American Pharoah at Mass

This Just In from my Catholic friends here in Lexington and the Catholic News Service…….

Bishop John Stowe of Lexington raises the Eucharist during Mass on Sept. 21 at Ashford Stud Farm. On the left, 2015 Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah watches Mass from his stall. The Mass was part of Chicago Auxiliary Bishop John Manz's pastoral visit to migrant workers in Kentucky on behalf of the USCCB Sept. 19-22, 2016. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Bishop John Stowe of Lexington raises the Eucharist during Mass on Sept. 21 at Ashford Stud Farm. On the left, 2015 Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah watches Mass from his stall. The Mass was part of Chicago Auxiliary Bishop John Manz’s pastoral visit to migrant workers in Kentucky on behalf of the USCCB Sept. 19-22, 2016. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

By Joyce Duriga

LEXINGTON, Ky. — “American Pharoah is on this farm,” Karen said.

“Shut. Up,” I said. “Really? Do you think they’ll let us see him?”

“Nah, he’s probably in a secure area,” she said.

Well, it turned out that not only did we get to see American Pharoah but we participated in the first Mass ever to be said next to his stall where he now lives at Ashford Stud Farm in Lexington.

If you don’t know, American Pharoah is a rock star horse who won the Triple Crown in 2015 — the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Before American Pharoah, the last horse to win the Triple Crown was Affirmed in 1978. Only 12 horses have ever won the Triple Crown in the 147-year history of the three races.

We ended up at the Mass because Karen Callaway, photo editor for the Catholic New World, Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper, and I were covering Chicago Auxiliary Bishop John R. Manz’s pastoral visit to migrant workers on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church. Every year he makes a trip to some part of the country to meet with workers. This year’s trip focused on those who work in the horse racing industry.

[caption id="attachment_16488" align="aligncenter" width="876"]Ashford Stallion Manager Richard Barry introduces American Pharoah to Bishop Manz on Sept. 21. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World) Ashford Stallion Manager Richard Barry introduces American Pharoah to Bishop Manz on Sept. 21. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)


Ashford Stallion Manager Richard Barry introduces American Pharoah to Bishop Manz on Sept. 21. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

While the bishop did meet with the workers at Ashford, the visit to the stud farm was sort of a perk. The owners of Ashford are Catholic and often donate American Pharaoh’s halters to be auctioned off at Catholic school fundraisers. They, with other local Catholic farm owners, provide scholarships to students in Catholic schools that will follow them all the way through to high school.

So American Pharaoh is used to the attention. You can walk right up to his stall and talk to him. I had a moment with him by myself and I told him we were going to have Mass right there and Jesus would be made present in the Eucharist (Yes, I talk to animals.) His ears moved back and forth as he stared me down.

During Mass he kept sticking his head out of the stall, especially when we were singing, and he and the other two stallions in the pristine and gorgeous barn, whinnied several times. I was convinced the Triple Crown winner was moved by the service and by the Eucharist. Afterward I asked the stallion manager about it.

Nope, the manager said. He was just hungry because we were having Mass during his normal dinner time. Sigh. On the retelling some have said to me that he was hungry for the Eucharist. Maybe.
Workers from Ashford Stud farm joined the bishops for Mass. Auxiliary Bishop Jon Manz made a pastoral visit to migrant workers in Kentucky on behalf of the USCCB Sept. 19-22. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Workers from Ashford Stud farm joined the bishops for Mass. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Karen and I have retold our story of Mass with American Pharoah to many people and their reactions vary. We’ve received some glazed over looks and people asking, “Who?” To “No way!” One guy got so excited when I told him that he pleaded that I text him one of Karen’s photos from Mass. On my way out he put his arm around me and said I was his connection to American Pharaoh. He’s from the South, of course.

Karen, who has photographed major events like papal visits and World Youth Days, says this ranked up in her top three favorite assignments. Number one was shooting St. John Paul II in Central Park in 1995. I agree with Karen. While it doesn’t compare with the heavenly banquet, a barn with Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah was one of coolest settings for a Mass I’ve participated in so far.

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Duriga is editor of the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.