By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
HOUGHTON — From the pitcher’s mound, Father Dan Dorau celebrated Mass before the semi-final and final games of a six-parish Catholic softball tournament July 16. The spectators’ stand behind the softball field’s chain-link fence served as pews, with around 200 children and adults filling them.
“This the first time I’ve said Mass behind a fence,” Father Dorau quipped, as he began the liturgy assisted by newly ordained Deacon Mike Linnenbrink. It marked other “firsts” — the first time the priest celebrated Mass in a ballfield and the first time Deacon Linnenbrink assisted Father Dorau as a deacon.
“For a week prior to the games, the weather was looking really hot, humid and sunny,” said tournament photographer Robyn Conrad. “However, when the tournament came we had amazingly overcast weather, a breeze and a high of 82. God sure had his hand in that one! There were some amazing teams present.”
The “amazing teams” of around 11 co-ed players each, represented St. Boniface Parish-Farmington, St. James the Less Parish-St. Paul, St. John the Baptist Parish-Houghton, St. Mary Parish-West Point, Divine Mercy Parish-Burlington/West Burlington and St. Alphonsus Parish-Mount Pleasant. Father Dorau serves as pastor for four of the parishes — St. Boniface, St. James, St. John and St. Mary, assisted by Deacon Linnenbrink. Conrad is the media, bookkeeping and communications staffer for St. James and St. John parishes.
The first game started at 10:30 a.m. and the championship game at 7 p.m. Father Dorau and Deacon Linnenbrink shared announcing duties. The deacon has plenty of experience announcing — a skill he honed at football games for Central Lee School District — but not with Father Dorau. “We played off each other a little bit. I think we have a little work to do before we hit the big time,” Father Dorau joked.
He introduced the idea for a one-day Catholic Softball Tournament, with the inaugural tournament held last year in the cluster parishes he serves. “I’m not a particular ball fan, I was looking for ways to bring families together and create unity among the parishes,” he said. “The more things we do together as multiple parishes, the better.” Another incentive: “I’m always hoping to bring people back to church.”
This year, two additional parishes from the Keokuk Deanery — Burlington/West Burlington and Mount Pleasant — fielded teams for the tournament. The Houghton Ball Association provided the ballfield, a jump house and slippery slide for the kids. Holy Trinity Catholic Schools provided the sound system. Concessions and food trucks served up treats.
“We had a lot of repeat players from last year,” Father Dorau said. Stephanie Schinstock of St. James was among them. “We actually lost to St. John’s last year and beat them in the championship this year,” said Schinstock, who played softball for the Iowa Hawkeyes on the 2003 Big Ten Tournament and Big Ten Conference championship teams.
She enjoyed playing on the parish team, which is a little different because it’s co-ed and anyone over the age of 14 can play. “It’s a good time and you’re seeing each other in a different atmosphere than you normally see each other and you can relax a bit,” Schinstock said. She enjoyed Mass on the ballfield and saw people she has not seen in church. “It was a great opportunity to share our faith.”
“All of the players had a ton of fun,” said Deacon Linnenbrink, who recognized some of the players as participants in the youth ministry and confirmation class programs he led years ago. “It was refreshing to see that these kids I knew from 15 to 20 years ago are involved in the Church today.” Seeing so many young families at the tournament encouraged him. “They know each other even though they belong to different parishes. These 30- and 40-year-olds playing ball already have a good sense of unity. What moved me the most was distributing Communion to such a large, multigenerational group of people. I feel like the Mass built such a community between the people.”
During his homily, Father Dorau said, “There are many faces I recognize but unfortunately some faces I haven’t recognized…. The question you need to ask yourself, ‘Am I showing my face at church?’ ‘Am I being part of my parish other than at a softball tournament?’ The whole point of this softball tournament is so that we can participate as a family, a family of faith and then we can come together to give our devotion to God, our Lord. We do that through the Eucharist. Today we brought the Mass to you.
We won’t do that every Saturday. We won’t do that every Sunday … It’s up to you to find that priority in your life and to make that a priority in your family.”
Father Dorau anticipates that the tournament will continue as an annual event. “We have space for 18 champions on the trophy,” he said. In a colorful bulletin she created after the tournament, Conrad included this teaser: “Who will win (the trophy) next year? Could we possibly gain even more teams? Maybe get the bishop to join us? Only time will tell! Until next year folks!”