It’s tennis season here in the UK, and fans all over the world will be tuning in to watch the All England Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, which are followed up several weeks later with the final Grand Slam of the year, the US Open, at Flushing Meadows in New York.
This year the BBC published an article entitled “How do you train to be a tennis umpire?” which featured the example of a more unusual professional umpire – for the secular world at least. Fr. Paul Arinze is a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Madison in Wisconsin, and has been a tennis umpire at the Olympics, the Australian and US Opens, and Wimbledon too. The BBC writes that he can “keep his cool” in the onslaught of a player’s angry outburst, as he is a “specialist in forgiveness.” Fr. Paul told the BBC that he can “understand how players react in the heat of competition and that they do not mean what they say,” and that it is “important not to make the situation worse – even if you know you are in the right.”
As for his ministry, he says that being an umpire helps him as a priest. Umpiring has “improved his concentration” as he added, “When I counsel someone, they can speak for a long time but I maybe only need to reply to 20% of what they say, and it is important that I do not miss that part.”
This is not the first time that Fr Paul Arinze’s umpiring has been covered by the secular press. In 2011 his story was covered by the New York Times, who also filmed an interview with him which you can watch here:
The New York Times also wrote that:
“Upon arrival at different tournaments, Arinze first finds the nearest Catholic church. There, his twin passions intersect, again.
They are, Arinze said, more similar than at first glance. In church and on the court, Arinze witnesses the extremes of human emotion, the best events of people’s lives and careers (baptisms and weddings, victories and championships) and also the worst (funerals and losses).
In both instances, there is no one best approach. The basics are the same, but the personalities are different, and thus the approach must be as well. The constant is dealing with people who mostly just want someone — a priest, an umpire — to listen to them, a private confession versus a public one.
While Arinze in no way believes sporting events hold the same importance as many other events in life, he does see similarities, because to the participants, matches often take on oversize importance.”
The article also states that while Fr. Arinze has been asked to consider going full time with umpiring, he always responds, “No thank you, I love my job.”
Fr. Paul shares his vocation story in this article from the Daughters of Divine Love, where he explains that he grew up in Nigeria, where his faith was nurtured by the sisters at his parish and school. He says that they “made us understand what God wants of us, what it means to be a child of God and how to love the Commandments of God, and not see the Commandments as something that is deterring us from living life. Even when they corrected us for doing something wrong you come out of that feeling, getting the sense that you know, Sister wanted me to be better.”
Fr. Paul’s vocation to the priesthood and his passion for umpiring tennis, which started by simply watching tennis matches at the University of Madison, and progressed to Grand Slams and the Olympics, is a reminder that God always works surprises in our lives. God’s imagination and creativity are far greater than ours, and responding to God’s call in our lives does not mean losing everything we love. It does mean being willing to give everything we love, but doing so in the trust and faith that God is never outdone in generosity. God uses the most interesting and unusual ways to bring the Gospel to the wider world, and allows us to witness to our faith in the most unique ways.
Fr. Paul Arinze is not the only priest or religious to have surprised the world with their unusual talents. Below, you can check out three other people who have given their lives to God, and in turn, God has used their gifts and talents to witness His love to the world.
This nun doesn’t just have amazing culinary skills that won her $10,000, she is also a virtuous example of joy for all of us.
Meet 2 former Olympians who are now actively serving God and encouraging others to do the same through promoting religious vocations. Beyond inspiring!
Meet Esmeralda Solís Gonzáles. Last year she was a beauty queen in her hometown and this year she is a postulant. Read her advice on vocation.