.
MAURER: Here we go defense. Let's go, D.
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