"Big Four" Highlights


Holy American Heroes

Midwest Hall of Fame holds up Catholic greats

Something fresh and inspiring is growing in Kansas, on the campus of Benedictine College in Atchison. It’s called the American Catholic Hall of Fame, a forum for honoring outstanding Catholic individuals for achievements in various categories.

Babe Ruth, voted to the American Catholic Hall of Fame for sports figures. is shown in 2006 animation "Everyone's Hero."

The most recent addition to the Hall of Fame was the induction of the top-10 American Sports Figures. Knute Rockne, the legendary Notre Dame football coach with a name as tough as his personality, came out on top. Baseball’s greatest, Babe Ruth, was chosen for the second slot.

Previous entries have included U.S. Intellectuals, with the lesser known Orestes Brownson topping the list, and U.S. Bishops, with John Carroll, the first Bishop of Baltimore, top vote-getter.

The American Catholic Hall of Fame, which is now only an online resource, is the work of the Gregorian Institute at Benedictine, under the guidance of director Tom Hoopes, who also serves in Marketing and Communications at the college.

Fathers for Good spoke to Hoopes about the Hall of Fame and future plans.

Fathers for Good: Where did the idea for the American Catholic Hall of Fame come from?

Hoopes: When Pope Benedict XVI visited America in 2008 he kept challenging American Catholics to be a voice in the public square. He’s been repeating the same thing in the U.S. bishops’ ad limina visits: promote Catholic identity in public life.

Benedictine College saw that as a great rallying cry for us. We are in Kansas, whose Catholic population has the nation’s best Mass attendance record. We have a very active Knights of Columbus group on campus, and always have. We are the school that was the birthplace of FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. Catholic identity in public life comes naturally to us.

So we came up with the Gregorian Institute. The Institute teaches our Gregorian Fellows how to be effective Catholic leaders in our culture, in all walks of life, and it helps current leaders know the principles of Catholic identity in their fields, through conferences and a free-speech digest. But we needed some way to capture people’s imagination with the pope’s challenge: Thus, the American Catholic Hall of Fame.

Specifically, the idea came from the entryway of my building here, where we have this beautiful mural painted by one of our monks in the 1930s. It depicts the leading Catholic thinkers of all time: Dante, Michelangelo, Beethoven, Pope Leo XIII, Louis Pasteur, Gregor Mendel and more, all hanging out together. We thought: Why not update this and look at specific categories of Catholics in the United States?

FFG: What kind of Church approval do you need to start a Hall of Fame of this kind? Hoopes: Kansas City (Kansas) Archbishop Joseph Naumann has been supportive of the Gregorian Institute project from the start. He is very close to the college and comes to campus regularly. We make it clear that this American Catholic Hall of the Fame is not an official designation of the Church — the Church has its own Hall of Fame, the saints. But the archbishop is one of our advisors in the larger Institute. We couldn’t — and wouldn’t — do this without him.

FFG: What is the purpose of the Hall of Fame?

Hoopes: The Catholic Hall of Fame reminds people that not only is Catholic faith compatible with living your life in your profession, or avocation, or pastime — it is the greatest way to live. Too often people think of their faith as one compartment in their mind, and the rest of their lives as separate. Men like James Braddock didn’t think so. He was a heavyweight champion and a Dorothy Day volunteer. Vince Lombardi certainly didn’t think so. He was a Knight of Columbus renowned for his compassion, and a lifelong devout Catholic who also won most football games he was involved in. The point of faith isn’t success, obviously. But we need not separate “faith life” from “real life.” The life of faith is the most real life we have.

FFG: Who chooses the inductees?

Hoopes: I have a growing list of people I email to get nominations. This is really a shared project among all the voters.

We ask that winners be unabashedly Catholic, and truly distinguished in their field. We have been delighted by the response we have gotten. George Weigel, who will be our commencement speaker this May, has joined in. Dr. Robert George from Princeton, Dr. Janet Smith, along with editors of national publications.

FFG: Do you have a room set aside at the college?

Hoopes: We’re working on it. We just completed a massive new academic building on campus that opens this fall. The building is dedicated to the fields that the Benedictines transformed society with: Education, Business, Theology and Philosophy. We joke that it will be the most state-of-the-art Theology and Philosophy building in the country. We want to enshrine the winners there.

FFG: Thus far you've done clergy, laity and sports figures. What's next?

Hoopes: We’re rolling out categories one by one. We started with a long list of categories we would like to see. Then we pick the timing of each based on what we see on people’s minds. We didn’t expect to be doing sports this early, but then the Tim Tebow craze made us want to support him and share some “Catholic Tebows” with the world. At some point this year we want to do “Great American Catholic Public Servants” to remind people that politics is a service to others — one that some Catholics have embraced with great authenticity and effectiveness, without compromising their principles.

Visit the American Catholic Hall of Fame.