Sister Kathleen Murray, DC, knows the power of prayer. And now a whole lot more people do, too, thanks to the State Champion Gibault Hawks basketball team.
This past season Sister Kathleen, the assistant to the principal at Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School in East St. Louis, and Sister Thea Bowman students adopted the Hawks team, and asked God to bless the team in a prayer service before each game.
The blessings didn’t fail. The Hawks, coached by Dennis Rueter, won the IHSA Class 1A state title March 11 in Champaign with a 65-45 win over Scales Mound.
“She was like our Sr. Jean of Loyola,” Principal Mike Kish said, referring to the iconic nun who served as chaplain for the Loyola Ramblers men’s basketball team of Loyola University Chicago.
Sister Kathleen created a prayer before each game for the Gibault team. Copies of the prayers were given to Principal Kish, and were prayed at Gibault High School.
Sister Kathleen got involved with the team when several Gibault students came to Sr. Thea Bowman for their Senior Service projects. The boys helped out in the primary grades.
“Julie Hanvey, mother of one of the players, Kameron Hanvey, simply asked me for a blessing before their games advancing to the eventual Illinois State Championship,” Sister Kathleen says. “Julie alerted me when a blessing was in order. “
“I have always been a strong believer in the power of prayer,” she adds.
Sister Kathleen offered simple prayers to encourage the student-athletes to reflect on the gifts given to them by God.
“They obviously have stellar talent, outstanding coaches, and an incredible fan base,” she says.
Sister Kathleen said that since the school’s namesake, Father Pierre Gibault, SJ, was a missionary, she tried to use a bit of Jesuit infused prayers.
“All for the glory of God and asking for all those prayers through the intercession of Blessed Mother,” she says. “You can’t go wrong!”
Some blessings were held in the staff room where the players had lunch. One of the blessings was in the cafeteria, and one blessing occurred outside in the primary playground so the St. Thea Bowman students could also ask for blessings for the players….or “gentlemen,” as Sister Kathleen always called them.
At least one of those blessings was via FaceTime.
“I was happy to be part of their faith journey,” she says.
Principal Kish says he will always remember Sister Kathleen stepping up to tell the team and Gibault students that “we are “blest and a blessing!”
“Every team needs a Sr. Kathleen,” Kish says.
The dream season concluded with Sister Kathleen leading the opening prayer at the Championship Celebration on Sunday March 12 the day after the title victory.
The Hawks got off to an inauspicious start with a one-point loss to Waterloo High School to start the season. But they went on to win 18 of their next 20 games.
One highlight of an incredible season was the supersectional “shot seen round the world,” when Hanvey nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer against Illini Bluff.
The Hawks were the first basketball state champion team in Monroe County history.
Gibault and Coach Reuter came close in 1999 but lost in the waning seconds of the title game.
The Hawks finished the season with a record 32 wins.