A bishop who saves goals and saves souls

Longtime readers will remember that this bishop runs marathons and likes to sing his homilies.  Turns out, he’s also a “holy goalie.”

Meet another side of Springfield’s Bishop Thomas Paprocki, courtesy the Springfield State Journal-Register:

There is a framed photo on the wall of the Most Rev. Thomas John Paprocki’s Springfield office that stands out from the religious iconography.

It’s from opening night of the 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks hockey season. Standing at center ice are Denis Savard, Tony Esposito, Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull — Hall of Famers and Blackhawks greats all — bookended by current stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

The photo, autographed by all six, is a talking point and a touchstone for Paprocki, but it also offers a bit of symmetry: Mikita and Hull played for the 1961 Stanley Cup champions. Kane and Toews ended nearly 50 years of frustration by winning the Cup last season.

The 1961 Cup provided Paprocki, a native Chicagoan, one of his first and most endearing memories as a youth. It was also an impetus to take up floor hockey — there were no ice rinks on his native South Side — before he graduated to roller hockey and ice hockey, always as a goalie.

Since 1997, Paprocki has won six Cups — albeit from the Masters Hockey League, an over-30 non-checking league run by the Chicago Park District, with his team, The Lawyers.

On Saturday, the bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Springfield will take to the ice again in the second annual Guns and Hoses of Central Illinois charity game at the Nelson Center. Faceoff is at 4 p.m. (See below for ticket information.)

Also a marathon runner, Paprocki is finding his regular ice time diminishing with a hectic travel schedule, though he has worked in a couple of games with The Lawyers this fall and has played in a couple of Sunday night games at the Nelson Center. He’s also working with the Sacred Heart-Griffin hockey team as its goalie coach.

“Running and hockey are diversions,” Paprocki said during a recent interview at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Springfield. “It can’t be all work and no play. Both reinvigorate me for my ministry as bishop.”

There’s even an analogy, Paprocki, says between the office of bishop and the task of a goalie.

“Both are at the center of the action, and with both, you have to be able to handle and concentrate and focus on what you’re doing,” he says.

“The goalie bears a certain responsibility. There’s no other sport where you’re literally the last line of defense.”

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