God sees the soul, not the swag.
It’s a phrase claimed by Marian Catholic’s Sister Mary Jo Sobieck, who first came up with it last Christmas when someone at church thought they were underdressed.
It recently resonated with Sister Mary Jo again on July 10 when she took to the glittered and glamoured streets of Los Angeles for the ESPY Awards show, stepping onto the red carpet in her traditional habit.
“To be out there in that culture, it was totally counter-cultural,” she said. “I just hope it pointed to something deeper. There were a lot of times I’m sure people saw me and I didn’t have to say a word, and if it registered something in them about what really matters in life, then it was a win-win.”
Sister Mary Jo was nominated for the category of “Best Viral Sports Moment” for her perfectly-placed first pitch at the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals game at Guaranteed Rate Field last August.
Despite losing out to UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi and her perfect 10 floor routine, it was an experience and opportunity Sister Mary Jo said she would never forget.
She was sent off to LA by students, staff and faculty at Marian Catholic High School on July 9. She said she knows whenever she puts on that Marian Catholic jersey, she wears it with pride.
Even in LA, Sister Mary Jo was confronted by a few Marian Catholic alums.
When she arrived in the City of Angels, she and Marian Catholic’s vice president for advancement Dan Kozlowski, who accompanied her on the trip, picked up three tickets for the pre-party Tuesday evening, the red carpet Wednesday and the post-party Wednesday night.
It was while picking up the tickets that they ran into Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach Muffet McGraw and her husband. Former Marian Catholic player Kaila Turner played for McGraw at Notre Dame in 2013, so that sparked a conversation between the two that lasted a few hours.
Sister Mary Jo said they joked about how it was hard to recognize some of the world’s top talents without being in their uniforms and recalled one time she saw someone walking up with a big entourage around him and figured he must be someone important.
It was New York Giants star running back Saquon Barkley, so Sister Mary Jo quickly got a video with him to say hello to her best friend’s nephews and had him sign a mini ESPN football for them.
UCONN men’s basketball head coach Jim Calhoun, who won the Best Coach Award at the ESPYs, later joined them, and Sister Mary Jo had McGraw and Calhoun sign a mini basketball for her.
“Just to hear two legends talk about basketball was a complete joy for me,” Kozlowski said on sitting with Calhoun and McGraw.
Other athletes she saw included Lonzo Ball, Trae Young, Jared Goff and Patrick Maroon. She said it was cool to see the younger athletes, but it was the older ones such as Johnny Damon, Billie Jean King, Julius Erving, Chris Berman, Bill Walton and Sugar Ray Leonard that resonated with her the most.
“For me, it was just neat to see those legendary players who I looked up to and emulated as a kid,” she said.
Sister Mary Jo also did some sightseeing in LA, visiting the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, which she called beautiful with the tapestries of the saints.
When she was a freshman in high school in 1984, she played softball, volleyball and basketball. Her volleyball coach played in the Olympics in 1984 in LA and brought back merchandise for the players to use, so Sister Mary Jo made sure to visit the Coliseum.
It was in high school that Sister Mary Jo relished being a professional athlete, but as she got older and turned her focus to teaching theology at Marian Catholic, those dreams faded.
But that one pitch in August allowed her to be in an environment she once longed for. It let her embark on a journey surrounded by idols and the stars of today, beginning with the infamous pitch and culminating at the ESPYs. She called it a humbling experience, and it represents something more.
“I think a lot of the time people look at religious life and think you have to give up certain things that you love,” she said. “I’ve never given up my love of sport. God integrates all of our passions at a time when God wants to use them for good.”
This past year has created opportunity for Sister Mary Jo to establish credibility and use her platform for good.
She was honored with a bobblehead by the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame, where $5 for every bobblehead purchased will go back to Marian Catholic. There is a Sister Mary Jo Sobieck OP Endowment Scholarship Fund. She has a 2019 Topps baseball card and received $1,000 for it, which she put into the scholarship.
“She wants to do more, and this experience is giving her the platform to do more,” Kozlowski said. “She is a genuine person. She loves the people around her, and she shows you can live a life and there’s more to being a Sister.”
Her days of pitching are not over, either.
On July 30, she will be throwing out the first pitch at the St. Cloud Rox game, a minor league team in St. Cloud, Minnesota. On Aug. 16, she will be in Appleton, Wisconsin to throw out the first pitch for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a minor league team who is doing a fundraiser that day to raise money for ALS. Her cousin has ALS, and his wife asked Sister Mary Jo to pitch that game. Finally, on Aug. 24, she will return to her stomping grounds to do one at Marian Catholic.
Those three dates people will be able to see Sister Mary Jo take the mound, mitt in her left hand, bounce the ball off her right bicep, turn and fire to the plate. She said she bounces it off her bicep because it takes her back to her days as a shortstop where she had to field ground balls, turn and throw to first. If she stood there and stared at home plate, she would overthink the throw, so she hops it off her arm to keep her mind distracted and naturally follow it with a throw.
“Sometimes it’s in the simplest things that we find the most joy and satisfaction in life,” she said.
If she doesn’t throw a perfect strike, she doesn’t care. She didn’t win the ESPY and she was unphased. It’s about preaching a bigger message.
“A balanced life goes up and it comes down, and it’s in the down moments when we learn the most,” she said. “The greatest lesson that I could teach my students is how to get through adversity.”
Every time Sister Mary Jo walks up to the mound and fires the ball 60 feet to home plate, she does so with swagger. But it’s always been more than a pitch for her. Behind her pitching and swagger is her soul, and she wants to continue what she’s done this past year and better the community, the world and portray positivity.